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Geoff Brabham’s tribute to his father

Submitted by on June 12, 2014

Geoff BrabhamSir Jack’s eldest son reveals a little bit about what it was like growing up with the three-time world champion.

As one might expect, the state funeral of motor racing legend Sir Jack Brabham was a huge affair, attended by many whilst being simultaneously live-streamed across the globe. Here at Motorsport Retro it was the words of his eldest son Geoff which have stayed with us in the 24 hours that have since passed. Below, we’ve included the full transcript of his personal, revealing tribute to his late father.

MORE: The Jack Brabham story (Documentary)

“First of all I’d like to thank everybody for coming to celebrate dad’s life, particularly the Premier Campbell Newman for allowing us to do this today.

It’s amazing that so many have come from here and overseas to share this moment with us.

I do need to apologise that this service is a little bit late, however Matthew and Sam had racing commitments overseas and I know that dad would have got out of his coffin there and kicked our ass if they missed a couple of races for him.

Unfortunately Matthew lost the Freedom 100 by 0.005s and Sam managed to roll his car over a couple of times. But dad would have been proud of them for just having a go.

As I was growing up one question I was always asked was, ‘what is it like having a father who is a Formula 1 world champion?’

Geoff and Jack BrabhamJack and Geoff Brabham

I always felt it was a difficult question to answer because you only get one family and the lifestyle we lived was the only one I ever knew.

But as you grow up and make friends I started to understand our life was a little bit different to other families.

One thing that really stood out more than anything else; it was definitely not boring.

Every race meeting was an adventure. It started with just trying to get to the track. Dad had his own plane and we flew to all the races together.

Sometimes we would land in a field next to the track or at the nearest airport. That sounds simple enough, but in those days there were not the rules and regulations that we have today so things could get very interesting to say the least.

I can remember landing in a field next to Oulton Park in northern England and as usual we were late and the sun had already gone down.

As we touched down it became very clear that we were definitely not going to stop before the lake at the end of the field because the grass was really, really wet.

The next thing I know dad spun the plane backwards and had the engines on full power. We actually managed to stop with the tail almost hanging over the water.

Dad just laughed and taxied back to the people who were waiting for us as if nothing had happened.

Ron Tauranac might remember this one. We had a family home in Corsica and we stopped there on the way to the Italian Grand Prix.

So we all pile into the plane and start up the engines and as we taxi away one of the props hit a bag of stones that they had there to tie the planes down when it got a bit windy.

The problem was the control tower saw it and ordered us to stop. Obviously we were late and had to get to the Italian Grand Prix, so it was actually causing us a bit of an issue.

After a little bit of a discussion, they actually sent someone out to inspect the plane and the prop.

So dad calmly stops the other engine that didn’t hit the stones and after a quick inspection and a shrug of the shoulders we were on our way. Although the plane had a really big vibration on the way to Italy.

Dad always flew just above our house when he came back from a trip. It was to tell our Mum to start dinner.

You couldn’t miss it as the whole house shook. I’d imagine every house in the street shook and in fact I’m pretty sure the whole neighbourhood knew that Dad was coming home for dinner.

When we went to the F2 races with Honda in 1966 we often had engines in the cabin with Japanese mechanics sitting on the floor holding onto it, including Mr Kawamoto-san who later became CEO and president of Honda.

I remember flying across the English channel and the plane had some sort of fuel problem, so every now and again one engine would slow down and then pick up again.

This would throw you forward, and then when the engine picked up you’d smash your head in the headrest.

This was all because dad was too cheap to get it fixed in France.

Believe me, I’ve only scratched the surface. I could go on and on with flying stories.

jack and Geoff brabhamGeoff and Jack Brabham

We got into trouble in other ways as well.

I was lucky enough to be taken to South Africa in about 1965.

Dad decided to visit the Kruger National Park. So six of us piled into a big American car. There was us, Denny Hulme and a couple of mechanics.

