Voice of a generation

...and a driving force behind TV motor sport coverage

WHEELSTORIES MICHAEL STAHL

IF YOU’VE ever felt strangely and suddenly compelled on a summer Saturday night or early-October weekend to “get your backside trackside”, you’ve already had exposure to Mike Raymond. And if you’re a fan of the Bathurst 1000 and its innovations like in-car cameras and the qualifying shootout, then you also have this tireless 72-year-old Sydneysider to thank.

For more than five decades, Raymond has been a prominent and recognisable voice in Australian motor sport. From cheeky beginnings in speedway racing to an executive chair at Channel Seven, Raymond has seen it all.

Raymond got into the game as a 16-year-old spectator at Sydney’s Showground Speedway.

Mike and younger brother Steve, later a top TV journalist and talk-show host, marched up to the owners and told them: “What this place needs is an injection of PR and some enthusiasm on the microphone.”

The Raymond chutzpah pretty soon had the showground buzzing with 20-25,000 people every Saturday night.

A new challenge beckoned in the grassroots Liverpool Speedway, in Sydney’s west, where Raymond regularly enticed celebrity visitors including AJ Foyt and Johnny Rutherford. The track was asphaltsealed in 1974 (“beats sitting in a dust storm all night”) and outlived Sydney Showground, closing in 1989.

Raymond never planned this career. “It was just one thing transferring to another, then to another,” he says. He attracted the interest of Seven, and first went to Bathurst in 1974, initially producing a one-hour highlights package that aired after the race. Three years later, Raymond was commentator and co-producer of the main event.

“I was probably resented because of my speedway background, hyping things up a little bit,” he chuckles.

An early landmark was the 1979 introduction of RaceCam, developed by Seven’s Geoff Healey. It almost didn’t happen. “On the eve of the race there was a massive strike. So we went to Bathurst with executives who had a camera background and television students from Mitchell College … But when people saw that in-car footage on Sunday morning, they forgave all the little glitches.”

Better yet, guest US race commentator Chris Economaki got straight on the phone to his home network and pitched the brilliant panning and audio-capable Aussie invention to the Daytona 500 broadcasters.

By the mid-1980s, Raymond was head of sport at Seven, and continued to be a key player behind the scenes of touring car racing. “It needed to take the next step. I always liked to look around at what we could do with it, jazz it up a bit.”

Working in consultation with Bathurst organisers the ARDC, Raymond introduced the Hardie’s Heroes qualifying, invited grand marshals such as NASCAR’s Bill France and – on the spot – created a telethon out of Dick Johnson’s infamous 1980 “rock” incident.

“Actually, we’d organised the telethon without telling all the switchboard operators.

I think I got into trouble for that one.”

Does he still follow motor sport?

“Oh, I enjoy all types of racing. I don’t have a specific favourite. I love the people associated with it.”

“BE THERE!”

MIKE Raymond says there’s not a day of his TV and race-calling career he regrets.

And some were long days. “At Bathurst, we’d go on air at 7am and come off at six at night. And when you go off to a commercial break, you make a bolt to the presentation area and duck flying beer cans for the rest of the afternoon.”