AMONG his extensive and diverse racing history, AUSCAR racing at Calder Park Thunderdome is but a tiny footnote in Larry Perkins’ career.
One event appearance, one DNS – due to Winter Olympic Games gold medal-winning ice skater Christopher Dean writing off his car.
Perkins was scheduled to race a Holden Commodore at the circuit’s ‘Moomba’ meeting on Melbourne’s traditional Labour Day long weekend in 1989, and he qualified the red and white car in sixth place for the 110-lap Moomba AUSCAR 200.
At the time, the circuit’s promotions team were coming up with all sorts of stunts to help draw attention and attract crowds to watch AUSCAR and NASCAR racing at the ‘Dome.
One of those involved Dean – who was in Australia having just finished a tour of shows with a Russian skating company – taking part in a 10-lap challenge race against a handful of AUSCAR stars of the period.
A former police officer, Dean and skating partner Jayne Torvill became superstars in their native Britain through their achievements on ice.
The duo won a swag of World and European championships in the early 1980s but are best known for winning the gold medal in the ice dance section of the figure skating competition at the 1984 Winter Olympics at Sarajevo, clinching the victory with the games’ first perfect score for a routine set to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero.
It remains one of Britain’s most memorable sporting achievements – 24 million people tuned in to watch Torvill and Dean triumph.
Dean’s crash is one of the many moments we chat about in in our special Thunderdome-themed episode of the V8 Sleuth Podcast – listen below!
In the wake of the success, Dean was able to indulge in his other passion: cars.
“My first car was an Austin A40 and I remember having to put as much oil in as petrol because it was a ropey old thing; it cost pounds 70 but I had to take out a loan even so,” Dean wrote in a column for the Independent.
“Then I just progressed a little bit more until I started to earn some money through skating and could afford better cars – I used to have an E-type, and I had a Porsche for a while.
“I started to get involved in racing in 1986 with some celebrity meetings, then I did six or seven Formula Ford races and quite a bit at Silverstone at the race school.
So while Dean wasn’t a complete racing novice, the Thunderdome marked his very first time out on a high-banked oval.
“I had a training session for a couple of days, which worked out quite well, but then when you’re actually racing on that oval track, when you’re behind someone and getting dragged along by the slipstream, your car becomes more unsettled and you’re not quite sure of the line,” he wrote.
Rather than the slipstream, it was a bump on the exit of Turn 2 that brought Dean unstuck on the fifth lap of ten.
The #7 Commodore pitched hard right, sending Dean into a slide that ended with almost head-on contact with the infield concrete wall.
The impact, estimated at around 100-110 km/h, badly crumpled the Commodore’s front end.
Emergency crews took 10 minutes to extract Dean from the car before he was transported to first the circuit medical centre and then hospital.
His injuries were initially thought to be limited to shock, bruising and strained back and ankle ligaments, but Dean’s worst injury threatened his professional skating career.
“It transpired that the main ligament in the ankle had sheared – I could feel it moving as I walked. I had to have an operation and take three months off,” Dean wrote.
“We had just finished the tour, in fact, and we were only doing little things just then so I could just about afford the time, but it was a long, frustrating period learning to walk again, and the first time back on the ice I couldn’t skate…
“After that a lot of people were keen that I shouldn’t race for a while. It made me wary, too, for a minute, and what with getting over the crash and then the next tour there was always something else, so there wasn’t really time for much more racing.”
The crash also brought an immediate end to Perkins’ brief AUSCAR career.
His oval racing diversion was prompted by his touring car plans being put on ice; Perkins’ deal to run Holden’s factory team ended for 1989 when the factory decided to run its own team in the ATCC, a plan that eventually fell through.
Dean’s challenge race was prior to the main AUSCAR race on the schedule but there was no question of the car ever being repaired – it was a write off, something Dean apologised to Perkins for.
“Chris was driving really well at the time and the whole thing was unfortunate,” Perkins told the Sydney Morning Herald.
“That’s the way it goes. I’ve been racing 20 years and you learn to accept these things without any drama.
“I didn’t speak to him before the race because I didn’t want to break his concentration – he was so serious about doing well.”
Listen to Larry Perkins’ episode of the V8 Sleuth Podcast in the players below.
Perkins returned to touring car racing within a couple of months and, in a twist of fate, ended up running the factory Holden cars at that year’s endurance races.
Dean recovered to skate professionally and competitively, and he and Torvill returned to Australia many years later for Channel Nine reality TV show Torvill and Dean’s Dancing on Ice.
AUSCAR racing is one of the many categories covered by our book Racing the Lion: An Illustrated History of Holden in Australian Motorsport.
The 400-page hardcover book pays tribute to the marque’s rich competition history, spanning over seven decades.
It’s now in stock in the V8 Sleuth Bookshop – click HERE to order!