BATHURST-WINNER. Open-wheel stalwart. Astute businessman.
Brian Sampson was all these things and more.
Sampson’s comprehensive racing record and impact on the industry are being celebrated following his death on Friday, November 17, aged 88.
The Victorian’s headline achievement was victory in the 1975 Hardie-Ferodo 1000 at Bathurst alongside Peter Brock aboard a Gown-Hindhaugh Torana.
That was just one of 21 starts for ‘Sambo’ in the Great Race – including appearances in the 1961 and ’62 editions of the event at Phillip Island – that spanned four decades.
Those early outings in Renault Gordinis both netted class wins, and there was another in 1969, this time with Bob Morris in a Toyota Corolla as part of a multi-faceted association with importer AMI.
Sampson’s driving career began in the mid-1950s and largely took place in parallel with the operation of his engine business, Motor Improvements, and import enterprise, Speco Thomas.
The prowess of Motor Improvements led to work with AMI and drives in various Toyota machinery, as well as a famous partnership with Cheetah open-wheel race car constructor Brian Shead.
Sampson campaigned a string of open-wheel cars from the mid-1960s across Formula 3, Formula 2 and various Gold Star rulesets, albeit without winning a national title.
An increasingly impressive racing resume earned Sampson a ticket to the big Bathurst class in 1974, scoring an invite from Harry Firth to join Peter Brock at the Holden Dealer Team.
The duo famously led the race by six laps when the engine blew with Brock at the wheel. They both moved to the privateer Gown-Hindhaugh team for the following year and won by two laps.
With Brock then creating Team Brock and pairing with brother Phil the following year, Sampson did not get a chance to defend his Bathurst crown, but there were plenty more starts ahead.
He joined Warren Cullen in 1977, scoring a first-up win at Oran Park’s Rothmans 500, made two Bathurst starts with Alan Browne’s Re-Car team and six with Bill O’Brien’s Everlast outfit.
The Everlast association was separated by a 1985 campaign in a Melbourne Clutch & Brake Service Mitsubishi Starion.
Sampson departed the Great Race in bitter circumstances.
In what turned out to be his final start in 1990, he coasted the out-of-fuel Everlast Commodore across the line moments ahead of winner Allan Grice.
Officials scored the car as a DNF, before Sampson proved in a hearing weeks later using video evidence that he’d been shown the chequered flag and was therefore a finisher.
The O’Brien/Sampson entry was awarded eighth place, but a disillusioned Sampson turned down the opportunity to re-join O’Brien the following year and never returned.
That’s not to say he stopped racing entirely, as he continued his lengthy open-wheel career into the early 2010s, by which point he was in his late 70s.
Included was a stint in Formula Holden, piloting good friend Shead’s final creation, the Cheetah Mk.9.
Sampson, aboard the black, aluminium-tubbed machine, was a regular in what was then the nation’s premier open-wheel category throughout the 1990s – save for 1994, when he stepped aside to allow a young Craig Lowndes to lease the car for the season.
V8 Sleuth extends its condolences to Sampson’s family and friends.