The 2022 Chariots of Thunder Blog
Fully updated to tour’s end on Monday August 29th, 2022.
12 members of the 2022 Chariots of Thunder tour flew into Darwin on Friday August 12th. The remaining twelve join us on Wednesday August 17th when the tour commences in earnest.
We invite you to keep returning to this page to read about our daily adventures from the Top End of Australia.
Day 1: Friday August 12th, 2022
Still weary from the just concluded and extra-long “Best of the Best USA” tour, I dragged myself out of bed knowing that later today at 5.05pm I’d be on a flight to Brisbane, eventually connecting to a Darwin bound aircraft due to arrive in the Top End at 1.05am.
Well, it would have had it been that way on any airline other than Qantas. Not travelling too well these days is our old friend Qantas who is fast destroying its stellar reputation built up over so many years. Late leaving Sydney, late arriving Brisbane, late departing Brisbane and of course late arriving in Darwin. At least my bags were carried on both aircraft and arrived in Darwin at the same time as I did.
I had made a sad decision whilst in the USA (in the parking lot at Iowa’s Davenport Speedway to be precise) when Qantas sent an e-mail advising of yet another change to Deryk Hartwick’s Darwin flights. They told me he was off the direct flight QF836 Melb to Darwin and to find another one. And that I had to also change his return flights. Well once is OK, but when it’s the fourth time it becomes not OK. However, I persevered and did the right thing by following the instruction provided to either accept the recommended changes, or alternatively follow another link to secure different flights.
I took the latter course of action, knowing full well that you can’t ring Qantas and speak to a human, without at least a three hour wait on the phone. And I wasn’t going to do that from a carpark in Davenport. (Yet). Guess what I found? Flight QF836 was still there, now leaving at 10.00am and not 8.30am. So, I selected that flight and in turn accepted different return flights that were offered from Darwin to Melbourne, via Adelaide. “That was easy” I thought. Until the last page which advised that there was a change fee of $90.00 and an additional $109.00 for the increased fare in changing from QF836 to QF836.
I was furious and stupidly decided to ring Qantas from the driver’s seat of the Ford 15-seater. An hour and ¾ quarters later I hung up, outraged with the attitude and manner of a Qantas Customer Service (??) person. No, I don’t know her name, but I do know that I made the call at 7.15pm Iowa time on July 6th, 2022 in case any Qantas person with any degree of authority might be reading this. And yes, I missed all the heat races wasting my time ringing a now waste of time company.
Global Speedway Tours travellers can still fly with Qantas in the future if they like, but they will make their own bookings and then personally deal with all the inevitable flight changes that will occur.
But enough of that …. for now. At least until after I find out what changes may still happen for all the Chariots of Thunder tour members flying with Qantas tomorrow and next week in the second tranche.
I have not been to Darwin since 1986 when I convinced my boss in Perth that I needed to inspect the MLC office and the reps in Karratha on a Thursday and Friday. Which I did, but only on Thursday because Friday morning I caught a flight (Ansett actually) to Darwin in order to attend the Australian Sprintcar title being held in the NT for the first ever time. Brett Lacey won it and apparently it was at Northline Speedway, but weirdly I don’t remember a thing about it.
Like everybody flying to the NT from the south at this time of year, the dress code for arriving at the departing airport is jeans, shoes, hoodies, jackets and beanies. Sadly, the arriving passenger still has said clothing on when they step out of the Terminal and into the tropical heat of Darwin. Budding photographers would get some ripper shots of people stripping off layers of clothing as they attempt to hail a cab.
Speaking of cabs, at 1.45am when I arrived, the line waiting for what few taxis were working at that time of night was easily 200 metres long. An Uber was the obvious choice, so I walked to the ride-sharing pick-up area and looked at the app to get a price. $23.00 was more than acceptable. I ordered it and waited next to a guy probably 30 years old and clearly a visitor to our country. He saw the Uber app on my phone and asked where I was going. “The Ramada Zen”, I replied. His eyes lit up and said “I live just two minutes from the Zen” and asked if he could share the ride. “Sure” I replied and he passed over $15.00.
We started to chat and it turns out his name was Fabio, he was Brazilian and had been living in Australia for three years. He is the head barman at the Cavenagh Hotel just around the corner from the Zen, our Apartment block. The Cavenagh features in our itinerary a fair bit ….
Day 1 – Friday August 12th, 2022
Features of the Zen will emerge across future days of the blog rather than cover them all off in one hit. Suffice to say however that having arrived last night at around 2.30am, I couldn’t see a great deal from our allocated apartment of #411. But it was a wonderful surprise to awake this morning just before 7.00am and witness a spectacular sunrise from the balcony.
We overlook Darwin Harbour to the east and (in part) downtown Darwin and the Waterfront Precinct area to the south. The harbour is a fascinating and constant work in motion with vessels of all shapes and sizes playing their trade across the glistening water. What lies below that water however is an issue for tourists and locals alike who are reminded they shouldn’t swim in the harbour, except at the sea wall protected areas near the Precinct. Saltwater crocodiles populate the Harbour with regular sightings …..
Breakfast is included in our tariff every day and the venue for consuming the morning meal is the Level 3 HoriZen Café. And what a busy place this is as it provides top notch food service to the occupants of the 245 apartments. Not all of whom come in at the same time thank goodness. The idyllic nature of a Darwin morning means the brekky window extends across four hours. Inside in the air conditioning, or outside in the open air sitting at tables which overlook the Harbour. The Café gets exactly the same view as Apartment # 411, considering it is right below us. If our balcony door is left open, the smell of breakfast cooking wafts straight into the apartment.
Three of our group arrived yesterday. Patricia, Dennis and yours truly, which means that today’s task was to meet and greet nine more at the airport throughout the day. In between was the obligatory esky purchase (by the way Bunnings are way more expensive than Walmart), bucket for ice, dustpan, red cups (don’t Coles or Woolies sell the plastic ones anymore?), beer, bourbon, coke and water. The cost of alcohol in Australia means a vast revision to the dollar esky prices that apply on the USA tours.
Instead of $1 beers and $2 bourbons (in a red cup), the price rises dictate $3 beers, $6 bourbons (Nelson County black RTD cans) and because a carton of 30 cans of coke is $36.95 here in Darwin, that commodity also has to be a dollar. Hopefully the maths will allow the staple diet of bottled water to remain complimentary. And then there is the subject of ice!
American hotels have an ice machine pretty much on every floor which saves an enormous amount of money. In fact, my best guess for the just finished US tour was a saving of US$170 over the six weeks. Aussie hotels don’t have such machines available to their guests. Meaning bags of ice must be purchased from the local petrol station. That adds up to at least $10 / day. Except our local Zen General Manager has kindly taken pity on us and filled up a special freezer in the second floor car park with bags of ice that he personally went out and bought from the gas station. Just for us.
The runs to and from the airport went without incident and without cost as well, Apart from petrol that is. You see upon picking up the Toyota 12-seater this morning, I asked about the very large area which houses those Budget rental cars waiting to be picked up from the airport. I had seen it last night and noticed that it had 30 or 40 vacant spaces at any one time between cars constantly going out and new ones coming in.
So, I asked if I could put the bus in there when going backwards and forwards today and again next Wednesday when the reinforcements arrive. “No problems sir. Take this passcard and go in and out as you please.” The walk from the Budget lot to the Terminal was all of 60 seconds!
