Tony Cochrane's vision and drive built V8 Supercars into the sporting powerhouse it is today
Photo: Getty Images
The news that V8 Supercars executive chairman Tony Cochrane will stand down after the 2012 season ends an era that transformed a fractured motorsport category into one of Australia's greatest sporting products.
Touring car racing built its popularity on the fierce rivalry between Holden and Ford, but by the early 1990s the sport was riven with enmity over the superiority enjoyed by interlopers Nissan and their infamous Skyline GT-R - or 'Godzilla' as it was nicknamed.
In a bid to quell the controversy, the Confederation of Australian Motorsport began a restructure of touring car racing that effectively enshrined the Ford v Holden battle as the peak category. All other marques were sidelined by the new laws, while Nissan's Skyline supercar was excluded altogether.
It was a savvy move by CAMS that restored some faith among the sport's diehards. But as Australian sport became increasingly professional and the football codes sought to dominate the viewing market, touring car racing needed a boost to remain a major player in an increasingly competitive landscape. Sport of any kind became just as much about the entertainment value it provided as the actual action on the field - or, indeed, the track.
In that sense, the arrival of the entrepreneurial Cochrane and his partners in Sports Entertainment Limited was manna from heaven.
In the space of 16 years under Cochrane's guidance, the product we now know and love as V8 Supercars was transformed from a $52,000 entity into a sports and entertainment powerhouse worth at least $300 million when sold to majority owner Archer Capital in May 2011.
Perhaps most impressively, Cochrane has managed to expand the reach of V8 Supercars into new markets while retaining nearly all the rusted-on petrol heads who sustained the category in difficult times.
Races have been held in locations as far flung as Hamilton, New Zealand and Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. Holden and Ford will take their quintessentially Australian rivalry to Texas in 2013 as the V8s make their US debut, while other reports suggest the series is set to head to Bali as soon as 2015.
Not all of these events have been long-lasting. The Hamilton event in 2012 was the category's final appearance in the city after five years, while the Canberra street race lasted just three seasons from 2000.
However, Cochrane and his team can justifiably argue that all have been worthwhile. The effect of these events has been to spread the V8 gospel beyond its traditional markets. All Australian sports fans know what V8 Supercars stands for as a sporting brand, whether they actively follow the sport or not - and increasing numbers of international motorsport fans do, too.
This is all a far cry from the so-called halcyon days when Peter Brock and Allan Moffat duelled it out in the 1970s, but few would argue it was the quantum leap the V8s needed to make.
Granted, the V8s had some intrinsic advantages over the football codes against which they were competing for fans' hearts and minds. A day trackside gives spectators a visceral, thrilling experience that no other Australian sport can provide. And at what other sporting event can fans interact with their heroes throughout the day, grabbing autographs and having a brief chat with drivers just hours before they take to the track? It's a privilege afforded to only a lucky few at AFL and NRL games - and only after the final siren or whistle.
But these advantages would have counted for little unless the sport was helmed by an administrator with the drive and vision to make it happen. And that word - vision - is one that has been repeated ad nauseam this week as V8 powerbrokers paid tribute to Cochrane's tenure as top dog.
And while Cochrane will no longer be controlling the sport's day-to-day operations, nervous fans can rest easy that his experience, expertise and nous will remain associated with the sport in the future.
As an "external senior advisor" and a continuing five per cent shareholder in the sport, Tony Cochrane's influence will continue as the V8 Supercars brand enters the next phase of its quest for sporting domination - and for that, all motorsport fans should be thankful.
The views in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of BigPond Sport.
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