Flagging passion

A man in the box seat for half a century, and still counting

WHEELSTORIES MICHAEL STAHL

FOR 50 years, the tall figure and goofy grin of Dave Milliken has been as familiar a sight to NSW racing drivers as, well, the coloured flags he might be waving at them. Now 72, Milliken still spends a few days each week overseeing events from his “naughty box” above the start-finish line at Sydney Motorsport Park (nee Eastern Creek).

It’s just up the road from the Campbelltown area where he was born, raised and still resides. As a kid, he and a friend tagged along to speedway and circuit races at Windsor and Mt Druitt, meeting luminaries such as Jack Brabham, Lex Davison, Frank Matich and the young Geoghegan brothers.

His first car, a Morgan, gave way to an MG TD, then an Anglia, improved with a thenpopular Cosworth camshaft and carburettor kit. Later came a Cortina GT and an MGA, highly modified. Between club sprints, hillclimbs and gymkhanas, he attended some kind of motorsport event every weekend.

“I didn’t really have my own racing career, though the Campbelltown Police thought I did…,” he confesses. “Mum wouldn’t let me get a licence to race.”

Milliken found his true motorsport calling in 1964 when he and a group of mates went to Bathurst and discovered they needed some flag marshals. He became a flag-waving fixture at Mt Panorama, which in those days was “just a bloody two-lane road with grass up to the edges”. He remembers one bold, on-the-grass pass on Conrod that whipped the blue flag out of his hand.

Working the pits and the flag points, there were moments sublime and sad. He forged lifelong friendships with several of the drivers.

Milliken was one of the Killer Mullet Rally Team, a group of “motorsport moles” treasured for their flag-marshalling, crowd-control and dog’s-bodying skills at races and rallies.

When Milliken found the V8 Supercars organisation not to his taste, he took up with the late Tony Warrener and his TAFE Smash Repair team, which trained hundreds of apprentices in the cauldron of competition weekends. “Those were some of the best times, teaching those kids,” says Milliken, a qualified mechanic and welder. “They got experience you can’t buy. Back then, they were taught tricks of the trade, like how to weld something that had fuel in it. We’d work on a car all day and all night.”

Milliken retired from full-time work a few years back, but motorsport couldn’t afford to lose his hard-won experience and the respect he enjoys among drivers. And even after half a century, he never tires of motor racing.

“I love watching cars driving, love watching blokes steer and correcting. Doesn’t matter to me whether they’ve got a $200 car or a $200m car, I love watching people drive well.”

EYE FOR TALENT

DAVE Milliken has witnessed the best drivers at close quarters. “Kevin Bartlett could just read a car. If you saw him on that wet lap at Bathurst… And Tom Walkinshaw in the Jag, flicking the wheel over the top of the Mountain. But watching Daniel Ricciardo [Red Bull F1 demo last year at SMSP] … it was superb to watch his work at the wheel.

God, he was good.”