And so, the rest of the day became much like Groundhog Day as airlines delivered their cargo of people from down south, all wearing thick woollen jumpers, into the tropical Darwin lifestyle. Those flying with Virgin arrived on time and after picking up the last ones and getting them checked in, we made our first of six journeys for this tour to Northline Speedway.
Situated at Hidden Valley within the V8 Supercars track, Northline Speedway is a complex that everyone should see at least once. It’s a credit to the Darwin Speedway Riders’ & Drivers’ Club who manage and promote the track. The Chariots of Thunder concept was devised some years ago when the Club decided that their jewel in the crown should be seen by way more people than just the locals. Sprintcars were the attraction around the nation and a plan was hatched to entice cars up from the south and into the sunny and warm winter climate of the Northern Territory for two weekends each August.
It certainly wouldn’t have been as easy as that, but looking back to when it all started it just appears that everything fell exactly into place. This year there will be 60+ top calibre sprintcar teams who have made the long 3,700 km (one way) tow to Darwin. They haven’t all arrived just yet, but tonight there were 32 teams on hand to contest the City of Darwin sprintcar cup. Tomorrow night these same cars will contest the Northern Territory title.
Built on turn 1 (and seemingly expanded each year) is the Chariots’ Lounge. Aka the Club Members’ lounge. A large air-conditioned indoor area with a bar and every necessary facility was erected initially, perhaps as a meeting room, but because it is elevated and pretty much right up against the turn 1 fence and three metres higher than the fence, it quickly became the place to watch the racing from through the big picture windows. An open-air alfresco area was then permanently added which provides a simply spectacular view of the cars as they thunder (there’s that word again) into turn 1.
For Chariots of Thunder, temporary viewing areas are added in an attempt to cater for the influx of interstate visitors (like us) who want to watch it from up there. Mind you the there is no bad place to watch the racing from anywhere around the entire track. I walked it tonight to get a feel for the atmosphere “out on the hill”. And believe me it’s a huge viewing area. The only other bigger hill I’ve seen is at Western Springs Speedway in Auckland. Have no doubt the locals are spoiled rotten here in Darwin.
Global Speedway Tours was well looked after tonight with a table of 12 reserved for us right up against one of the large windows in air-conditioned comfort. Our punters sat there for 15 minutes, almost out of obligation that perhaps they should, seeing as how the club went to all that trouble. But it didn’t take long before most were off outside to grab seats and tables up at the front of the balcony to get the noise, the smell, the vibration of cars racing past at 150 kms an hour and the spray of clay down your cleavage. If you’re a female that is. “Aint that right Jane and Laura”?
Racing tonight was delayed for some 45 minutes by a particularly nasty accident in the solos (on the infield dirt track). Best wishes are sent to Christian ? who remains in hospital with spinal injuries. And congrats go to Jock Goodyer from Tasmania who convincingly won the City of Darwin Cup in the sprintcars.
Day 2 – Saturday August 13th, 2022
There’s no speedway at 10.00am in Darwin but there is in Knoxville, Iowa in the US. Consequently, after some deft dealings with management we were permitted to occupy a function room on the 16th floor which had a large 70 inch TV that was just waiting for us to stream the Friday night of the Knoxville Nationals through it. With the help of Wes the maintenance man who let us in and Wei Wei at reception who provided the passkey for the lift to access Level 16, we were set. Dennis rigged up his iPad via HDMI to the screen, the others maneuvered lounges and the weirdly coloured armchairs into place and for the next four hours we were set.
Coffee from the Horizen wasn’t far away, nor were the spectacular views from the Level 16 roof. More about the rooftop bar on a later day however. The racing this morning turned it into a full day of sprintcars as tonight we headed back to Northline Speedway and the comforts of the Chariots of Lounge. Complete with, I should add because I forgot to mention it yesterday, some great catering of hot food to feed the hungry masses. All built into the price of course, but none the less most appreciated.
Speaking of food, I must make mention of the catering available around the complex to the general public. Darwinians have a love of food trucks. Next Thursday night we are headed to the Mindil Beach Markets where the stalls are crammed with food truck specialties. Some of these same traders are at the speedway and the variety is immense. Certainly not your chiko roll and chips. Although you can still get that, but the delicious varieties of fettuccine will impress Adam when he gets here I’m sure.
Nineteen year old Jock Goodyer again took the honours tonight in what became a crashfest in the end. One that needed to be declared with two laps remaining. No one was going to beat our Tassie friend, but the drivers racing for lower positions became a touch pissed off when they couldn’t race their way to higher prizemoney. I guess they’ll sort that one out with the chief steward.
PS I haven’t mentioned my right leg as yet and figure that maybe I should for those who knew I contracted cellulitis at Eldora Speedway several weeks ago.
I managed to avoid an American hospital stay which would have seen me on an intravenous drip to specifically target the infection that way, rather than via oral antibiotics which go on a killing spree of all the bacteria in your body as well as the bad ones. By that I mean antibiotics also kill the good healthy bacteria in your gut. The side effects are loss of appetite, listlessness, continual nausea, feeling bloated all the time, unintentional weight loss, diarrhea and unfortunately when visiting Darwin for 18 days, a reluctance to drink alcohol. All symptons that I have had since starting the two courses of antibiotics in the US.
But the good news upon arriving home twelve days ago is that my Australian doctor didn’t see the need for hospitalisation. He felt that the antibiotics that had been prescribed had done a good enough job to contain the infection. All he and his nursing staff had to do now was continue the program and make sure I saw it through. A swab had been taken on the day I arrived home and the results showed in a culture they developed in the lab, that the infection was completely dead. Good news indeed.
So, every two days I returned to the nurses who changed the bandages and dressings and generally fussed over me like all nurses do. One was English and in previous years back in her home country had specialised in dermatology. She kept on telling me that the improvement I was showing was first class. I liked her.
I was allowed to travel to Darwin as long as the entire course of antibiotics was totally finished and the dressings are changed every 48 hours. I have fulfilled all those things and here is the evidence shown below. The leg at its worst in 1, 2 and 3 and the leg today in the last pic.
To assist the healing process and on the advice of the many helpful contributors on the tour, I waded in the sea water of Darwin harbour and walked around for 10 minutes. Completely oblivious and forgetful of the potential for a salt water crocodile to have fixed my cellulitis problem in one bite.
Day 3 – Sunday August 14th, 2022
I mentioned the Precinct earlier. It is an entertainment area on Darwin Harbour foreshore that has dozens of shops, large apartment buildings and of course the inevitable bars that envelop Darwin. One of which was able to call itself the Precinct. And it has become a good friend of the speedway community in Darwin. Many functions associated with Chariots of Thunder are held there, one of which was this morning from 10.00am.
You see at 10.00am Darwin time it was 7.30pm in Knoxville, Iowa and the final night of the Nationals was about to start. The Precinct put a big outdoor TV on their immaculate lawn that surrounded the massive outdoor beer garden, tuned every TV in the joint (approx 50) to the Dirtvision stream and a few hundred people including us responded by arriving early to get prime seating and staying late when it was all over around 2.00pm. During that time, morning beers were truly welcomed and midday pub lunches were very popular. All at a very generous 20% off if you held the right discount card, which we did. Thanks Jason and Jac if you’re reading this …..
The view over the man-made Wave Lagoon at the bottom of the pub’s lawn and then further on out to the giant Ferris wheel on the wharf made for an ideal Sunday morning indeed. We have have a reservation for 24 when the Precinct again host the annual Chariots of Thunder Fan Appreciation day on Thursday week. Global Speedway Tours will pick up the first $1,200 of food and drinks!! Yay!!
