October 10, 2008 and the orange, black and silver Holden Race car wearing number 15 comes over the top of McPhillamy Park corner at the fabled Mt Panorama race track at Bathurst, and screams straight off the track at 200 kmh.
Inside is West Auckland motor-racing legend Paul Radisich and his infamous Bathurst hoodoo has struck again as it has done 10 times, before in 16 starts in the internationally famous Bathurst 1000. The car is screaming and the throttle is stuck. In the split second before slamming into the concrete barrier, Paul “The Rat” Radisich can do nothing to avoid catastrophe. He lifts his feet from the pedals to stop them being driven through the firewall.
The crash, his second in two years at Mt Panorama, ends an outstanding professional career that spanned more than two decades and saw him become a world champion two years in succession, rub shoulders with legends of the Formula 1 circuit, and show an outstanding ability in all forms of motorsport.
Some birthday present! The crash came one day after his 46th birthday and left him with two broken ankles, a broken back and damaged chest. He spent three months lying flat in hospital as his back healed and it took him three years to recover properly. Thus ended the racing career of a driver who was good enough to rank with the best in the world but who, like Chris Amon, before him was bedevilled with more than his share of mechanical bad luck.
Paul came from motor-racing roots. His father Frank, who still lives in West Auckland, was a big name in the 1960′s and 70′s era and, Paul says, he was driving cars by the age of six on a race track on the Radisich property in Henderson. A founding student at Liston College, he wasn’t particularly suited to other sports and anyway, having spent his childhood immersed in motor-racing as Frank competed up and down the country, Paul’s sporting future was pretty much pre-destined.
Having started out on two wheels, mainly competing in motocross, Paul progressed to the Formula Atlantic single seaters that were the premier formula in this country in the early 1980s. In 1983 he finished runner-up in the series and like some brilliant names before him, he won the Driver to Europe award in 1985. The following year he found himself team-mates with Damon Hill in the British Formula 3 team.
Hill was a form of F1 aristocracy, being the son of twice former world champion (the late) Graeme Hill. Damon Hill later went on to win the World Championship, himself, gaining the unique distinction of being the only son, so far, to have followed his father to the title. Paul and Damon became friends and Paul found himself rubbing shoulders with legends like (the late) Ayrton Senna and others.
Paul remembers that there were times when he out-qualified Hill, a future world champ, suggesting he was good enough to be the F1 king himself. However while Hill went on to F1, circumstances dictated that Paul would take a different path. He came back to claim the 1988 NZ Grand Prix title and turned his attention to Indy Lights and American Super Vee, before returning to Britain to race “tin tops” in the British Touring Car Championship. This led, in turn, to back-to-back world titles, in the 1993 and 1994 Touring Car World Cups, beating the best touring car drivers from around the world and some F1 drivers as well.
In 1999, he returned “down-under” for good, focussing on the Australian V8 supercars, first with the legendary Dick Johnson’s team where a nickname was mandatory. It was then that “The Rat” was born.
In 2011, Paul was recruited to be CEO of the New Zealand V8 SuperTourer Class which launched successfully in 2012 and he is now owner and managing director of Aegis Oil, the wholly New Zealand owned oil company, founded by his father, Frank, 25 years ago.