Calling all cars

Talking his way on air was as easy as a chat for this racing fan

WHEELSTORIES MICHAEL STAHL

RECKON you could talk all day about motor racing? Maybe you could – but try doing it for 13 hours, intelligently and informatively, live to an international audience, with a producer talking in your headphones, with barely time for a, er, pit-stop. And without swearing. That’s Richard Craill’s idea of heaven. Or one of them.

Craill, 32, is now one of the staples of motorsport commentary in Australia, his quick wit and warmth perhaps most familiar to followers of the Liqui-Moly Bathurst 12-Hour.

‘Craillsy’ nominates that race as one favourite.

The Clipsal 500 is another, because it’s effectively his home race.

But real heaven awaits in Lyndoch, in South Australia’s Barossa Valley, where Craill grew up and still lives. “The best part is coming back here after a race meeting, after all the hubbub, you come back to the serenity and peacefulness.

It’s a nice place to recharge your batteries.”

Craill grew up in a “very pro-Holden family” and idolised Peter Brock. “He was my introduction to motor racing, I suppose – watching Bathurst as a kid, then becoming more engaged with it. And I was interested from an early age in the media side – I followed Neil Crompton especially, because he could race and he could commentate.”

Picture any group of high-school mates slumped on a lounge watching motor racing.

The one that’s endlessly commenting on brake lock-ups and drivers’ back-stories and the evolution of the race – that’d be Craillsy.

“I just had to get into motor racing and journalism and broadcasting. When I was in Year 10, a community radio station opened in the Barossa Valley. I started there doing a music show, but very quickly, with a friend of mine, we started a show about motorsport.

Through that, we spoke to people in Supercars; spoke to IndyCar drivers when they came for the Gold Coast.

“That was the launching pad. Then I met some friends who were at uni – I never went to uni myself – they were producing a TV show for their uni major, on Adelaide community TV.

From hosting that TV show, I met [race team owner] Bronte Rundle and started looking after their PR and media. That was my first paid gig.

“Through that, I was able to snowball into doing race commentary and really building a career from there.”

When the Bathurst 12-Hour was revived for 2007, Craill volunteered to do commentary. He’s become a part of the furniture since, handling media accreditation, writing press releases and, of course, doing the day-long stint in the commentary box.

“The 12-Hour day starts at 3:30am, because I’ve got to be there to open the Media Centre,” he says. “It’s the longest day of my year, but it’s always one of the most satisfying. I love doing long-distance races because they’re like a novel: in the beginning, you’re building the characters and building the story, through the day all these compelling storylines are playing out, then you’ve got this thrilling finish when it all explodes, and the protagonists either fail or succeed.”

Speaking of exploding: “Yeah, comfort breaks are when there’s a conveniently placed safety car and you know there’s going to be a commercial break – you dive out. We run a strategy like a race team, so if there’s a safety car, you pit!”

As drivers dream of international stardom, commentators are no different. “I’ve never had a grand plan for where I’d like to go, but if I had to target anywhere – as cool as Formula 1 would be – I’ve always been really attracted to IndyCar racing … I think I’d fit in with that.”

CASH FOR COMMENTARY

Commentator Richard Craill gets to literally rub shoulders with motorsport greats, but it took a lot of sacrifice; he started on community radio and TV, working for free. “I’d said: ‘I’m going to have a year off, do the radio stuff, see where it takes me.’

I had a part-time job in the Barossa Valley, picking grapes and pruning vines. I discovered that manual labour is not my thing.”