Donny Schatz wasn’t concerned with the view we had, or the ice cold 10.00am beers we also had, because he was intent (as he publicly stated) on “not finishing second again”. And nor did he, as he roared away for the win over David Gravel and Logan Schuchart.
Considering the beers in the morning sunshine, the afternoon was devoted to recuperating around the pool. Or up on the rooftop in “Michael’s Bar”. Michael being the owner of the Zen Apartments. Russell and I met him upstairs this arvo and a great chat ensued. Especially after he found out we have 145 room nights in his hotel.
Dinner was a great choice at Shenannigans, an Irish Pub on Mitchell Street. Happy hour (3.00pm to 7.00pm) also meant $7.00 pints of any beer they carried to wash down the Shepherd’s Pie that most selected.
Tonight was a full moon and what better place to see it in all its glory over Darwin Harbour than you guessed it, Apartment #411.
Day 4 – Monday August 14th, 2022
Today was totally allocated as a free day, but particularly it was intended for people who wanted to travel on the commercial coach tours to Kakadu, or Katherine Gorge. This same planning is applied to next Monday when the whole group is together. As it turned out, four of the group did elect to visit Katherine Gorge.
A trip which required them to be picked up at 6.05am (mind you the sun doesn’t come up until 6.59am) and their return time will be after 8.30pm. One of them was Russell, my room mate for the first five days until the rest of the group arrive on Wednesday. This made it a bit tricky at breakfast this morning …..
When arriving at the Horizen Café the lovely lady behind the counter says, “room number please”. The apartment is in my name although her computer tells her there are two people in it, each of whom are entitled to the included $18 breakfast.
Out of courtesy this morning I helpfully added that the second breakfast won’t be used this morning because the other person has gone on the bus trip to Katherine Gorge. The reply came back as “Oh that’s great. I hope she enjoys the trip. It’s wonderful down there”. My response to her was “um no, my partner is Russell.” The look I got had to be seen to be believed.
I can’t wait for next Thursday when I can tell her all the goss about Russell moving out to shack up with Rick and that Adam has now slipped into into Russell’s bed.
The daylight hours moved slowly today. The 800 km round trip tourists had gone to see Katherine in all her glory. Only to find out that most of that glory had decreased to a trickle over the waterfall, thanks to a lack of summer rain. However, the cruise through the gorge was enticing and beautiful. The overall view from those who went was that it was way too much for one day ….. something to bear in mind for next time.
PS Anyone who does go on a future Katherine Gorge coach trip and sees a local indigenous person wearing a 25 year old hat that usually resides in Cambridge Park, NSW please retrieve same and return it to Russell Blackman.
Meanwhile back in Darwin, some rented a car for the day, others visited friends and one wrote the Blog. A very restful day it was indeed ….. until about 7.30pm.
Russell has already had two mentions for this day. He now gets a third. After enjoying drinks on the rooftop with Agray, Tania, Jack, Rachael, Robyn and Bruce, I thought that an early night would be perfect. I returned to the apartment and almost immediately heard a beeping sound. Now when you live with Russell that’s not unusual. He has diabetes (which he keeps very well under control) and likes to be up to date with all the latest gadgets for monitoring sugar levels etc. The most recent is an electronic machine linked to a pad on his body that he wears 24/7.
This little monitor tells him at a moment’s notice if anything is amiss. It beeps if anything has gone awry. Unfortunately, Russ can’t hear it because he refuses to wear his hearing aid because he might hear something he doesn’t want to hear. So, the machine sits on a table in the apartment and beeps its head off from time to time.
So, when I opened the front door and heard the beeping, I thought “Geez, this thing has a hell of a range seeing as how he’s still 250 kms away.” But no, it wasn’t the monitor. He had that with him. So, what was it? I walked around and eventually found that Russell’s bedroom door was locked (via a combination lock on the handle) and was beeping to let someone know. I was mystified as to a) how it happened and b) what to do next. Russell will be wanting to get into there pretty soon, having left at 5.30am this morning.
A visit to reception established that if I had read the “instruction manual” for the room I would have seen that 1321 is the combination for the lock. “Well, who locked it” and “why is there a lock on there in the first place” were my first two questions, both of which remained unanswered by the usually helpful girls at reception. I returned to apartment #411 to push 1321 on the door handle and open up Russell’s room that has all his worldly possessions in it, including applicable medicines.
Nope. It still wouldn’t work. Returned to reception to advise their lock is rooted and you have approx 45 minutes to get the door open before the incumbent returns from Katherine Gorge. “The Night Porter (NP) will attend to your room and open it sir”. It was said with a look that implied “who is this bloke?” Nothing happened for the next 40 minutes. Reception had now closed so I had to ring a mobile number for the NP. He said, “I’ll be there ASAP”.
And he was. But alas he too failed to get the door open. “The battery has gone flat and needs to be replaced”, he tentatively muttered. “I’ll go fetch the tool needed to get it out”. No sign of the NP for 30 mins. But in the meantime Russell returns to the apartment”. So I ring again. “Can’t find the tool sir”. Me. “Well then you better arrange a replacement room for Mr Blackman and have the door opened by at least Midday tomorrow or he might drop dead because he can’t get to his insulin and equipment”.
NP returns with keys to Apartment #502. Russell gathers what possessions he has into a plastic bag and toddles off to 502. The last time I saw him walking up a corridor like that he was being helpfully assisted by Kim Gould [nee Whittle] on or about midnight on the last night of Florida 2014 after emptying the remains of the Jack Daniels’ bottle from the esky in the Hotel rotunda at Daytona Beach.
NP continues to work on the door. I say “Enough’s enough. I need to sleep. What time will you be here with the demolition team in the morning”? He says 7.00am. We settle on 9.00am.
Day 5 – Tuesday August 16th, 2022
9.45am: Still no sign of the door removal team.
9.46am: Ring Reception. After explaining the situation. “Ah Mr Peter. We are aware of your circumstances in Apartment #411. Would you please press 111111 on your key lock.” Given what has happened over the last 15 hours, it was with some degree of sufferance that I put the phone down and walked to the bedroom door. Pressed the six digits and bingo the door opened.
9.47am: Pick the phone back up and said; “How long have you known about this code and when were you going to tell me? We’re lucky Mr Russell is still alive.”
No answer to the latter question or comment, but the first one was answered with. “Your apartment is the only one in the building that has different number for door lock.” My answer to that was twofold. “Firstly, please let the Night Porter know. And secondly, I suggest you remove the locks from all the doors that have them.”
9.59am: Knock on the front door. It’s Wes the Maintenance man.
He is as surprised to see me as I was to see him. “What’s up Wes?”
“I’m here to fix the lock on the bedroom door”.
Holy hell. When will this end? (I thought that, not said it.)
I explain that that the door has now been opened.
He said: “Yes I’m the one who told Reception that the number is 111111.”
Note that Wes has only been in the job for six weeks. (He told me that when setting up the TV a few days ago.)
“They have told me to change it back to 1321”.
“Wes please do so, but not until we have departed the building on August 29th”, I wearily replied.
12.45pm; Wes knocks on the door. Strides in with said tool the NP couldn’t find last night. Removes batteries from door handle and throws them in the bin. “There you go” he said. “Can’t happen any more!”.
To be continued if necessary ….
Day 6 – Wednesday August 17th, 2022
Having 24 people on a tour means some pretty fancy footwork is needed at times. Eight or nine months ago, incoming and outgoing flights were organised so that trips to the airport in Darwin were at a minimum. But of course as we now know, Qantas love to change people’s travel plans at the drop of a hat, so today eventually turned out to be a six trip day to collect 12 people.
