By the time you read this, (I don't think so! - ed) the 26th Historic Winton will have been run and won. It's a funny sort of meeting, and I think that most competitors go there for its iconic status and carnival atmosphere rather than the laps-per-dollar motor racing value it offers.

Twelve miserable minutes of practice, usually on a track made evil by the hordes of gumbo-and-string motorbikes flinging Castrol chain oil around, in competition with incontinent Austin 7s and haemorrhaging specials puttering around in the Laxette runs… ye gods, what are we here for? Well, probably precisely that. Although Hughie Up Above has shown his displeasure for the last three years in a row by comprehensively pleuting down upon us with some venom, many of us have yet to be discouraged.

It could be that Historic Winton in fine weather is close to what historic motor racing is really all about, on a track that has seen it all. I am still amused at the sight of grizzled old bad bastards minus a leg or two being carried on to their Velocettes or whatever, propped up and pushed off to fang around for yet another their rapidly diminishing years… uh, I kinda know how they feel. The bikes are a pain and a jolly all at once, although I fantasise about jamming one of those disgusting and utterly inedible Winton hot dogs down the gob of that screeching bird with the loud hailer.

Every year there are one or two Very Rare and Historic imports, ancient pre-war warriors brought out here by fabulously wealthy Poms or Septics, which are given pride of place in the tents just near the back of the scrutineering bay. Australia's noted vintagents, displaying the usual absurd assortment of facial hair, stand around in their tweed hats covered with daft little badges, perving and genuflecting. Then in true Aussie style, they climb into their homebuilt specials and blow them into the weeds.

But which races draw the thickest crowd at the fence? What have all those obese bush eggs in foul parkas really come to see? You guessed it - us, the terrifying tin tops. And who are the drivers they want to see the most? The local boys of course, two kids who first sized each other up may years ago at school in Shepparton. One big and beefy, the other little and wiry. Both in the car trade, both very, very excitable. And there is no finer arena to play out this intense 45-year old rivalry than their own backyard, a track they've been around so many times it's worn a groove in their cortexes. Watching John Mann and Tino Leo at Winton is worth the price of admission alone. Manny seems to pull more revs at Winton than anywhere else and watching him wrestle the Mustang, (or before that, the ex Herb Taylor EH), around any given corner is gob-smacking stuff. And if you want to see power oversteer, well, there's only one way Tino knows how to come onto Pit Straight ("Hey my friend, I drive, I drive, right?").

If you want the next best thrill to competing, stand in front of the new complex and look down the barrel of the main straight when Manny is at the head of the pack. The nose lifts and the revs waft towards you, slightly out of sync - it's angry and awe-inspiring. Convince me there isn't a thousandth of a second when you think perhaps you should get the hell out of there. Then just when your life flashes before your eyes, a big hammy hand goes wallop on the gear lever, and WHAARRRP he's pulled gawd knows how many and reefed the big bugger into the esses, barking the throttle, boofing it through well over the limit of adhesion, dancing off the ripple strips. And Winton Historic in May, run on the short circuit, is your once-a-year opportunity to savour this experience.

It's also the only time when a good littley can stick it up the biggies that are usually victorious on the longer circuits. It's Mini heaven, and watching them monster Valiants, Falcons, Studebakers does wonders for underdog fanciers.

Historic Winton is also when old scores are settled - who'll be the top pushrod Cortina - Robbo or The Parrot, Roddy or President Nightie? Perhaps SA's Robert Butt will kick some and if Luxy pops an automotive Viagra he could get lucky. And the gloves are off between the EH boys from the country. Bourkey from Ballarat is always quick there, Castlemaine's Doug Juniper equally so, Billy "I've got wood" Trengrove from Geelong is on a mission and Cityslickin' Dickie, Richard Fairlam, has steered more laps in a Holden than all of them put together.

Marauders from parts north, west and south can't keep away. NSW's Aaron Gabriel appears to have swapped the bits from his giant-killing Morrie Minor into an A30, which as I recall was always the choice in the day among BMC 'A' series punters, there's a Datsun 1600 to challenge Pilvo and Ricki, and a thumping HQ from the ACT…

Winton in May has a history and a vibe that can't be replicated. But you're kidding me - it can't rain four times in a row, can it…did it?

Chris Ralph

26th Historic Winton