You Never Forget Your First
Growing up, I never really understood why you would bother driving a Datsun, but wherever you looked across the club motorsport scene, against a sea of choice, the discontinued Japanese marque was, and continues to be, every-bloody-where.
This story dates back 20-something years to the turn of the century when I was asked along for my first ride in a racecar.
Fortuitously, my younger self was a competent note-taker, although the details of that day were well and truly etched in the memory bank…
The invitation came from David Paterson, a long-time campaigner and commentator in the state racing scene in Queensland, to have a ride in his Historic Group N Datsun 1600 at a Club Car training day at Lakeside Raceway.
The fact that it was a Club Car day, and not Improved Production, probably dates this story suitably.
Without thinking, breathing, or waiting for David to finish his invitation fully, I locked myself in.
I had been around Lakeside previously at a leisurely cruise in a road car, and touring around at a snail’s pace, there are a few things that I found surprising.
Firstly, you really did notice the bumps – it was something the quick pros always talked about, and with a patchwork quilt of tarmac shifting and tearing on the crappy soil sloping down to Lake Kurwongbah, it was pretty bad, even compared to most suburban streets.
Secondly was The Kink, the fearsome flat-out left-hand deviation two-thirds of the way down the pit straight.
There was a rather massive dip right where the kerb kissed the bitumen at the apex, the sort of design feature that you feel would upset a car at max speed.
The other revelation was the section of road from the Dunlop Bridge (when it was still standing), down to Hungry Corner.
And it was literally down to Hungry Corner – it was truly a significant drop.
Next, there was the car, and I seriously had no idea what to expect.
I did a profile on the little red rocket earlier, where it was noted as having 75 horsepower and a top speed of 185km/h.
Its fastest time around Lakeside was in the 67sec bracket, which was about the same pace as the Gemini Series cars of the day.
I forever loved the backstory of the machine – it was originally David’s grandmother’s, before it became his sister’s university runabout town car, before David converted it to racing spec, importantly switching out the original brown bomber factory paint job for racing red.
That, you see, made it go fast.
I’ll forever love that tale of a hand-me-down race car, and regardless of anything, it would be the fastest thing I’d ever sat in up to that point in time.
When the big day came, I was fully eager beaver, arriving way too early.
When David lobbed with the Datto in tow, something was missing – hang on, where’s the passenger seat?
On closer inspection, there was a passenger seat fitted, but it was an original, low-backed article – phew, we’re still in business!
David’s first run was simply to scrub in some tyres after a flat spot destroyed one at a previous meet.
He then pitted, strapped the first helpless victim in and set off on some flying laps.
Was I nervous? No way, but there was definitely an air of excitement around the proceedings.
Wait up – this can’t be good; David and Ben (another of David’s test dummies) decide to bleed the brakes – “at least they should be operable when I get out there”, was my self-reassurance.
Once kitted out in my protective rugby jumper, I was bolted snuggly into the $10 seat belts, which were fashioned out of two old standard belts, as acquired from the wreckers.
I was again comforted by David – “Don’t worry, I’ll drive like I’m wearing $10 seat belts too…”
With the roll cage making for a solid headrest, we’re off.
The acceleration off the line, in all honesty, wasn’t that earth-shattering, but the car got going all the same.
Through The Kink and into the braking area for the Karussell, still not too scary, then THUMP!
Yep, the brakes work, I nearly went through the windscreen!
Even with the hard jump on the brakes, the car doesn’t appear to slow much, it merely pins the nose to the ground for the corner entrance.
Then the Karussell…. in an attempt to warm up the tyres, David gave it his all.
I think it was about at this time I grabbed the seat belts for dear life; I really don’t think my head was ready for the cornering force – outwardly, I’m sure it appeared like there was a perpetual motion bobblehead riding shotgun.
I got my head back in the game by Hungry Corner, but it started all over again…
After a while, it all made a lot more sense – David tried to talk a few times, but I frankly couldn’t decipher any of it, as I nodded politely above my white knuckles, which were dug into the $10 belts.
A Hot Lap
Blasting down by the pits, car position didn’t really matter on the approach to the kink, although the patchwork just before turn-in provided the sharpest bump on the circuit, which was rather off-putting.
The Kink was taken dead flat, and the dip at the apex wasn’t all that noticeable.
Even if David missed the apex, the car was extremely forgiving, although, from the left seat, the many scrapes on the waiting Shell signage on the concrete wall were very apparent.
It was then hard on the brakes for the Karussell at the 150m marker, and back into third gear.
The entrance was uphill, but you hardly notice it, all attention was being expended on the first apex.
From that initial clipping point, it was a nearly constant radius turn, with the car drifting to about half track, before sweeping into the second apex.
Sometimes David just clipped the kerb, and sometimes he didn’t, however, through the Karussell, nothing was quicker than the Datsun, including the fastest Club Cars.
It was then hard on the power and out to the ripple strip on the exit, and only twice all day did David hit it – the first time around, it did nothing much to unsettle the car, but on the second occasion, there was a fair bit of shake, rattle and roll.
Changing up to fourth at the crest of the hill, the car then swept down to the right side of the road, sacrificing track rather than opening up the run to The Bridge.
As it turns out, that is the fastest route for the Datsun – why take the long trip if it isn’t any quicker?
David’s angle of attack pointed the car well to the inside of the apex, which is quite a drop off from the black stuff, however, this never really seemed to unsettle the car at all.
It then drifted over to the left-hand side of the track under the bridge, as it should, running up against the white line, but not onto the kerb.
At slow speed, the drop off the shelf felt steep, but going at a decent clip, you barely noticed it.
The car then eased over to the right, and it was back down to third and hard on the anchors once more, just before the second braking marker.
This time, however, the brake application was not as savage as that experienced at the Karussell.
Now for Hungry, and what a corner it is!
From the braking marker, the road was flat, then uphill, and then just after the apex, quite steep.
When the tyres still had some life in them, David could really drive the car through the corner and right up to the verge of the track on exit.
However, it was probably more fun when the tyres got hot and squishy, with some nice slides invoked.
Who cares about the $10 seatbelts, this is a hoot!
Next up was the climb to the top of the hill through the Eastern Loop, which was a very deceptive piece of track.
It was short and sharp, with the wide-open road irrelevant as the inside kerb was hugged.
It was then hard on the gas for the run down the hill, with the car going right out to brush the weeds, changing into fourth about halfway down.
This part of the track felt quite a bit shorter than I expected.
In the road car, the one thing you noticed was the fence coming straight at you, but in the Datsun, your attention was firmly planted on getting around the corner.
Taken absolutely flat, David, on most laps, skirted the kerb on the inside of the turn.
The car then drifted out towards the exit ripple strip before straightening, which from the passenger seat, was bloody close to the pock-marked Armco barrier.
Definitely, the worst part of the experience was the last lap board.
The laps were going so quickly, I lost count in a hurry, and by 11:45am, the fuel can was dry, and it was the end of the day.
It left an indelible mark on this kid.
Who remains a Datsun fan for life.