But it was managed with a sweaty smile every time a new face emerged from the arrivals’ door. I mentioned earlier about the clothing people wear when landing in Darwin. Today the observation is about people waiting for their luggage at the carousel. First thing to notice is that no matter how long the carousel is and how far it snakes around the airport, 95% of passengers squeeze into the space right where the bags emerge through the hole in the wall. It’s bedlam as heads bobble each and every which way to see if their bag is next out. The chances of that happening of course are next to nil.
Disappointment spreads over their face, but only for a few seconds because yet another black suitcase that looks exactly like theirs pops out of the chute. Hopes rise again and they surge to the front to pick it up before anyone else steals it. But alas, it’s not theirs. They then retreat into the sea of people all doing the same thing, hoping not to be seen by anyone they know. And then suddenly they see a bag floating out on the carousel and this time they are certain it’s theirs.
On the law of averages said owner is often a female. Maybe a smallish female at that. She pushes her way through and stands right at the edge. She waits nervously for the bag to reach her while at the same time anxiously glancing around to see what males are around her. Why? Because she knows she can’t lift the heavy suitcase off by herself. She reaches down and puts her hand on the bag as though the mechanism would just automatically stop for her. But the carousel waits for no one. She then runs along with the bag crashing through other people who insist on standing as close as possible to what actually reminds me of an overgrown sushi train.
Eventually a male takes pity on her and lifts the bag easily like it was a spicy King Crab roll. Flustered and embarrassed she forgets to thank her saviour and disappears into the crowd to find an Uber driver who will lift her bag into his SUV. Meanwhile at the end of the carousel a handful of people stand in air-conditioned comfort and are quite happy for their bag to take 90 seconds longer to reach them.
Gradually the throng gets smaller as bags find their owners. However, some owners are still standing forlornly at the carousel waiting and waiting. They exchange furtive looks with each other while at the same time mouthing “well someone has to be last”. Secretly though they are working out how they will live for the next 48 hours until the airline sends the lost suitcase out by cab. They wait and they wait. To them it seems like 50 minutes, but in reality it is as long as it takes for the next baggage trolley to pull up out the back and off-load the last load of bags.
Today’s arrivals were Peter, Kevvy, Adam, Glenn, Deryk, Michael, Rick, Gavin, Carmel, Dayle, Chris and 15-year-old Blayke, Tasmania’s biggest Jamie Veal fan. The last five arrived at 1.20am.
Not much else happened today except for dinner (prior to the 1.20am arrivals) on the Zen rooftop courtesy of Michael the owner who prepared a lovely buffet meal for us all. We paid him what we would have spent at a local pub!
Day 7 – Thursday August 18th, 2022
Breakfast went smoothly for all the new arrivals. The procedure in the Horizen can at times be like that famous Seinfeld episode called ‘The Soup Nazi’. Given they serve brekky to maybe 300+ people each day, the operators don’t take kindly to folk who have no idea what they want to order. Despite the fact that menus are in abundant supply everywhere in the café. Those who fumble and fart about are given the steely eye by the iron maiden at the order desk. No words are spoken, just a small flick of the head which in every language on earth means “F off over there while you work out what you want”.
They are permitted to break back into the queue though once they have decided. And so far I have never seen those people not have their order ready on time again. Our new folk were well warned of course.
The buses stayed locked up this morning as all 24 of us walked into the city and the Tap Bar where some early GST risers had thoughtfully reserved enough tables and chairs at the street front of the bar to accommodate us all. It wasn’t to have pre-lunch beers, but to watch the Street Parade down Mitchell St at midday. Beers were consumed as well though, have no doubt. One of us ordered the inevitable fishbowl. I understand it was called “The Desperate Housewife”. It was one of 14 fishbowl choices.
It would have been sad if at just after midday you had to go to the toilet. Because the parade of eight revving sprintcars towed by two pickups, three speedcars and three Street Stocks was over in 90 seconds. Went past once and that was it. Good fun, but even the Soup Nazi would have been shocked. Vision was obtained.
After which Adam and I had a great chat with David Anderson, father of current day star Grant. Between us we came up with tons of great memories of the speedway by the freeway. For me, which David also remembered vividly, was the night he was racing the V37 down the back straight into turn 3 at Parramatta and his right rear wheel became detached from where it should have been. As the car naturally slowed (surprisingly without flipping) the wheel seemingly gathered speed and smashed into the turn three fence. Which at the time was a tightly packed wall of old tyres.
This in turn gave his wayward tyre even more momentum and it propelled itself high into the night sky and cleared the safety fence between the track and pits by probably 20 metres or more. Its new trajectory was now somewhere into the pits. It could have hit a transporter, or another race car waiting silently in the pits to have its turn on the racetrack, or it could have hit the pit office. But no, it chose to land right on top of a portable dunny which, true as we all stood there today, had a bloke sitting on the throne doing his business when his whole world came crashing down.
Tonight at the Mindil Beach Markets is our first opportunity to have Welcome to Darwin drinks for everyone as a group, so the next task was to visit BWS and pick up the on-line order, which I didn’t think would go through. But it did. My concern lay with the restrictions placed on purchases in the NT. I thought the amount I bought and being from out of town may raise some red flags, but no. Showed my ID and all was good.
The Mindil Beach Markets are fabulous. It appears that Darwin delights in food stalls which makes me actually wonder whether anyone ever eats at home, such is the variety and choice. These markets are just 30 metres from the beach and at sunset what looked to be a couple of thousand people gathered on the beach to watch the sun drop out of the sky. Tonight a private sailing boat decided to sit right in the path of the sun, which made for even better pictures.
Global Speedway Tours had thought ahead and tables and chairs were reserved in the VIP area of the markets. Cordoned off by a lovely white picket fence …… and mood lighting that we only found out about when it became dark. Included in the deal were super large eskies loaded with ice for our drinks, plus $20.00 each of Mindil money which the traders willingly accept. The market authorities then reimburse the trader for however much they take in beach bucks on that night.
Folks wandered off into the markets to explore what was there. Most came back with nothing, except ideas. Not surprising because nearly everyone wanted to find out what others were going to choose to eat before actually buying anything for themselves. Perhaps the most succulent of all was pretty much unprocurable. One stall had two massive carbon steel pans full of mussels, clams, prawns, rice, chorito, onions, tomatoes, garlic, red peppers and much more. It was seafood paella and the metre wide pans were just sitting there simmering away. Snaking its way down the side of the stall and away to the beach was a line of customers just waiting for them to finish cooking.
Dinner came and went as did the spectacular sunset. In the meantime the beers, bourbon and wine flowed abundantly. The Nelson County 6.5%’ers did their job and livened up the conversation no end. The beautifully iced chardonnay and sauvignon blanc washed down the variety of food purchased and as a result the Gateman from Murray Bridge assumed ‘life of the party’ status. Conversation flowed as quickly as the drinks and the night developed into a perfect get together for 24 people, many of whom had never met each other before.
The ever thinking inaugural Global Speedway Tours Hall of Fame member Russell B went to a new level tonight. Parked adjacent to the VIP area was the “Doughnut Man” and his caravan became a popular place. Earlier, Kevvy the Gatekeeper had fancied some doughnuts and attempted to bargain with the DM way too early in the night. The price was two for $5, or four for $8. Kevin wanted better odds, but failed miserably and returned with his tail between his legs and a brown paper bag with just two doughies in it.
