John Rock is the man to thank for the last 421 wins

On April 2, Holden proudly pumped out a media release after Race 4 in Tasmania,announcing that this took their Series Championship victories to 500. By any standard, this is a remarkable triumph.

Holden’s first victory came in August 1969 at the Surfers Paradise track, with Norm Beechey in his Monaro GTS 327. Craig Lowndes took victory 100 in Tasmania on 17 March 2006; Jamie Whincup notched up the 400th in Tasmania in November 2011, and Shane Van Gisbergen the 500th a few weeks ago.

In reviewing race stats over this 47-year span, there was only one race per event for nearly 25 years until race formats were changed to embrace two, and in some cases three, races per meeting. This meant the gun drivers of the 70s and 80s had ‘win’ stats potentially half those driving in the past 25 years.

Holden’s media release lists their ‘Star Drivers’, noting every driver who has won at least one race for them in their 500 wins. The top 10 in terms of most wins (or 11, as two drivers finished equal-10th) were:

Driver     No. of wins:
Mark Skaife    80
Craig Lowndes    78
Jamie Whincup    65
Garth Tander    53
Peter Brock     46
Greg Murphy    28
Russell Ingall    21
Todd Kelly    19
Jason Bright    14
Rick Kelly/Allan Grice    12

My involvement with nine of the drivers listed above (with two exceptions: Whincup and Ingall) was comprehensive in terms of the commercial and contractual side of their involvement with the TWR Teams in the halcyon HRT years.

Being totally opposed to dealing with third party managers or management companies meant we would work our way through many of the awkward areas of a contract. These included areas such as performance criteria, contract period, exclusive driver commitments, non-involvement in dangerous sports, driver fees, bonus incentives, fitness programs, personal sponsor limitation. This ensured you really got to know your driver as a person first, then as a driver.

Motor Sport Manager Simon McNamara has presided over Holden’s racing successes over the past 12 years and prior to that for many years as 2IC of that department. Simon deserves special recognition for Holden’s level of success over such a sustained period. In particular, his brilliant move more than six years ago to mastermind T8 converting from Ford to Holden when he sensed the wheels falling off HRT, and their struggle to recover from the collapse of Tom Walkinshaw’s racing empire in 2003. Triple 8 has since rewarded McNamara/Holden many times over, becoming the Holden powerhouse following their signing.

Over these 46 years there have basically been three teams that have been the mainstay behind Holden’s success rate of 500 wins:

  1. HDT, under the leadership of Harry Firth, John Sheppard and Peter Brock, circa 1970-1987
  2. HRT, under the leadership of Jeff Grech from 1995–2002, and
  3. Triple 8, under the leadership of Roland Dane from 2010-current.

As in all sports, you can seldom take a 46-year chunk of history and not witness some seriously wild rollercoaster rides and ‘momentum destroyers’. The first bombshell to halt momentum was in November 1979, hence my headline reference to ‘John Rock’.

John Bagshaw was unquestionably the father of Holden Motor Sport where, as a highly influential and charismatic Director of GMH, he built the motor sport asset foundation for Holden. From the mid-60s until his assignment to a senior role in Detroit headquarters in August 1978, he put all the resources in place. John Bagshaw’s replacement was Bob Stelter, a GM Detroit former head of GMC Trucks.

About three months into his new assignment, Bob instructed me to fire our long-time Motor Sport Manager, Joe Felice, who Bob felt was still living in the past with the John Bagshaw ways and not adapting to his change of management. Fortunately for Joe we managed a transfer to the South Australian Zone as a district manager.

Less than a year after Bob Stelter’s appointment he died of a sudden heart attack whilst cycling around Melbourne’s Botanic Gardens.

Bob’s replacement literally burst onto the market here after Bob’s death. Enter Buick’s John Rock, 6 foot 4 inches in height and width, and a 42-year-old, blunt, beer-loving Motor Sport fan who enjoyed dressing in cowboy boots and bolo tie .

From the time John hit Fishermen’s Bend he polarised all the management team and the Dealers into two groups. There were those who welcomed his massive new ‘agent of change’ style, and those who could not cope with him being intent on transforming GMH. John was determined to have Holden enter the 80s much leaner and meaner, ditching all the ‘yes sir, no sir’ autocratic management style.

The old ‘promotion by age and next in line’ principle was out the window with Rock. One example of this was my assignment to Sydney at 33 years old as State Manager to oversee the closure of the Pagewood plant. Also, as Rock put it, “Crennan, get your arse up to Sydney and rough up all those rich Sydney Dealers who had got their net worth confused with their contractual obligations to get market share for Holden”.

Four months into Rock’s Australian assignment a bombshell hit, with Detroit announcing all GM locations around the world MUST stop any further involvement and investment of dollars or in kind in motor sport. The bulletin to all Dealers (see below), dated 26 November  1979, did not say the real reason GM were pulling out, although the Energy Crisis was a serious conflicting issue.
Holden was banned from any more dollars or engineering resources going into the sport, with management told we would be fired if we defied this. Rock took this massive policy change in his stride. He got three very influential Dealers into Melbourne: Laurie Sutton, Vin Kean and Paul Wakeling, and presented his plan to have Peter Brock’s race team build specialty cars and homologation specials for the Dealers. The profits that Peter’s company received from these cars would replace the Holden Racing marketing dollars. A brilliant Rock win/win. Racing funding continued from the Dealers for the iconic Brock team and Holden got to sell a lot more V8 models.

So with 79 wins in the bag up until the end of 1979 and for the part he played in the 421 wins, John Rock deserves a huge accolade. After three years, John, together with his wife Bonnie and dog Brockie, was transferred back to Detroit. He went on to be President of GM Trucks and then Oldsmobile prior to his retirement. I kept in constant contact with John, who was a great mentor to me, and every second Saturday for 20 years would speak to him in Detroit. Sadly, John passed away, aged 71, in 2007.

John Crennan
Motorsport Contributor


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