As the Grand Prix glitterati prepare to descend upon Albert Park for yet another weekend of lukewarm Mumm and exorbitantly priced plastic bags, spare a thought for a God fearing, failed Aussie entrepreneur, writes Gillon Edwards Staff Writer.
Reg Peterson is a broken man, living close to the poverty line. A devout Christian of blended Lutheran and Seventh Day Adventist stock, he has spent much of his adult life working on his doomed signature project: The Australian Christian Grand Prix.
It’s not that Reg is stupid. By all accounts, he appears in this story as articulate and animated, with a good grasp of the manifold challenges involved in creating a high speed street race in the name of Jesus.
Our interview with Reg takes place near Nanango in the South Burnett, on a semi-rural property that Reg and second wife Ethel lease from a local road train operator, and which features an oval test track and sheds full of both Christian and motor racing memorabilia.
Sitting in one of his supercharged 1983 Toyota Corolla sedans he purchased from a Sisters of Mercy dispersal sale (he owns “about twenty of them”), Reg takes a deep breath of fresh Yarraman air, and begins to explain to how his lifelong dream of the Christian Grand Prix went so horribly wrong.
“Government red tape in a nut shell,” says Reg, “and one of those smooth talking banking and finance types.”
The government departments to which Reg refers are the Darling Downs main roads and local council authorities. The fast talker was Reverend Donald Nimrod, businessman, former evangelist, and President of the erstwhile Toowoomba based Logoff Foundation.
Upon leaving school at twelve after his blue healer Bob had been killed on a zebra crossing, Reg worked as a roustabout in a shearing shed, before following the light of the gold fields out at Cecil Plains.
It was there in the fields, whilst prospecting, that young Reg had his Eureka! moment.
“A great big whopping 18 caratee,” recalls Reg fondly, “weighing in at just over half a pound. You wouldn’t believe it, I clicked my heels all the way to the bank at Pittsworth.”
The seed capital afforded by the gold strike allowed Reg to register God’s Own Motorsport Pty Ltd, and to set about lobbying local councils throughout the Downs and the Great South East for an event permit.
“I had always been a strict church goer, so no worries there,” says Reg, “plus I enjoyed driving out to Miles and to various parts. So I thought, ‘why not put the two together you know?.”
Reg envisioned a distinctly Queensland style of motor race, with all the twists and turns of atrocious road surfaces, never ending upgrades, and giant potholes deep enough to test the very bravest of tax paying drivers.
Reg also wanted his race to be a street circuit, an idea he had while watching Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo at the Dalby Drive In.
“No point having a race in the middle of nowhere, where no one can see it,” Reg points out. “I wanted a venue with a carnival atmosphere and people on every corner.”
Paradoxically, Reg chose the Garden City of Toowoomba as the marquee venue for his Christian Grand Prix. “Toowoomba was the obvious choice. It has a big swimming pool called Milne Bay in the centre of town, just like they do in Monaco.”
At the time, Toowoomba was also firmly under the spell and political influence of the Logoff Foundation, an ultra-right wing Pentecostal Sect with loads of American money behind it.
The Foundation’s executive members had blown into town on a cloud of middle class respectability and high visibility in the local newspaper’s social pages and at inter-school sporting events.
Meanwhile, the Sect’s charismatic leader, Rev. Don Nimrod, was busy lobbying the local authorities to introduce capital punishment; re-criminalise homosexuality and safe abortion, silence minority groups, and lower the corporate tax rate to 2%.
Reg recounts first meeting Rev. Nimrod and his wife Tabatha at a key party and wife swapping weekend in Middle Ridge. “The spirit is strong but the flesh is weak,” laments Reg. “The parties would start on Thursday night, but by Sunday all was usually forgiven.”:
Reg and his first wife Jane had been invited to the Logoff Love-In at the request of Nimrod himself, who had been handed a copy of Reg’s Christian Grand Prix event application from a cretinous council clerk on the take.
“Don was very excited about the Grand Prix. He saw it is a great opportunity to promote his Foundation, the death penalty and family values. He said he could cut through the red tape and get me my race permit, if I agreed to let him be the sponsor and deck out all the cars as he saw fit.”
Happy days ensued and the odd couple of Don Nimrod and Reg Peterson became the toast of Toowoomba. News of the coming Christian Grand Prix soon captured the public imagination.
Nimrod stated publicly that council would soon give the green light to the race,and that each racing car and team would represent a singularly important Christian issue:
“Work for The Dole;” “Just Say No;” “Join The Army;” and “Protect the Unborn,” were just some of the new liveries painted on the white Corollas that Don and Reg had recently acquired at auction.
“I wasn’t entirely comfortable with the hard line direction we were heading in,” says Reg, “but I wanted to get my race up and running, and Don seemed to have the contacts I needed to make it happen.”
Momentum was gathering apace, but then, suddenly, two simultaneous spanners were thrown in the works, dual detours that would derail Reg’s Race Boss dreams indefinitely.
First, the main roads boys and the traffic police amended the race permit to limit all speeds to fifty kilometres per hour. “That’s not racing,” says Reg, gripping the wheel of his Corolla tightly. “Even Herbie was driving faster than that in the movie I saw.”
Then, shockingly, news broke of an illicit extramarital affair between Don Nimrod and Reg’s wife Jane.
Nimrod again went public, breaking down and begging his own wife Tabatha for forgiveness, but the horse had bolted and the Logoff Foundation’s carefully manicured image of self-righteous piety was irreparably damaged.
Thoroughly discredited and riddled with syphilis, Nimrod left Toowoomba as quickly as he had arrived, leaving Reg and his God’s Own Motorsport company with crippling debts, no sponsorship revenue, and a worthless race permit requiring the observance of a fifty kilometres per hour speed limit.
Today, Reg is philosophical and happy with new wife Ethel and life in the South Burnett. He still has his fleet of Corollas (all re-skinned in bog standard white), and the oval test track to play with.
“I felt sorry for the people of Toowoomba more than anyone,” Reg says magnanimously. “They believed in Don and the Foundation, and they deserved their own world class street race.”
“Who knows,” he smiles, “maybe Australia just isn’t quite ready for a Christian Grand Prix after all.”
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