He related his tale of miserable lack of success to the group and Russell remembered it. Later in the night just before closing time (which is when deals should be done) Russ went around and collected any unused Mindil dollars. He managed $20. He nodded to Kev “come with me old mate and I’ll show you how it’s done.” He returned with 15 piping hot extra-large doughnuts in a big bag. They were gleefully shared among the group. Kevin gracefully declined to take one ….
Day 8 – Friday August 19th, 2022
If we were on tour in the USA, we would more than likely be on the road most of today getting to the next track. 100, 200, 400, 500 maybe even 700 kms would flow beneath our wheels just so we can check-in to the next hotel, throw the bags onto the bed, change into the t-shirt you want to wear that night and be back down in the foyer all inside 10 minutes. The bus would be there patiently waiting (with esky re-iced) ready to make the short drive to the nearby dirt track where tonight’s gladiators would entertain us.
But when it’s race night in Darwin, things are vastly different. The routine is much like this.
- 6.55am: Wake up and stumble to the apartment balcony
- 6.58am: Open sliding door and feel the immediate benefit of 23degrees of warmth
- 6.59am: Watch the sunrise over Darwin Harbour
- 7.05am: Marvel over the amount of activity on the harbour at dawn.
Take bets with Adam as to which tug will reach the incoming ship first
- 7.14am: Return to bed. Check the website to see how many read the Blog overnight
- 7.15am: Catch up on incoming e-mails and Facebook
- 7.51am: Wake up again
- 7.53am: Sh*#, shower and shave
- 8.09am: Decide which Global Speedway Tours’ shirt to wear.
The lime green, the red, the yellow, the NT orange, the grey, the lollypop orange, or the charcoal.
- 8.21am: Arrive in the breakfast room and straight away faced with more decisions
- 8.32am: Eat the eggs benedict, only to wish you’d chosen the pancakes and bacon.
Chat with other tour members to find out the pool temperature
- 9.04am: Decide to take a walk first. Head down to the Precinct.
Grab a table in the sun overlooking the Wave Lagoon. Order an extra hot cappuccino
- 10.28am: Wake up for the third time this morning to find cappuccino is now extra cold
- 11.16am: Arrive back at the Zen and take up position at the table in front of the laptop
- 11.20am: Still working out how to start the Blog for yesterday
- 11.55am: Can’t stop looking out the balcony window at Darwin Harbour. Decide that the Blog can wait for a while.
Besides I’ve got all day to get back to it
- 12.05pm: Phone rings. It’s the Gatekeeper, aka Kevin Arnold.
“Hey Pete. A few of us are going down to the Cavenagh for a couple. Interested?”
“Sure”, I say. “I’ve only just this minute finished the Blog, so I’m keen to whet the whistle”.
- 3.00pm: A couple of mid strengths (plus a couple more) have gone down nicely.
But now it’s time to get ready for the 4.00pm drive to the track
- 4.20pm: Drive into Northline Speedway car park.
No Americans around to park next to, so pick the one small gum tree to park under for make believe shade
- 4.25pm: Draw the cards for the Global Speedway Tours’ sweep on the 410 feature.
Immediately pay Karen for first and the Littles for second seeing as how they are likely to win again tonight!
- 5.02pm: Enter the Chariots’ Lounge and relax in the air-conditioned wondering where the day has gone ….
Tomorrow will be much the same, so will describe the Northline Speedway complex and the Chariots’ Lounge in some detail in a later edition.
The result of the sprintcar feature was probably never in doubt with Lochy McHugh holding on for the win from a highly impressive Adrian Redpath, who came from the B main, to take second. His was probably the drive of the night, but if it wasn’t then Matt Dumesny was next in line with a fence hugging third place spectacle that took people’s breath away.
Global Speedway Tours sweep results – Night 1
McHugh owned by Karen $40.00
Redpath owned by Adam $20.00
Dumesny owned by Kevvy the Gatekeeper $10.00
First to flip (Steve Lines) owned by Patricia Little $30.00
Day 9 – Saturday August 20th, 2022
Pretty much the same as yesterday, except I chose the lime green and charcoal today.
Northline Speedway sits inside the Government designated Motor Racing precinct of Hidden Valley. The V8 Supercars race here in June of each year and the track they use winds its way around the speedway complex. Harmonious relations exist I’d say between all stake holders, but one suggestion I’d make is not to put the ‘GazzaNat Burn Outs’ on the adjacent drag strip at the same time as the two biggest speedway nights of the year. The pungent smell and tyre smoke that wafted across the speedway was too much for some of the spectators last night. Tonight, the breeze changed fortunately and blew it away.
One unique feature of this track is the ability for a spectator to walk the entire 360 degrees around the track without having to retrace their steps to get back to where they started. To make this happen, the club have built footbridges over the pit entrance and exit roads, thus permitting the full monte (pun intended).
I’m not sure how many could fit in to Northline, but it would be close to 8-10k fans I’d reckon. The hill is huge and the many grandstands (plus the Chariots’ Lounge) hold their fair share of spectators. Having now been to the Mindil Markets, some of the food trucks at the track are the same, offering a variety of food never seen at other speedways around Australia, and certainly not in the USA for that matter.
The pits are large and well-manicured with grass and bitumen accurately defining the space allocated to each of the teams and their massive transporters. Despite the 45 sprintcar teams there was still plenty of space as a disappointing (less than 12) number of midgets (speedcars) made the haul up to the NT. Add in 20 Street Stocks and therein lies the tale of the tape at this year’s Chariots of Thunder. The quality is there in the sprintcars however, just to make sure there is no misunderstanding in that regard. Our tour members prove that every Friday and Saturday by being ready to leave the Zen each afternoon at 4 o’clock.
No point in going earlier as the Chariot’s Lounge doesn’t open until around 5.00pm. But the faithful who have forked out the extra money to secure Lounge access still patiently line up underneath the building ready to start the foot race to secure the best spots, just like the Warrnambool dash on Night 1 of the Classic. The Chariot’s Lounge presents a unique challenge in human nature. Inside it is beautifully air conditioned. Reserved seating is provided (Global Speedway Tours has two reserved tables) each one being at a 90-degree angle to the picture windows which allow viewing access of the racing, albeit restricted in some areas.
Outside (in the sun and the afternoon heat) are seating areas on stools and with bar tables that I will admit provide great viewing of the whole track and in particular turn 1, six metres below. But there is the little matter of heat and clay, helpfully thrown up into your beer by the sprintcars, that needs to be factored in. So popular is this alfresco area, that each year the speedway club engages a local builder to provide more and more seating / standing room via scaffolding erected just for the fortnight of CoT.
So where would you sit? I’ll probably never find out your answer, but believe me the bulk of people head straight for the outside area!
Catering for the entire Lounge is provided via a variety of food dispensed to the hungry hordes at various times of the night. I didn’t experience last year’s catering, which was heavily criticised by the patrons, but suffice to say that lessons have been learned this time and the quantity and quality has been dramatically improved. As has the serving thereof with staff at times carrying platters around to each table to ensure equality. Plus to those outside equipped with goggles and earplugs.
As far as the racing was concerned Lochy McHugh once again dominated qualifying, his heat and the dash to start off the pole. Glenn was pleased as punch that he drew the ace in the sweep draw. But alas McHugh unceremoniously spun on turn 2 and put the car into a wheelstand while doing so. The corresponding bounce back to earth damaged sufficient components that he pulled infield when the right rear expired. Matt Egel probably would have won tonight anyway though, such was his dominance. He massacred the field and surely must be favourite now to repeat his overall CoT win last year across next Friday and Saturday.