Anyway, we came across a whole bunch of baboons sitting in the middle of the road and the big nasty leader of the pack jumped on our bonnet and was staring at us through the windshield.

Unfortunately Denny decided to wind the window down in the back and take some photos of the baby baboons.

At the same time one of the mechanics started to eat something out of a paper bag.

The baboon jumped down, came through the window and went across the back of the seat and snatched the bag out of the mechanic’s hands.

Luckily for us, I think that if the baboon had actually felt it was trapped in there it probably would have ripped us all apart.

As I said, life with dad was never boring.

Following dad around the race tracks was incredible back then. Some years he’d be doing F1, F2 and the British Touring Car Championship all at the same time.

In my opinion, dad’s greatest gift was his amazing feel for anything mechanical, whether it was flying or driving a race car.

Yes, he would push the limits, but he always had that feel of where the limit was on any given day. It was the main reason he stayed alive when so many didn’t.

A good example of his feel and how dangerous it was back then, was in 1957 Cooper took a streamlined car to Reims in France for an F2 race.

Dad did a few laps and decided he did not like the feel of it and went back to the normal open-wheel car, probably because they had no knowledge of aerodynamics at all back in those days.

Another driver, Bill Whitehouse, had a problem with his car and begged dad, Roy Salvadori and John Cooper to drive the streamlined car, which he eventually did.

I asked dad ‘how did he go?’ and dad just shrugged his shoulders and said ‘well the car flipped and he killed himself’.

There was also another driver killed in the same race.

Dad also survived because he was always driving strong, well engineered race cars.

I’m sure Ron Tauranac and dad would come up with a concept, Ron designed the cars and dad tested them.

It was an incredible partnership. They became the biggest car manufacturer of their era.

If you wanted to win and have confidence the car would not break, then there was only one choice, and that was to buy a Brabham.

Dad hardly had any mechanical failures in his career. In fact I’ve had way more than he did.

He had a few tyre failures which resulted in the only injury he every had, which was a broken ankle.

Funnily enough the only time I was hurt was also due to a tyre failure and Matthew had a scare the other week at Indianapolis when he had a tyre failure at close to 300km/h in the middle of Turn 4. Luckily he kept it off the walls.

It (tyre failures) must be a bit of a Brabham tradition unfortunately.

All race drivers need a bit of luck though. He’s had his fair share of near misses.

In the 1959 Portuguese Grand Prix he was dicing for the lead with Stirling Moss when a lapped car did not see him and sent him flying off the road.

He hit straw bales which sent him in the air and threw him out into the middle of the track. The car then hit a telegraph pole halfway up.

He always said if he was wearing seatbelts he would have been killed.

Anyway, he’s lying in the middle of the road, looks up and sees Masten Gregory heading straight for him.

Dad rolls out of the way and Masten Gregory just misses him. After the race he grabs hold of Masten and asks what the hell was he doing?

To which Masten replied by saying, when dad hit the pole, all the wires came down onto the track and he was afraid he was going to get electrocuted.

So he took his hands off the wheel and his feet off the pedals and at that point he couldn’t care less about dad.

He also credits Masten for actually saving his life at Indianapolis. Masten had just quit his team and dad asked him why.

Masten GregoryMasten Gregory at Indy

Masten said the car was trying to kill him. Dad figured that if Masten said that it had to be really bad.

As it turned out dad had to start behind that car in the race and at the start he never took his eyes off it.

Sure enough it crashed and two drivers were killed in a horrible accident. If dad had not given the car a little more space than normal he would have been involved in that accident as well.

Dad was a three-time world champion and unlucky in my opinion not to be a five-time world champion.

He won the championship in a car bearing his own name with an Australian Repco engine; a feat that’s unlikely ever to be repeated.

He was a legend and a giant, not only in motor racing but in all Australian sport.

Of course that meant nothing when I said that I wanted to start racing. You would have thought that I’d wanted to pull all his teeth out with a pair of pliers.

