For Bendigo-based motoring enthusiast Gary O'Brien, nothing beats the atmosphere of the Bathurst 1000.
"It's the Mecca (of motor racing)," Mr O'Brien said.
"The atmosphere, it brings the best out of everyone. It's the Holy Grail, the grand final, the most iconic track in the country and to be part of it, the fanfare, it's amazing."
Given this testimony, it's no wonder Mr O'Brien is excited to return to the Mt Panorama track next week for the ultimate motor racing festival in the nation.
COVID-19 restrictions and border closures prevented Victorians from attending the Bathurst 1000 in 2020, but with those obstacles now largely removed, Mr O'Brien is heading back to the mountain.
He has been going to Australia's premier motoring event since 1979 and until last year's pandemic-enforced absence had only missed one other Bathurst race - in 1990 due to personal reasons.
Mr O'Brien has even had the rare privilege of racing at the track in 2011 when he was a driver competing in the Touring Car Masters series, the year he won the championship.
It's the Holy Grail, the grand final, the most iconic track in the country and to be part of it, the fanfare, it's amazing.- Gary O'Brien
These days he is mainly in the workshop, preparing rather than than driving a car for the Touring Car Masters which focuses on pre-1980 vehicles.
Mr O'Brien and his team at Bendigo Retro Muscle Cars have been busy working on a 1977 Holden LX Torana A9X for John Bowe Racing which will be one of the support races to the V8 Supercars at next week's six-day motoring festival at Bathurst.
The Torana is leading the Touring Car Masters series at the moment and a top two finish should ensure the team comes home with the Piston Cup.
Bendigo Retro Muscle Cars team built the Torana about seven years ago. It debuted at Winton in 2015 and went on to win the championship in its first season.
"It came straight off the trailer and it was as fast as JB's (John Bowe) Mustang which was the benchmark back then in that category," Mr O'Brien said.
"They thought we'd done something illegal to the car it was so quick.
"Being a professional driver, John took the car straight to pole position and smacked them for six. It was the best weekend.
"Word got round about the car and by the Sunday we had half of Bendigo turn up to watch the race."
Mr O'Brien said a great team with automotive expertise and the right skill sets combined to come up with a "rocketship".
"We started with a 308 Holden five litre engine because I'm all about Australian and locally made," Mr O'Brien said.
"They were becoming difficult to find and a bit thin on the ground so we put in a 5L motorsport Chev engine which are more commercially available."
The car has been clocked at 284km/h and still holds the lap record in a race at Bathurst in the Touring Car Masters series.
"We have had lap records at every track we've raced at," Mr O'Brien said.
He said a long-standing friendship with John Bowe resulted in the small Bendigo team earning the trust of a professional driver to work on his car.
"In 2017 when the car was smashed to bits, the next time JB got in it he said 'this is brand new, it's amazing," Mr O'Brien said.
Part of the secret is hand cleaning the Torana from top to bottom and underneath, looking for any issues along the way from oil leaks to worn bearings.
"For a six-year-old car it's in good condition, because when we hand clean we can spot any little problem," Mr O'Brien said.
Due to ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks this year, the last race in the Touring Car Masters series was in Sydney back in May but there will be a season finale at Bathurst next week.
"We'll set off from Bendigo on Saturday and head to Forbes and spend two days relaxing with friends," Mr O'Brien said.
"We'll be bumping into Bathurst on the Monday for racing from Tuesday to Friday."
Unfortunately for Mr O'Brien, that means he will leave before the V8 Supercars crank up the octane over the weekend.
Nevertheless, just having the chance to be back in Bathurst at the home of motorsport on the biggest week of the racing calendar is a fitting reward for the hard work of Mr O'Brien and his team.
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