Global Speedway Tours sweep results – Night 2
Egel owned by Patricia Little $40.00
Veal owned by Karen $20.00
Hallett owned by Peter P $10.00
First to flip (no one did). $60.00 jackpots to Friday night
Day 10 – Sunday August 21st, 2022
Given that my father served in Darwin and was on board his Merchant Navy ship in the harbour when 188 Japanese Zero’s unexpectedly attacked the city from the south on February 19th, 1942, I figured that I needed to find out everything I could about how Darwin coped on that day and many others throughout WW2. Miraculously Dad’s ship wasn’t hit and he survived intact to live on to the great old age of 98, but I still felt that I needed to know more about what happened than I already did.
There was no better place to go than the Darwin Military Museum. If you are interested in this part of Australian history that nobody appears to mention throughout a kid’s schooling, then this place is a jewel in the crown. So will the Darwin Royal Flying Doctor Service Facility which we are visiting on Thursday before the CoT Fan Appreciation function at The Precinct.
Situated out at East Point, the Military Museum is partly housed in the original concrete command post bunker used by the army to run the nearby twin 9-inch guns that were built to defend Darwin in case of attack from the sea. Which never happened.
Upon entry the first sign to read is this one.
The exterior of the museum (ie outside) has a significant amount of original WW2 vehicles, guns, tanks and huts with excellent displays of “office paraphernalia” used to run the war. Communication equipment was prominent with radios large and small on display. Inside the brand new building built specifically for the museum were extensive photographic displays along with ,a terrific 13 minute long film specially produced for the museum which had original and studio enhanced footage of the first and second air raid on Feb 19th, 1942.
How anyone ever had a camera ready to secure any footage of the first air raid on Australian soil is a mystery since the Australian authorities in Darwin did not believe that a raid was pending. A coastwatcher on Bathurst Island to the north had jumped on his pedal radio to report that a large number of aircraft were flying overhead on their way south. No general alarm or air raid siren was sounded throughout Darwin because the RAAF officers who received that message wrongly judged that what the coastwatcher had seen was a squadron of American fighters returning to Darwin after bad weather aborted their flight to Java.
Hence at 9.58am 188 Japanese fighter aircraft had an unimpeded run into Darwin, its harbour and ports. The first attack lasted 30 minutes and sank three warships, six Merchant Navy vessels and damaged 10 others which did not immediately sink. A second raid several hours later destroyed airfields and planes on the ground. In all 243 were killed that day with 236 casualties.
The Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbour in Honolulu 73 days earlier on Dec 8th, 1941. Bringing the USA firmly into the cut and thrust of WW2. The attack on Darwin was similar in that it came as a massive shock to the attacked nation. Here’s a stat that will surprise. There were more bombs dropped on Darwin than onto Pearl Harbour. The loss of life was much greater at Pearl Harbour however (more than 2,400 lives lost) due to the presence of some major ships in the harbour and the catastrophic loss of the battleship Arizona and its 1,177 men.
Following the disastrous day of Feb 19th, the Japanese conducted more than 100 more bombing raids on the Northern Territory and parts of Western Australia’s north between March 4th, 1942 and 2nd November, 1943. These raids did some damage but in the main, the Allied Naval chiefs had largely dispersed their fleets to Brisbane, Fremantle and other smaller seaports. Conversely however the Allied Air Commanders had launched a build-up of their defences in Darwin by building more airfields and deploying many squadrons to the city.
I was so pleased that I had taken the time (along with all the other tour members) to learn more about the moment WW2 came to Australia. The balance of our education will come when we visit the Royal Flying Doctor exposition on Thursday.
Next up was lunch at the Casino which we figured would be a large enough place to comfortably handle 24 people in one hit. After which it was off to the Darwin Aviation Museum. It was certainly of interest with a B52 Stratofortress bomber the main attraction. Pretty much taking up the entire hanger with all other displays occurring beneath its towering wings and fuselage.
It was Sunday night, so although we could have gone out somewhere, the majority were happy to stay in the Zen and spend the night at the rooftop bar. Once again the sunset took everyone’s attention as did the usual nightfall over central Darwin. It sounds stupid to say so, but when looking at the tall apartment blocks which dominate the city skyline, New York City can be seen in there somewhere. Everyone keeps their lights on almost as though they have been told to by a proud city council. Perhaps they have …..
Day 11 – Monday August 22nd, 2022
We have two Toyota Hi Ace 12-seater buses always available to the group to take them to places on individual request, or as a group which is usually the case. Adam and I drive them, but right from the outset of planning the Chariots tour last year I decided that visiting Kakadu or Katherine Gorge in the 12 seaters was out of the question. If people want to visit these iconic places, then buying a seat on the commercial coaches going down there every day was the way to go.
And today was it. AATKings was the chosen provider and Karen, Adam and Russell set off this morning at 5.30am to catch the bus for Kakadu, while Deryk went to Katherine. The first three arrived back in Darwin around 7.30pm and met the rest at Shenanigans Irish pub and Deryk fell into bed at the Zen around 10.00pm.
The Irish establishment on Mitchell Street has excellent food and great happy hour prices from 4.00pm to 7.00pm. Every beer they have on tap is sold for $7.00 / pint. Food choices are extensive, but so far their Shepherd’s Pie is the only thing I’ve eaten there!
Today had been designated as a free day, but after a suggestion from Rick, those left “at home” took the buses out to the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory to view the special presentation about Cyclone Tracy. An event which changed the suburban landscape and the lives of Darwin’s residents for ever. Along with viewing the other displays, the two hours there were well spent. Lunch followed in the breezy café.
It was breezy because the Museum is built right on Fannie Bay overlooking an apparently un-named beach. Glenn and I wandered down onto the beach and I took the opportunity of giving my now healing nicely leg a shot in the saltwater again. My camera stayed in my pocket, but Glenn’s captured a general photo of me in the water, plus one very startling one. See for yourself.
As a postscript to the day’s activities, 9.00pm sees Karaoke start in earnest at the pub. Michael’s ears picked up when he heard this and after securing a promise that there would be no video, he wandered down to the stage to register. None of us knew what to expect but his rendition of Cold Chisel’s Flame Trees was fantastic. He captured the crowd, and us, with a 10/10 score. Not so impressive though was Lochy McHugh who we sincerely suggest doesn’t give up his other night job of driving sprintcars.
A further PS to today’s story is that photo above really does have crocs in it. It’s just that they are Glenn’s shoes …..
Day 12 – Tuesday August 23rd, 2022
Lots to do today. One of the popular past times on the American tours is to go shopping at the Outlet Stores at least once. None of those style shops up here in Darwin, but there is Casuarina Shopping Centre. With 53,000 square metres of retail floor area, every week it attracts twice the population of Darwin in customers through the doors. It’s worth everyone taking a look. Especially the male and female from southern Victoria who decided they needed a joint pedicure.
A shout out should go to South Australia’s Daniel Peska who saw fit to roll his immaculate #74 into the Centre for three days to publicise Chariots of Thunder the racing at Northline Speedway.
Everyone knew we had a tour highlight coming up late this afternoon, so amid afternoon return to the Zen was the appropriate thing to do. At 4.50pm we piled into the party buses and headed for Stokes Wharf, Dock 2. A mere five-minute drive away. It was here that a 900 horsepower jetboat awaited us. By coincidence it has 24 seats and we were 24 strong. So, it was all ours.
