THE BRISBANE BLASTERS Talk to just about anyone around Brisbane who was racing bikes in the eighties and nineties, it's a fair bet they'll say they raced for the Brisbane Blasters cycling team. Those special sentimental events in human history which lead to every man and his dog suggesting that they were actually there, when some definitely weren't, is indicative of the vibe which follows the Brisbane Blasters forward in time to this day.
Everyone was in the Brisbane Blasters except me, or is that actually true, Whip reckons I was and when you see what the Blasters really were about then yes, I was a Brisbane Blaster.
The Blasters became a whole scene in itself, the team organised Saturday rides and avid cyclists prepared to deal with bottles and bananas being thrown at them, for being *#@%**## cyclists, met at the Toowong library every Saturday to do the Blaster ride … no Blaster jersey for me, but I did their rides.
At Easter each year the Brisbane Blasters organised an Easter tour, you'd knock up about 700 kays in four days, basically it was a party on two wheels, you'd have a laugh on the bike all day then stop at a country pub at night. I did a couple of those, still no Blaster jersey - part Blaster by now surely.
There were many different iterations of the Brisbane Blasters team, everyone could have a go. The first team was the elite racing team, followed by a women's Blasters team. Eventually in the nineties the Retro Blasters came along, I have a couple of Retro Blasters jerseys in the lifetime jersey collection - finally I became a Blaster of sorts, still didn't race though. Yet the point of me being a Blaster and having never raced for them was one of the cornerstone principles of the Blasters, to help cycling move forward and evolve and to help others achieve their cycling goals - even if it was just to help someone new to cycling, learn to sit on a wheel on the Brisbane Blasters Saturday Ride. The Blasters were far greater than just the racing team, that's what made them special. The point of the Retro Blasters was one of custodianship, riders who'd been around for a while, sharing what they'd learnt in a lifetime of riding and racing, to help others along their journey, some like Rick Walker raced in the Retro Blasters colours too.
A Blaster promotion from the eighties sums it up.
Now there's a Blasters facebook page and you can bet the Blasters are not done yet, the Blasters subtle influence is exerted everywhere. Before we get started with Whip's Blaster concept, here's a partial list of some Blasters - compiling an all time Team Blaster roster would take some work given the differing opinions, in the end everyone's a Blaster!
The Brisbane Blasters Story According To Whip
Whip had started Team Bluebird and then together with others the University Cycling Club, then he saw that things were beginning to change in Australian cycling and wanted to instigate some changes himself.
"The club scenario wasn't really working and I thought we should be trying to geta system like they have in Europe where it's more team based racing which suits cycling. Cycling is a sport where you can get results without being the best bike rider in the field. That's one of the fascinating things about cycling it's not always the best or strongest guy that wins, so there's a physical aspect of cycling then there's the bicycle, and then there's this - what I call "cycling mystique". What I'm interested in is how a group of individuals can work together in a race and create a result, it's the concept of team cycling as it was in Europe. In Europe you're paid to do a certain job in a team but here we couldn't do that because we weren't going to get paid to do that. We had to have a bond that would enable us to sacrifice our chances in a race for someone else. It was hard to pull it off.
Previously this concept hadn't been tried to any major degree in Australia, the Blasters were early adapters of the Team concept in Australia.
What we did with the Blasters because it was built around mates, and we were able to do that and that's why we were successful. We had a team that could see the concept, and everyone wanted to pull off these wins and use race tactics and all that mystique about cycling to get a result.
So the first principle of the team was to actually bring together a team spirit and then use that in a unique way that hadn't really been tried at least in Queensland up to that point in time.
The name came about because in 1985 I had three months racing in the US and one night out I went and saw a band called the Blasters, they were a sort of a rockabilly band, it took me back to the early Rock 'n Roll days. So when I came back I started the Blasters, it had to be a 'B' name because it had to go with Brisbane, the Brisbane Bullets were the basketball team around so we called it the 'Brisbane Blasters'. It was just fun, it wasn't that serious. Because of my contacts in the industry I was able to get some sponsorship just tires, the important things we got… we had bikes one year, we had Cannondale bikes, when we started the women's team we had Centurion. It was all small time but we tried to do it in a professional way.
I remember you had professional graphics designed, some of your favourite colours, black, blue and orange were incorporated.
We started out using the old pink it was like a splattered sort of jersey and then we went to the orange and blue. (Caskey calls this one the Maroon Vomit jersey.)