At the time his Ford dealership in Sydney was running a Formula Ford and eventually he let me have a go.

It is a myth that myself, Gary and David had some sort of advantage having a world champion as a dad to help us when we first started to race.

Brabham familyDavid, Geoff, Gary and Jack Brabham

The only advice dad ever told me my whole career was the first time I drove a race car and he said ‘there’s the throttle, the brake and the steering wheel and if you crash, don’t come back’.

There was no data back then, dad just felt that you’re either quick enough or you weren’t. It was as simple as that.

He felt any fool could drive a race car but very few people could actually race a race car and there’s a very big difference.

I believe all he said to Gary was keep it off the green stuff and the words of wisdom to David were ‘to go fast you need less brake and more throttle’.

Today there are many tools available to help athletes reach their potential faster. But I agree with dad when he said ‘if you’re not good enough, that’s just the way it is’.

If all it took was a little bit of coaching then we could all pick up a tennis racquet, go to Wimbledon and win the finals. It’s just not that easy.

The other myth that we had to deal with was the perceived notion that we had extra pressure on us for what our father had achieved. What a load of rubbish.

The kids who have real pressure are the ones whose fathers have done nothing and are trying to live their lives through their children.

Dad was never, ever like that. For sure the name can help, but only if you win. If you’re at the back of the field, it’s no help whatsoever.

However, as all our careers evolved he got a big kick out of us doing well. It was cool when I won Le Mans and dad was there to share the moment with me.

And behind the scenes he was very helpful throughout all our careers.

But I think he gets more excited about his grandchildren Matthew and Sam racing that myself, Gary or David.

He was immensely proud when Matthew and Sam started winning races and could not wait to get the next race report that we always used to send him.

It gave him an interest and something to look forward to which I think was something really important and great to see.

But at the end of the day he was a racer and I know he’s lying there with a smile on his face that Matthew and Sam decided to follow his footsteps and the Brabham name will still be winning races around the world.

Another myth is that people talk about genes being passed down the family. That’s not true.

Racing is a disease and luckily only Matt and Sam have caught it.

Dad’s other grandchildren Jason, Finn, Lachlan and William, plus step grandchildren Kirk, Clayton, Belinda and Briony obviously have more sense and are pursuing other careers.

I’m sure dad would also be very proud of all their achievements.

I’m not sure I should tell this story. I bounced it around with Gary and David quite a bit and we all felt that some light-hearted humour would not be such a bad thing.

The last story I have of dad happened only just recently. Someone had told dad that a magnetic field would help slow his prostate cancer.

So dad goes out and in typical fashion, gets an industrial strength magnet, which is about 50mm by 35mm in size and keeps it in his undies.

Low and behold the cancer count actually goes down. So dad gets all excited and decides to get two of these magnets.

Unfortunately these magnets are so strong that no one could possibly keep them apart when they get close together, let alone an 87-year-old man. You could tow a car with these damn things.

Anyway, you don’t have to use your imagination to think what happens next. They slam together with some of his, how can I say, more delicate parts squashed in between them.

I’ll spare you the gory details, but all I can say is that it was incredibly difficult to get two pairs of multi-grips on two industrial strength magnets when you’re laughing and dad is rolling around in agony.

But we eventually managed to get them apart. Otherwise it was off to hospital and that would have been really embarrassing.

One thing I’m thankful for is that dad lived in the perfect era for him. He would not have survived in the cotton wool, over-regulated world we have curated today.

I could not imagine some so called academic sitting behind a desk with no life experience trying to ban dad from doing something because there was a million to one chance of scratching yourself. He would have gone absolutely nuts.

In closing, I know there will be very few people in this world that dad would swap his life with.

I know one of his goals was to outlive his enemies and he definitely achieved that.

He lived an incredible life and I don’t believe you could ask for any more.

I could say rest in peace but I know he’s up there trying to talk someone into building something so they can race against each other.

Jack Brabham funeralMemorabilia and flowers adorn the casket of Sir Jack Brabham

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