It was Stokes Wharf that took many direct hits during the Feb 19th, 1942 air raids. In fact 23 young waterside workers were killed instantly when the ship (the Neptuna) that they were unloading ammunition from, exploded after one too many bombs hit amidship. Once you know that history, walking along Stokes Hill wharf takes on an entirely different meaning. Nowadays it’s all pleasure with a Ferris wheel, many restaurants, departure points for pleasure craft and commercial displays like the Royal Flying Doctor Service Experience.
We were on Sea Darwin’s “Fish ‘n Chips” sunset cruise. Alan was our skipper and Eric was the young deckhand who besides lifting ropes and anchors, had the important task of getting off at Cullen Beach, wading knee high through the seawater, then walk up to the fish and chip shop to collect 24 meals. Remarkably when he came back and distributed them, they were still hot with both the fish and the chips remaining crisp ’til the end.
We then cruised Darwin Harbour while hungry troops devoured their surprisingly good dinner and the skipper looked for the best spot to watch the sunset from. If the tide had been out, this is where we would’ve eaten our dinner, but alas it wasn’t to be.
Beer, wine or bubbles were served with dinner and with the temperature a magnificent 26 degrees out on the harbour, it truly was a memorable occasion. We also went for a high-speed burn with the 900 hp motors getting a real work out for the “revheads” on board.
By the way, did you know (I didn’t) that Darwin Harbour is five times bigger than Sydney Harbour? Puts it in perspective somewhat.
And as quickly as we ate our dinner, the sun was nearing the horizon and fast dropping. The phones came out from everywhere and like the snapping turtles that live in the harbour, all you could hear were the sound of iPhone shutters clicking away.
And then it was all over. After some more hi-speed donuts under a deep red and orange sky on beautiful aqua blue ocean water, the skipper took us back to Stokes Hill Wharf after a memorable 90 minutes.
The little town of Heywood in Victoria is short seven residents at the moment. All are on the Chariots of Thunder tour. Here are four of them enjoying the Harbour jetboat.
Eric the deckhand takes a mean photo as well as getting the fish ‘n chips and distributing the drinks. Here’s all 24 of us.
Couldn’t help but put this sexy shot of Glenn in.
Caught taking a selfie under the red hot sky at Stokes Wharf.
And finally for all those who have ridden the fine old Ferris Wheel at Glenelg Beach in Adelaide, if you’re wondering where it’s gone, well we found it up here in Darwin on the wharf. But don’t worry you’ll get it back on a truck next summer.
Day 13 – Wednesday August 24th, 2022
It was an early start for Litchfield National Park this morning. And unusually, dawn brought some clouds to Darwin, but they didn’t hang for long. They were gone by the time I was having my eggs benedict in the Horizen Café. By the way, we only have five more nights here which of course can also be measured as 10 more eggs. Or, six pancakes with ice cream and maple syrup, plus four eggs on the odd days. Or …. ok I’m sure you get my drift ….. breakfasts are pretty cool at the Zen.
We were on the Stuart Highway by 7.30am travelling through suburbs such as Parap, Winnellie, Berrimah, Howard Springs (where the Quarantine Station is) and finally the impressive satellite city of Palmerston. Travelling further south to the 130 kmh speed limit areas, numerous signs appear announcing the presence of WW2 airstrips. Many of them are in between the highway and the train tracks. (The Ghan was nowhere in sight unfortunately.)
I recall seeing a map at the Military Museum which had been highly secret during the war and for many years after. Eventually it was released under freedom of information laws and it showed there were dozens and dozens of secret runways and airfields that had been constructed throughout the NT, “just in case”. Today we now drive past them as though they never existed.
Humpty Doo is just off the Stuart Highway ….. on the road to Kakadu in fact. But more about Humpty later. Sticking to the A1 (Stuart Highway) we would have ended up in Alice Springs if we hadn’t turned off the highway at Coomalie Creek for Batchelor, the gateway to Litchfield National Park. Just so you can get a feel for distances, Batchelor is 97 kms from our hotel.
38 kms into the National Park sees signposts to the “Magnetic Termite Mounds”. You wouldn’t think these would be a tourist attraction, but then again I suppose some people thought Stonehenge wouldn’t be either. The remarkable structures are pretty much everywhere but at this spot they are there in their hundreds, all perfectly lined up with their thin edges aligned exactly north-south and their broad backs facing east-west.
The busy little termites build these things as a home for the queen termite who for 50 years mass produces the workers every day so they can keep her cool in the manner to which she is accustomed. The coolness comes from the magnetically aligned mounds. They move to one side or the other, depending on the season and the sun.
Next stop was Florence Falls. Every visit from hereonin has a water hole for swimming. And every one of them had GST tour members sampling the waters. Florence was a test with 165 steps to the bottom. Which of course meant 165 back up too which deterred some. But for those who ventured down it was well worth it as the following picture and video show.
Using the same underground spring to supply the water is Buley Rockpools. Very picturesque, much easier to get to and safer for little kids who can play in the many shallow pools, rather than have to swim in the deep plunge pool at Florence.
Between Buley and Wangi, where lunch was planned, are other waterfalls and swimming holes but the walk to get to them is a two hour round trip on foot. Not really feasible for us, so they got left off the itinerary. Wangi Falls is the biggest and most popular of them all. Not necessarily the best, but it is the most negotiable and commercial.
Lunch at Wangi is not a cheap exercise. Half the cafeteria is off limits to the general public as the major tourist coaches take over the floor space to supply lunch to their passengers. Pricing like $12 for a cheese burger, which is just that. Meat and a slice of cheese in a bun. Want fries with that? OK, sure that’s $7.70 and a can of coke is $5.00. Suggest you take your own lunch, but still stop at Wangi and use the picnic facilities for free.
Homeward bound saw us take the B30 north out of Wangi through bushland for about 85 kms to the B34 which went east back to the Stuart Highway. The B30 is a great road having only been completely sealed in 2019. Once on the Stuart we needed the turnoff to Jabiru and the Humpty Doo pub. Just a couple of kms down the road is this very famous establishment which surely has more visitors drinking there than locals.
We helped the economy as best as we could with one member making friends with one of those locals in the front bar whose name was Rowdy. For the price of a Great Northern pint Rowdy gave me (sorry, I meant the tour person) one of those stubbie holders which very kindly asks the tourist to return one day with the words “See you in the NT”. Or something like that.
With nothing planned for the evening, the Zen roof top, the Darwin Hotel and Monsoons were popular. The latter had some kind of racing going on that they wanted to see …..
Day 14 – Thursday August 25th, 2022
We’re getting towards the end of the tour and the Chariots of Thunder racing. Hence the speedway Club had scheduled Fan Appreciation Day at the Precinct, a very large bar which supports speedway in Darwin so in turn the club supports it. But that is tonight.
Before that it was the Royal Flying Doctor Service out on Stokes Wharf to see their WW2 experience and also to learn more about the RFDS and its role in the Australian outback. There are some great virtual reality presentations of (in particular) the bombing of Darwin. Put the headphones and goggles on, sit down and await the start of the zeros flying overhead, bombs exploding all round you, shrapnel flying around requiring you to quickly dodge them.
Suddenly you are floating in the harbour amidst burning surface oil with exploding ships all around. You need to get yourself out of that predicament so grab at a buoy drifting past. It takes you into thick smoke with bullets from machine guns peppering the water around you. Then the action switches to the sky for (animated) vision of the view the Jap pilots had of the harbour and the ships that were sitting ducks. Very clever stuff.
