I have a story. A brush with fame. A tale that my family and I delight in every now and then. Like the other night over dinner at my mum’s.
Once upon a time, Adelaide hosted the Australian Formula One Grand Prix.
The year is 1986 and it’s my second year in the pits. My mum had befriended the international Mercedes head the year before and with that friendship came many benefits during grand prix week including pit passes for the whole race.
This is during the era that young Brazilian, Ayrton Senna was driving the black John Player Special car – back when cigarette companies were sexy and allowed to sponsor everything. Mum’s friend, Gerd, was incredibly close to Ayrton and, in fact, was possibly responsible for ‘discovering’ him. It’s through him that I find myself visiting Ayrton in the pits before his races. I’m young, so I don’t really get it all and it’s car racing so I can’t say that I’m too impressed, given that I’m years away from my drivers licence. But Ayrton is lovely and kind and cute in a grown up kind of way.
The race ends on Sunday. There are parties and celebrations but not for me. I go to school on Monday and when I get home the phone rings and it’s Ayrton Senna. Calling me. On my phone. At home.
He says ‘hi’ in his gorgeous accent and we chat while I sit at the dining room table, twirling the telephone cord around my finger. He’s relieved that the race is over and is looking forward to a break over the next week. He tells me that he’s planning on staying in Adelaide for a few days and wonders if I would take the time to show him around the city. Grown-up me knows he was asking me out. Grown-up me knows how incredible that moment was. Grown-up me is sickened at the memory of what happens next, because 14 year old me was an idiot.
“Sure!” I gush “Let me just ask Mum”
“Muuuummmmm! Ayrton’s on the phone and he wants to stay in town for a few days and wants to know if I can show him around. Can I?” And what … do you reckon Mum said?
“No Tania. You have to go to school” Just like that. Did not even pause to think about it.
And do you think 14 year old me had the nouse to COVER THE MOUTHPIECE ON THE PHONE while this exchange went on?? Well do ya?? Nooooo. Because 14 year old me was an idiot. I turn my attention back to Ayrton to tell him that I wasn’t allowed to go. And he asks, as charming as can be “How old are you Tania?”
And you know what I said, don’t you? I told him. And then he said thanks and it was lovely talking to me and he hopes to see me some other time in the pits and though I do see him many times, he never called me again.
I was almost famous.