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Geoff Pilgrim – Aussie Speedway Legend

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Posted on April 10, 2017 Tags:  

Claremont Speedway – 1991: (l to r) Troy Thompson, Mike Flower, Nigel Macey, Mark Franks and Geoff Pilgrim.

Geoff won the 1983 National Speedcar Championship and many podiums against the likes of John Fenton and Keith Mann. Now 71, Geoff is in declining health, in an aged care facility in Perth.

Nissan Venture Goes Corporate Ballistic 

With the weekend’s landmark win by Jack Le Brocq in a Nissan Altima in the Super 2s at Symmons Plains, MIKE FLOWER recalls earlier days for the Japanese marque, way back in ’91:

“THIS NISSAN VENTURE was Geoff Pilgrim’s genius engineering idea of using the FJ20 4 valve 2 litre twin cam engine, minus turbo, that Nissan Australia used – here and internationally –  in its Group A program.

“I went corporate ballistic, basically, with the help of an advertising and marketing guru here in Perth who put together the graphics and concept. It still had to be sold though, and we had Nissan Australia’s blessing to run under the corporate colours, with substantial support from Alf Barbagallo,  then a Nissan dealer. Much is said about Alf by ill-informed people over the years, but he quietly – and without much acknowledgment – has supported many of his peers over the years.

“It was actually was a really big deal. Like other car makers, Nissan would not permit its logos to be used unless there was the approval from Head Office.  And this one went right to Japan. Back in 1991, I was in touch with Fred Gibson and a very young Mark Skaiffe about the project. They both said they didn’t have the funds to give us the entire wish list, but sent the project back via the Nissan Dealer Network.

A Personal Decision

“I suspect though, that Alf made the decision personally. Nissan were not going to fund it directly, and the backing came out of Alf’s pocket. Indeed, Alf arrived one Saturday afternoon in his Bentley – greeted Geoff at the then West Leederville workshop – and did the deal. It was huge.

“The corporate stuff was my doing though. The shirts were sourced from Target, the Nissan badges came from Nissan Australia and my Mum Audrey sewed them on. No one though could source the Twin Cam 16 Valve logos, nor the official Nissan logos and they too came directly via airbag from HO“And the colours were specified. As Nissan gave the thumbs-up, the proviso was ‘if you run our stuff then here are the colour numbers for the painter to use’. All very ho-hum and cloak and dagger, but in ‘91 that was how things were done.

Nissan Deal Enormous

“The Nissan deal though was enormous, as was Geoff’s support from Winfield in the mid ‘70s. That sponsorship was again from a corporate deciding that this team was the best ‘vehicle’ to use in WA at the time, to complement its East Coast business with George Tatnell.

“My last memory of having a discussion with Geoff Pilgrim though, was around three years ago. Geoff said: ‘We lived and raced in the good times. We did it in the best times of what was then, the grand old lady of Speedway, which was Claremont.”


Geoff Pilgrim Victor in Tattersall Memorial

Here’s a snippet from Australasian Speedway Star from 1983, to remind us just how good Geoff Pilgrim was in his day.

‘It was the Western Springs season in Auckland during the Burdahl International Midget Car Series and the final four 10 lap races for the Bob Tattersall Memorial Feature race.

‘Sleepy Tripp and Stan Fox tangled early and were out of the running. Then Mel Kenyon had an horrific crash, the full length of the straight but was fortunate enough to climb out of the car. Geoff Pilgrim showed his best form as he came through the spins and tangles to win the big Feature.

‘Pilgrim was busy in the pits pulling his motor to pieces and straightening parts out with a hammer – his engine broke the head clean off an exhaust valve in the first race, and badly damaged the valve seat!

‘Having got it together, he was able to start in the Feature race from grid 12. Geoff struggled early with a car he said was only running on three and a quarter cylinders and he got left behind at every re-start.

‘Lap 4 was the first pile-up, ending up with four cars out of the race. National Champ Owen Shaw put in a great drive as he came through the field from grid 11, with Mel Kenyon on his tail from 15. The pair had pulled clear and Kenyon tried an outside pass coming out of Town bend. Shaw closed the gap and Kenyon hit the fence, spun off and barrel-rolled four times before the car turned and then went end-over-end, finishing up going into Pine Tree bend. The race was stopped and Kenyon slowly climbed from the car – to the amazement of the large crowd.

‘At the re-start Paul Rollinson led from Barry Butterworth who then had to pull out with a ripped back tyre. As they got underway again it was still Rollinson with Pilgrim, the only visitor left in the race, closing fast with five laps left.

‘Geoff Pilgrim waited until the last lap to take the lead and win the coveted Bob Tattersall Memorial race. Rollinson was 2nd, Warwick Keene 3rd, Jack Nazer 4th, and Bruce Drinkrow 5th, The only finishers.’


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