Lunch was on the wharf while we waited for the hours to tick past until 5.00pm when the Precinct function kicked off. Around about 20 sprintcars, midgets and street stocks were positioned on the lawns of the pub around which teams sold their merchandise of course and drivers were accessible for autographs and pictures.
We had three tables reserved and $1,200 to spend on food and drink. That lasted until 9.30pm believe it or not with everyone getting their share of great pub food, cold beer and spirits.
Day 15 – Friday August 26th, 2022
“Friday night is speedway night” was the advertising catch cry of the track I grew up with – Rowley Park in Adelaide. So therefore most of the routine is as described back on day 8 in the blog. A bit different today though was the inclusion of cinema style viewing up on Level 16 in the “party room”. The viewing was night 1 of USAC’s Smackdown streaming live from Indiana’s Kokomo Speedway on the big screen. Non-wing racing is not everybody’s cup of tea, but 18 people gathered together sitting in highly comfortable armchairs and lounges. Chet Christner gave Global Speedway Tours a big shout-out on Flo Racing and the day was shaping up nicely.
4.15pm saw us drive into Northline Speedway’s parking lot and surprisingly found two trees providing a modicum of shade, which had been missed last weekend. To get the shade, we had to park out of alignment with other cars already there, thus causing vehicles coming in later to totally surround the two buses and park us in. Didn’t matter because we tailgated for an hour or so pre racing and at the end of the night “traffic clearers” are always compulsory. But not for the drivers!
It appears Mr McHugh spells his name Lockie, so I better do the same from now on, especially seeing as how he won again tonight. Although my eyes say that he was being caught by a fast finishing Jamie Veal and Brock Hallett. But he held on and took the chocolates to close the gap in the progressive point score. Last Saturday’s DNF hurt McHugh, but two first places have kept him in contention. Tassie’s Jock Goodyer leads with 420, however the first seven are separated by just 18 points.
Global Speedway Tours sweep results – Night 3
Lockie McHugh owned by Tania – $40.00
Jamie Veal owned by Michael – $20.00
Brock Hallett owned by Deryk – $10.00
First to flip (Daniel Harding) owned by Rick $60.00 (jackpotted)
Day 16 – Saturday August 27th, 2022
Exercise Pitch Black is on again courtesy of the Australian Air Force and 16 allied countries. The exercise hosts 2,500 personnel and up to 100 aircraft from around the globe, including participants from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Indonesia, India, Japan, Malaysia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand, UAE, US and UK. The commercial airport for Darwin and the RAAF share the same runways and because it is out near Hidden Valley, early arrivals at the speedway are treated to a great number of planes taking off and landing, hence the view from under the two trees under in the car park is quite spectacular.
Open Day for Pitch Black is today and the buses were ready to take interested tour members out to the RAAF base ,but surprisingly only a half dozen enthusiasts put up their hands. So one bus stayed home and the other left half full. Those who did go, arrived home gushing about the experience of being out on the tarmac amongst the fighter jets and mammoth transport planes. The pilots were with the aircraft and willingly answered questions and talked with the public as they roamed around.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, text messages were flying around to the tour host reminding him that the gates open earlier today for the final night of Chariots of Thunder. The tour host was already aware and responded with the news that the buses would also leave the hotel earlier than any other day, so that the keen ones could wait in line to get in, for longer than they have on any other day.
Extra ice was required in the back of the bus because the number of drinkers who wanted to quench their thirst under the trees meant that the esky was half empty after two each, so fresh (warm) beer was substituted and the newly applied ice did the trick within 25 minutes. The exercise was repeated again about 5.30pm to ensure the traffic clearers would be cold at the night’s end.
The speedway was packed to the rafters tonight. The Darwinites were out in force to support their local sprintcar heroes, of which there are more than we expected up here. The biggest hero of the lot is Ben Atkinson, but seeing as how he retired last year he wasn’t much value to the crowd. But young Benny Jnr was. I remember him saying over the PA last night that the pitcrew had discovered the cause of the sluggish car he had been racing for the first four nights. He told the crowd “suddenly I have a race car back to drive”. He was good last night, but was even better today when he (nearly) clean swept the night. Heat race, dash and the feature. From memory the only thing he missed was quick time. The place erupted as he crossed the line and a chain saw was needed to separate Ben and Benny as they hugged each other for what seemed like an hour.
Overall Chariots of Thunder points winner was Lockie McHugh from Matt Egel and Ryan Jones. The unluckiest driver in the pits however was Jock Goodyer who led the points going into the Saturday night A main. But as the feature rolled around Jock began to experience severe back and neck pain. Heeding the advice of the paramedics on hand, he elected to travel to hospital for scans to ensure there was no serious problem. A random spasm causing the affected muscles to lock up was identified as the culprit.
Global Speedway Tours sweep results – Night 4
Benny Atkinson Jnr owned by Carmel – $40.00
Grant Anderson owned by Patricia – $20.00
Callum Williamson owned by Blayke – $10.00
First to flip – No one. The $30 bought a bunch of unsuccessful Keno tickets at the Trailer Boat Club Sunday night.
Day 17 – Sunday August 28th, 2022
The final night of USAC’s Smackdown at Kokomo in Indiana was streaming live on Flo Racing this morning so once again with the support of the Hotel staff we were permitted to use the function room on the 16th floor to hook up the iPad to the big screen TV. About 16 people nestled into the big comfy arm chairs and watched as Kyle Cummins streeted the field to win a non stop feature every lap. He took home $20,000 for the win and $15,000 for leading each lap at $500 each time.
The afternoon was free with swimming preceding a 3.00pm roll call at the roof top bar. The order of the day was the corporate tour polo shirt for a team photo. The back ground was spectacular as the expansive Darwin Harbour opened up to us for the shot. Seeing as we were up there, and seeing as it was hot, and seeing as it was after 3.00pm, and the bar was open, we stayed there until it was time to catch the lift to the ground floor and board the buses for our farewell dinner at the Darwin Trailer Boat Club.
Being a Sunday, and being one of the best places (on land) to watch the sunset, the Club was jam packed. A reservation made months ago was a great suggestion from Dennis and Patricia because we would not have got a table otherwise. Let alone one in a prime spot for 24 people. Known for its seafood, most had exactly that. A great night capped off by a couple of fun rides back in the party bus.
Day 18 – Monday August 29th, 2022
Darwin has some most unusual arrival and departure times for air travel. There are some flights which arrive in daylight hours of course, but most arrive (and leave) after midnight. So it wasn’t unexpected that some GST tour members needed to be at the airport around 11.00pm on the day of the farewell lunch at the Trailer Boat Club. This was easily catered for and we bade farewell to Chris, Dayle and (13 year old, going on 21) Blayke who needed to connect with a morning flight out of Melbourne to Launceston.
The rest left at all different times today and the exercise of coordinating the buses for airport transport to suit aeroplanes was carefully coordinated without incident. Some had lengthier connection waits than others, but they were pleased to learn that the Exercise Pitch Black was still on in earnest. Fortunately the Darwin Airport public lounge has hundreds of metres of floor to ceiling windows that look over the boarding gates and runways. Those who had to mark time for their flight watched as the fighter jets from the 15 countries continually took off on training exercises with their international buddies.
Messages from various folks across Australia in the following days indicated that everyone made it home safe and sound but weren’t happy at all with having to go back into winter again after 13 superb sunny, warm and humidity free days in delightful Darwin with a whole bunch of new friends from far and wide.