By late 1983 Peter Brock was the biggest star in Australian motor racing. He was in the middle of a run of six Bathurst 1000 victories in seven years, catapulting him to the level of stardom reserved only for the biggest names in sport.
But all was not well, with two incidents in close succession driving a wedge between Peter and his brother Phil, a private family feud played out in the public domain.
Phil was a decent driver in his own right, and the pair had teamed up at the Bathurst 1000 in both 1976 and 1977, finishing third and fourth.
In 1983, the brothers were again teammates with the Holden Dealer Team (HDT), but not due to share the same car.
Peter would team up in the iconic 05 Commodore with Larry Perkins, the pair looking to defend the title they’d won in 1982, while Phil was paired with John Harvey in the team’s second car.
Initially, all was well for the team, with the 05 car taking pole position, and the Harvey/Phil Brock entry fifth on the grid. The stage seemed set for the all-conquering HDT cars to once again make Mount Panorama their own.
But at the end of the eighth lap the unthinkable happened. The 05 Commodore, with Peter at the wheel, peeled off into the pits, smoke pouring from the engine. His day was done with less than 50 kilometres complete.
Or was it? Almost immediately word began filtering up and down the pitlane, that Peter and Perkins would take over the second car from their teammates, leaving Harvey and Phil Brock to watch on for the rest of the day.
It was within the rules as they were written at the time, and that’s exactly what happened. Harvey pitted from second place, and less than half an hour after retiring the 05 car, Peter was back in business.
From there it was very much a return to normal programming. Peter and Perkins took the lead on lap 48, and didn’t relinquish it for the next 115 laps, winning by more than a lap from the Mazda of Allan Moffett and Yoshimi Katayama.
While Harvey drove the first stint and was credited with the win, along with Peter and Perkins, Phil didn’t drive the car at all on raceday and therefore isn’t counted as a Bathurst champion.
According to Peter’s longtime partner Bev Brock, who spoke to Wide World of Sports ahead of this week’s release of Brock: Over the Top, Peter had few qualms about sidelining his younger sibling.
“It was a very tough call, particularly being his brother,” Bev said.
“But when it came down to it, Peter was the decision maker. He had to make decisions that looked after the sponsors, the guys in the team, even the fans.
“It couldn’t come down to giving favouritism to a particular driver, if it meant it jeopardised the outcome.”
Bev admits the decision caused a split between the two brothers.
“Phil was quite justifiably upset by that, and he was wasn’t happy with Peter, or with Larry. But in the end, the decision turned out to be the right one,” she said.
“That’s one of the things that happen when you own the team. You have to put other priorities first.
“Sadly, sometimes you just have to accept that it’s just not your turn.”
The reaction to Peter’s move to sideline Phil was certainly not in keeping with Peter’s standing in the motor racing community, where, in the eyes of Holden supporters, he could do no wrong.
An editorial in The Australian immediately after the race, headlined ‘Twilight for the 1000’ was particularly scathing.
“Without detracting from Brock’s win, it should be noted he was allowed to transfer to his team’s second car after his own was sidelined with engine trouble,” the report said.
“Is this regulation fair to competitors who do not have his resources?
“If public opinion is any guide, the race is at the crossroads.”
But the Bathurst controversy was simply the opening act in a family tragedy. Just weeks later, Phil was returning from a car launch, having had, in his words “a few drinks.”
He crashed, suffering serious injuries after the car hit a telegraph pole. It left him in a bad way, unable to return to work at HDT for more than a few hours at a time. A couple of months later, Peter, the team boss, sacked him.
“I wasn’t too happy with him,” Phil says in the movie, becoming emotional more than three decades later.
“I couldn’t tell people he sacked me, the guy was my idol. I could never understand it.”
But Bev says Peter was left with no choice but to show Phil the door, given Peter’s association with the campaign to end drink driving.
“Phil found that extremely hard, but Peter was the face of the 05 campaign, and he couldn’t afford to make any decision that was going to jeopardise that, because it was a huge part of HDT,” she said.
“Phil knew that, as an adult he knew the consequences of drink driving. He’d just taken the car for its launch on the Don Lane Show, and he wrote the car off.
“He ended up nearly losing his life, he was severely injured, and in the end Peter decided that you have to have people who make responsible choices when you’re in the public eye like that.”
Fortunately time heals all wounds, and Phil and Peter reconciled, with Phil participating in various tributes to Peter since his death.
But Bev maintains the decision to fire Phil from HDT was absolutely the right call.
“Peter had to cut those ties at that time. Phil was obviously gutted, but there are consequences. You have to take responsibility for the choices you make.”
Made for the cinema, Brock: Over the Top is available to rent from Friday 3 July on digital platforms such as Apple TV, Fetch and Google Play.