So that pink colour carried through from the 1950's then throughout the seventies right into the eighties.
Yeah well the first Blastermobile car was painted pink. The original thing was pink, one of the reasons was my connection with pink, it was just to say this is a new thing and we made it pretty obvious what we're about.
Subsequently you had a matte black Blastermobile.
When I went to blue and orange the pink Blastermobile didn't go with blue and orange so we went to the black car.
At that time the font you used for the Blasters was a custom design, did you design that yourself.
A good friend of mine is a graphic designer in Brisbane, Malcolm Enright, I went to see him, I wanted to have a unique logo, it had to be a font that had the 'blast' concept to it, and Malcolm came up with the design. Malcolm was at the cutting edge of design in Brisbane with the agencies, he had a unique take on design and trends, he could see what was happening. Another local identity that helped us with the Blasters was Seven news reader, Mike Higgins, he helped us with some sponsorship with channel seven sport and he did some voice over work for us on videos.
Teams racing in Brisbane was in it's early days, how did this evolve into something greater than the Blasters concept?
We had a matte black car plastered with stickers and at one time the complete exterior was 'Armour All over Matte Black paint… it was armour alled.' We were doing something that had never been done before, it was ground breaking. While I was racing with them I was past my prime anyway and was able to help them set up the races. It was only the fact that we were mates. We took the tactics from European racing and applied it, after that other teams followed, that's when we started up the FFAST cycling club. We realised there wasn't much point just having one team racing, so we saw that we needed to have more teams doing the same thing to actually build up a scene, a racing scene in Brisbane that was based around teams. The other clubsweren't keen on the idea at all. We had other teams, Lawrie Cranley started up La Squadra and then The Regulators came along. My idea was to create a whole professional scene in Brisbane based around teams and getting sponsorship and then racing as teams.
Sunny Queen Eggs had a sponsored team about the same time, how did that fit into the scene?
That was Jeff Leslie who organised that, it wasn't part of the FFAST thing, they were our biggest rivals in racing really and Geoff Leslie was a whiz at selling sponsorship, he was a good salesman and had some good riders. It certainly gave us someone to race, and they had the Milo team earlier too. Sunny Queen Eggs eventually sponsored the Queensland team. It was a period we thought was going to boom because we had some people willing to put some money into the sport.
What are your thoughts on the 80's being a cross-over period for Australian cycling where a lot of riders, by their own means, went to Europe to race, did you find inspiration in their efforts?
I geuss we could see a direction, the reason to get it going here was to help develop riders to be able to fit into the racing scene in Europe without having to go through that initial stage of being on their own, so they'd easily fit into teams when they went to Europe.
Did riders like Robert Crossley and Steve Rooney, who'd been racing in Europe at the time bear influence on the Blasters and the racing scene?
They are the one's who understood what we were trying to do, so they were behind it and I didn't have to sell the idea to them.
Indirectly the European knowledge was filtering back into the local scene.
Before that it was a very rare thing for local riders to go and race in Europe, before the 80's it didn't happen at all hardly, then in the 80's with guys like Alan Peiper and Phil Anderson going over it began to change. So what I was trying to do here in Brisbane I was trying to create a scene that would match what was happening there, so it wasn't such a long way away, it was a type of racing that was conducive to nurturing a racing culture.
Even now in 2012 team managers seeking sponsorship say for the NRS or Queensland series teams, seem to face similar challenges that the Blasters faced back then.
It all comes back to the fact that local racing hasn't got much better than what it was back then. The Inner City crit was a big thing then and it was sponsored by Four X, beer companies used to only sponsor Rugby League up 'till then.
I remember the big thing for the national road team was in 1988 Fosters came on board and the national road team began to receive some small recognition via sponsorship.
All those things came about through Peter Bartels, the Fosters deal was through Peter, he was an ex Victorian pro. Sponsorship in cycling came because you knew someone, it wasn't because it was a good viable economic decision to sponsor a bike team, it wasn't, it was because someone knew someone. Now the sport has improved a lot and it's really kicking in, but as far as people putting money up it's still very difficult. It's a bigger budget, if I wanted to do what I did with the Blasters in the 80's I'd need more than ten times that, what we had was about five thousand dollars for the whole year back then. The point is the money that you need now is still as hard to get as what the five thousand was back then. On a lot of levels the sport has now gone berserk, the big factor in that - it's now on television in Australia on a regular basis to what it was before and for anything to be successful it has to be on television, SBS did all of that.
