Australian racing legend Frank Gardner was a great friend to our family and will be sadly missed by us all. Our thoughts go out to his family and close friends.
To me personally, Frank was my hero from a period of racing that many of the greats did not make it through. He was a real mans-man, I had always read about him and his racing exploits through numerous publications we have in the archive from Europe, USA, South Africa and of course right here in Australia. In fact, it is virtually impossible to pick up any racing magazine from the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s and not see him mentioned.
I first met Frank when he was running the Sierra’s in the late 1980’s for Tony Longhurst. I was only a kid following Dad and Tony through the team workshop, but to finally meet this man in the terry towel hat I had heard so much about was a moment I will always remember.
I was fortunate to spend a bit of time with him in 1999 when he helped train me to drive (and survive) at the Norwell driving facility he set up. Basically, he did this as a favour for Dad, so I would not become a fixture of the Tasmianian contryside in the Targa rally that year. The lessons he taught me did in fact save me more than a just a few times, but perhaps the biggest I did learn was just where I sat in the world of drivers...
After a session on the centres test track we took a black E class AMG for a run through the back roads of Norwell. He had the car on the absolute limit through the canefields with it drifting beautifully at so many different angles, but never once out of control. His natural balance and being able to read what it was doing way ahead of time was amazing, all whilst talking to me the whole way and cracking the odd dry wit joke as if it was a drive to a Sunday lunch. I knew it was and still is way above my level of ability behind the wheel. His jokes about drivers “running about of ability” still ring in my head whenever I drive any of our cars.
We have had Franks trophies here on display in our main shed for some time now. Running through them is as an enriching experience as visiting the cars. The last time Frank came up to see us he ran through a lot of the different trophies and I know he was genuinely delighted that we knew a lot about most the races and wins the trophies were attached to. To see the actual trophy of so many of the races we had read and heard about is just another tangible link to the past. His GT40 and Cobra racing stories were my favourite, especially when he would look at our two cars and make comments of how you could potentially crash them and “attend your own BBQ”.
You will be missed Frank, but never forgotten...