Mark Skaife was relentless in his passion and never gave in - now he's told his story in his own words.
Among his many accolades are five Supercars Series Championship victories and six overall firsts in the Bathurst 1000. To quote Tony Cochrane (V8 Supercars co-founder), he was “a colossus in every sense on the track.”
His new autobiography, Mark Skaife: The Complete Illustrated Autobiography goes in-depth into his career, the friendships he’s formed along the way, his personal life, his work post-retirement –and everything in between.
Mark let’s get right into it. In the very first sentence of your autobiography, you say how lucky you were to drive with the three best teams of each era - Gibson Motorsport, Holden Racing and Triple Eight. Which was the most enjoyable and competitive to be with?
They were all dominant within the sport during their different time periods. Gibson Motorsport, it was the number one race team in the country. It was very well backed by our sponsors, whether it was Nissan or Holden or Rothmans. And my association with Fred Gibson was fantastic, so I look back really favourably on those early years. And then I also look back really favourably at what was probably the peak of my career driving for Holden Racing Team and then owning the team for many years. And then again finishing of my career with Craig Lowndes at Roland Dane’s Triple Eight Team. It was just the perfect icing on the cake. So, I can’t really answer with authority as to which one was the best.
When you look back on your career, is there a particular victory or moment that stands out the most?
There’s a couple that I’m highly proud of. In 2000 coming from the back of the field at the Clipsal 500, starting last, and winning the race with a drive-through penalty in the middle of the race. To be able to be victorious that day, in the rain on the streets of Adelaide, was one of my best drives and one that I look back really favourably on. And I also look back at 2002, winning Bathurst with Jim Richards, as one of my favourite moments. I’ve been very lucky, it’s been a great ride.
You called your crash at the 1990 Grand Prix in Adelaide the biggest of your life...
I still remember it so clearly today, 30 years on – the severity of how fast it was when it broke the left-hand rear wheel and rolled over on its roof. Then it speared into the fence and then sort of circled back onto the main raceway again. The car was so significantly damaged that I couldn’t open the door and couldn’t get out and the car caught on fire. It went along on its roof for so long that it started to wear through the roof of the car and into my helmet. I remember that one as if it was yesterday because it was a pretty severe incident.
Talking about some of the more controversial moments of your career, you described the way the crowd responded to your Bathurst victory in 1992 as “gutting.” Why did the crowd respond like that and what angered you most about it? Was it all Neil Crompton’s fault?
Yeah I was gutted and so was Jim, we wanted to be credited with what was a good drive and a good performance. ‘Crompo’ didn’t help when he gave them all the bird on the podium, which clearly wound them up. And then Dick Johnson wound them up too. So, by the time that Jimmy and I went to go onto the podium, the crowd were fully energised and there was a lot of tension. I certainly didn’t appreciate their reaction and what Jim said to them all I think was pretty appropriate.
Craig Lowndes described how when you first joined HRT, there was a lot of ex-Gibson workers there and they were not all that keen on you coming in. Did you ever feel any animosity or treated differently?
Me joining HRT had a couple of issues and hurdles to cross. Firstly I had to leave Fred Gibson’s team and I had to go and talk to him and relay my decision. That was a very difficult moment and one of the toughest conversations I’ve ever had to have. And when I got there, there were a lot of people that had worked with me/ for me at Gibson’s who had moved across to HRT. So yes, there was a bit of animosity if we didn’t get on very well before and there was maybe some ill-feeling with a couple of people.
Back on more positive things, what was your first car?
My first road car was just a WB Holden Ute and we were a Holden family. For me my first car was just for everybody’s use. In those days, none of us had mobile phones and things like that, so your first car experiences were all about freedom and that was a big part of your enjoyment of the day. It was how you got to go and see your friends and go to places you hadn’t been to before. It was fantastic.”
How did ‘Godzilla’ change your life?
Godzilla it changed my life because I had my first win in the Australian Touring Car Championship and my first win at Bathurst in the Nissan GTR in it. I didn’t ever really like the nickname of the car, but the journos made it up. At the time the Nissan GTR was the most highly developed touring car in the world. I was able to test drive and initially do all the developments on the car with Fred Gibson and the team. And then ultimately, we had incredible success, so it was a brilliant phase of my career. The Japanese, from a core technology perspective, had done a very good job of creating an absolute weapon.
From when you first started as a young driver, right through to the modern-day era, how much has changed in motorsport?
Motorsport’s evolved immensely since I first started. Not only have we got more professional, we’ve also become immensely more technical. When I first started racing with Jim Richards we would only look at the stopwatch for instance and be able to say, well, you're faster than me or I’m faster than you. However, as time went by in the early 90s, we were the first ones to have data acquisition and we could actually print the lapout on a computer and look at the speed differences between the cars, and the corners to corners for the drivers. A lot of that technicality brought into play a lot more science and a lot more engineering development that needed to be part of your repertoire.
Mark’s autobiography, Mark Skaife: The Complete Illustrated Autobiography (Affirm Press $45). is available wherever good books are sold or click here.