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Tragic tale behind five words that rocked a nation

Five words cemented Jim Richards in Bathurst 1000 folklore, and the story behind them is perhaps one of the turbulent and tragic tales in Australian motorsport.

Richards is a legend of the sport, known for his seven wins at Mount Panorama that placed him just two shy of the late Peter Brock, King of The Mountain

The 1992 Bathurst 1000 was to be the swansong for the four-wheel-drive Nissan Skyline GT-R in the event and what was then known as the Australian Touring Car Championship.

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Richards was among those racing the GT-R, driving with Mark Skaife and Fred Gibson’s eponymous team, Gibson Motorsport.

Nissan’s dominance had turned up the noses of dyed-in-the-wool Ford and Holden fans and for 1993 the regulations would change to rule it out of the competition.

It was anything but a fond farewell, as Richards recounted in his newly released book: Gentleman Jim.

On that Sunday in 1992, Richards and Skaife rocketed to the lead early and controlled proceedings thereafter.

The dominance that the GT-R had been known for continued until the dying moments of the race when heavy rain began to lash The Mountain.

A decisive call not to pit and continue on slick tires while the circuit was battered by rain proved the difference.

Despite crashing and subsequently becoming the subject of iconic scenes as the car slide out of control into a pile-up, Richards and Skaife were crowned winners.

As race officials stopped proceedings early, the result was wound back to the last fully completed lap – which was when Richards and Skaife led.

At the time, the Kiwi thought his hopes had been dashed. He’d made his way back to the pit lane in a medical car expecting the worst.

“I thought, ‘Well, that’s it, I’ve buggered it, we’ve lost the race because I hit the wall’,” Richard recalled.

“When I got out of the medical car, I thought the team was going to be pissed off.

“Then they all came running over waving and carrying on, Skaifey was yelling, ‘We’ve won! We’ve won!'”

“It was unbelievable. You could say that was one of the happiest moments of my life.”

Having gone from agony to ecstasy, Richards’ excitement soon turned to anger as the fans below the podium let their feelings be known.

What was to be the sweetest moment turned sour as the crowd hurled abuse and beer cans flew at the rostrum, the already anti-Nissan crowd upset that the car that had crashed out was given the win.

“Skaifey and I were waiting to go out onto the podium, still laughing and giggling because we’d thought we’d lost the race,” Richards explained.

“Then they called for the third placegetters to head out onto the podium, (Neil Crompton) and Anders (Olofsson), and there was all this booing and carrying on, and the crowd were throwing cans at the podium.

“There was a bar in the area we were waiting in, and Skaifey suddenly starts picking up beer cans and putting them in his Tooheys Top Gun leather jacket that they gave to the race winners.

“I stopped him, ‘No, forget it; we’ll just go out, say hi, thank the sponsors and disappear, and in about one minute we’ll be back here having a beer.”

What followed was one of the most iconic lines ever uttered in Australian motorsport as Richards let the crowd know how he felt.

“I’m just really stunned for words,” he said at the time, standing on the podium.

“I can’t believe the reception. I thought Australian race fans had a lot more to go than this.

“This is bloody disgraceful. I’ll keep racing but, I tell you what, this is gonna remain with me for a long time. You’re a pack of arseholes.”

It all came after a tragedy a few hours earlier on lap 32 when his countryman Denny Hulme suffered a heart attack at the wheel of the Benson & Hedges-backed BMW M3.

The pair had been good friends. ‘The Bear’, as he was fondly known, won the 1967 Formula 1 World Championship in an Australian-built Brabham.

Richard said he was told after his first pit stop that Hulme had died suddenly, though the emotion of it all didn’t sink in until later.

“I sound a little bit callous but hearing that Denny had died had no effect on me at all during the race,” he explained.

“It hit me after the race was over. I had a beer and shed a few tears.

“I’ve always been able to cop things like that reasonably well; I guess the younger you are the less it affects you.

“If you were going to pass away, at least Denny died doing what he loved doing.”

Richards remains one of New Zealand’s most celebrated figures in motorsport.

His son Steven went on to win the Bathurst 1000 five times, making it the most successful family at Mount Panorama.

Richards’ grandson Clay has begun racing and recently competed at The Mountain for the first time.

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