In the past people were bewildered if you said you were a bike rider they just couldn't understand why you would want to be a bike rider, so it's gone from that to being a sport that everyone wants to get into, it's got acceptability now. So there will be more people getting into it, we'll produce more better bike riders.
So we're coming into another golden age of cycling, a hundred years ago Major Taylor came out to Australia and raced and it was the biggest thing, so now 100 years on we've come full cycle to the modern golden age?
We had to go through that dull period, which is when I packed up and went surfing yeah…. that period where no one could give a toss about cycling, because of television coming in in the 50's - people didn't have to go out at night anymore, so they didn't go down to the bike track and watch the bike racing, they stayed at home and watched the TV, it happened with a lot of things, you know the local cinemas…..and cycling was a spectator track sport in Australia, and people used to go and watch it and they loved it. It's a beautiful thing to go and watch and no one goes and watches track cycling anymore. Now if you go and watch a crit they only see them go past on a corner and go and watch a road race you might see them go past once in a while. At the track you could see the whole event and it's an exciting sport and the track is where it all happens, since the demise of the track the sport has floundered a bit, yet it's coming back now because of the television coverage.
In the modern era do you think that the track has found a new place?
Yeah it's a great opportunity if it could be jazzed up a little bit and just have the local heroes again.
BRISBANE BLASTERS ROSTER
David Shepherd, Kev Menz, Lawrie Cranley, John Whip, James Nitis, Mark Victor, James Victor, Marty Ross, Ian Snake Goodwin, Julie Barnett, Anita Crossley, Robert Crossley, John Caskey, Jason Phillips, Scott McGrory, Marcel Lema, Glenn Wilson, Barbara Utech, Michael Marston, James Cross, Jamie Kelly, the unknown English guy, Mark Rocky Frawley, Jonathan Hall, Murray Donald, Tim Crawford, Darren Strauch, Terry Nicolosi, Nathan O'Neill, Trish Maude
Retro Blasters Tim Crawford, Robert Cobcroft, Rick Walker, Terry Peters, John Whip
If you were in the Blasters and your name is not here, let us know in the comments section and we'll add you to the all time "I was a Blaster" list.
Whip on Jeff Leslie's Gold Medal
We were viewing a picture of Whip and Jeff Leslie in a sprint. Whip said "There's Jeff Leslie running me off the road, that's a good story actually! That's James Victor he got third. That day, see how I was coming off Jeffin the sprint he just ran me off the road, that was at the metropolitan championships in the early eighties. Anyway years later when we went to Geelong for the world's in 2010, we rode into town one day and we ran into Jeff and Michael Wilson, and Jeff said to me 'ohhhh Whippie I've got that medal for you,' and I said 'what are you talking about' and he said 'that medal I won and I shouldn't have won it and I ran you off the road and I won it and I've got the gold medal and I want to give it to you because you should have won that race, you had me.' Jeff was quite a character and an icon, so I was proud that he had to run me off the road to win…."
The Story of Snake's Cannondale, back when steel ruled supreme and Aluminium was just an idea.
Snake you had a new bike in the early nineties, what was that all about? "Whip was repping Cannondales back in the early nineties, that was in the era when everyone rode steel, if your bike wasn't Columbus tubing or Reynolds tubing or if you were Rob Crossley, always being different it would probably have been Tange. So Whip said 'ohh Snake I want you to ride one of these Cannondale's' and I remember it was this white thing and in true Whip style he did it all up with big stickers all over it - stickerised - it was basically like you see now with compact frames, and I ride a 56 but I think the frame was a 54, there was a lot of seat post hanging out and pushed right back. Anyway it must have been about '91 I showed up at an AIS camp in Canberra having got this thing and Jason Phillips who also became a Blaster that year was there, Jason looked at me as I pulled the stickerised Whiperised Cannondale out of the box and he goes "What the fuck is that?". I said it's a Cannondale, it's made in America with big fat aluminium tubing and it's my new bike - he said again "What the fuck is that - I'm not talking to you anymore." At that he walked off. The funny thing was within six months Jason was also riding a Cannondale. To me that just shows how Whip was ahead of his time, because you look at Cannondale and the brand now and Whip saw something, up until then you'd just get laughed at."