Dancin' Drivin' and Dangerous Dares - it's a (Mad) dog's Life
“We first noticed he was wired up wrong when he tried to do a donut on the Massey Ferguson. He was only about 8 at the time and couldn’t see around the exhaust stack” explained his Uncle
David who runs the family wheat farming property “Oakleigh” near Temora in South Western NSW. This is where Grant Denyer learnt to drive – tractors, trucks, farm utes, wheat harvesters, motorbikes and go karts – “once he did get the hang of the Massey tractor he would hitch up the grader, find my best clover paddock, re-create Mt Panorama and practise the kart for days on end.” Farmer Dave went on to say.
Grant was born around motor sport – started karting at 16 and always had a dream of driving at Bathurst. Early karting years were met with some success, culminating with a NSW State Title and top 10 qualifying performances at the Karting Nationals.
His first media opportunity came at Prime Television Wagga following a work experience stint after high school – and the passion for speed continued. Grant’s first ever car race was at Mt Panorama – the 1999 GTP 3 hour in a Mazda 626 owned by Tom Watkinson, where on debut in practise he bunkered the car in the sand at the Chase – ‘hell of a track to learn how to heel and toe on,” he quipped. Race day was much better with a podium finish for second in his class – second to Steven Richards and Greg Murphy in an Astra who went on to win the big one the next day for K Mart Racing.
The new V8 BRute series was created by father Craig in 2001 – just the class for a country boy who learnt to flat change in the farm ute. With backing from VIP Petfoods – this was Grants first serious racing effort and he finished the year as the seasons highest placed rookie - 4th outright, with a pole at Bathurst and another podium. “I remember the first round at the Clipsal 500 – in the final race the left hand front brake pad fell out so with absolutely no brakes, I hit Rod Wilson’s Commodore and the concrete wall head on at the corner leading on to the main straight. The airbag went off and the whole cabin turned white – I thought I had died and gone to heaven – after about 30 secs the dust and noised settled however the remnants of the airbag had covered my helmet. New light emerged as the airbag was slowly peeled back and suddenly the concerned face of Rod Wilson appeared – I know Rod thought he was God in a race car, but I certainly knew he wasn’t the real deal!”
He continued in the V8 Ute series for 4 years - winning the Dunlop Trophy series, with a number of race wins and lap records. Continued sampling of his sponsor’s product however was talking its toll – with a penchant for chasing cars, lifting his leg around telegraph poles, and scratching his belly while vigorously shaking a leg. And so the nickname was born – “Mad Dog” Denyer.
Grant had moved from Prime TV to TEN in Melbourne and then Sydney to take up a role as news presenter and pit lane reporter/commentator for TEN’s Motorsport coverage. “At last I had made it to the Bathurst 1000 – I just needed to get on the other side of the wall and in a V8 Supercar.”
The 24 Hour Race at Bathurst in 2003 saw Grant team up with Tony Quinn and the VIP Pet Foods Team again – finishing second in Class and 6th outright in a Porsche Carrera – “a spectacular event on just the best track in the world.” A fuel blockage in the middle of the night prevented a class win and third outright.
Summit Fleet Leasing played a major role in Grants motor racing development – taking over as Naming Rights Partner when VIP Pet Foods elected to concentrate on developing their new Porsche series. The association with the Ute’s was Summits first major involvement in the sport which has led to partnerships with many leading race teams over the past 5 years.
2004 – a move to the SEVEN Network to present the weather on SUNRISE saw a dramatic career change and the opportunity to do his own thing. “I was given the brief to create my own niche, do what I want and turn the weather segment into a piece of must watch TV, a very large gamble by any Network. I was so scared about being a weatherman – not just the 3.30 am starts or the thought of being lost into early morning TV oblivion – but at 165 cm – how the hell would I reach Darwin on the weather map!”
The SUNRISE show kicked, SEVEN went to Number One, and Grant travelled Australia in the SUNRISE weather wagon giving national exposure to interesting events, colourful Australian characters and small and unique communities. “It was an amazing part of my life – and long hours. We actually drove from location to location every day, I spent 25,000 kilometres behind the wheel of the weather wagon – and set a new lap record for Recreational Vehicles around Bathurst on the way.”
At the end of 2004, Dick Johnson was testing out his new V8 Telecom phone network and just happened to dial Grant’s phone. Never to miss an opportunity and with all the persistence of a Mumbai telemarketer, by the end of the call Grant had convinced Dick to give him a drive in the V8 Fujitsu series for the next 2 years, culminating in a Sandown and Bathurst Enduro co-drive in 2006 with the legendary team.
Phil Jones, CEO of Summit also grabbed the opportunity to raise the profile of the Summit brand and agreed to continue to support the team. The Summit Fleet Leasing Ford became a huge hit at the Clipsal 500 in 2005, in more ways than one.
“Covering a cyclone up north for SUNRISE prevented me from getting back to Qld Raceway for any pre - season testing, so I arrived in Adelaide without ever having sat in a V8 Supercar – even the key was in a different position to the Massey Ferguson!”
Practise 1 and 2 went well – however it all came undone during qualifying when the Summit Fleet Leasing Ford became air born at the first chicane spearing head first into the wall. Scratch one Ford for the weekend – and despatch the driver to hospital with torn shoulder tendons and fractured wrist. “The pain I could deal with, facing Dick back in the pits was another issue and he took great delight in saying all was forgiven while shaking my injured hand with all the tenacity of a heavyweight prize fighter.”
From that point on the Summit Ford qualified in the top 10 at every round, finished 10th in the series earning Grant the Mike Kable V8 Supercar Rookie of the Year Award, and he went on to be win the CAMS Motor Sport Personality of the Year Award – a popular fan based vote. “I was also given the opportunity to race at Misano Italy in the World Mini Challenge, qualifying alongside Alex Zanardi and finishing 6th in a classy field of former F1, Indy and World Sports Car champions. One of my most treasured memories in motorsport is dicing with and being shoved off the track numerous times by the Great Zanardi – it was probably more rewarding than even winning the race.”
2006 and with Grants TV profile on the rise – a different sort of challenge was offered by the Network on SEVEN’S Dancing with the Stars. “You’ve got to be
kidding – I’m so small that when I am dancing with a big breasted woman I cant even hear the band – how am I going to do this?” Problem solved with an introduction to an even smaller human dynamo, Amanda Garner from Shepparton in Victoria. Delivering record television ratings for the Network, Grant and Amanda danced their way to the grand final and a winner take all knock out round against World Boxing Champion Kostya Tzu. “I remember Kostya’s encouraging words as we prepared for the final dance – no matter what happens tonight Grant, I know were you live!” With four perfect ten’s and the support of over 2 million viewers, Grant and Amanda were awarded the trophy. “I have never focused so hard in my life - to balance the early morning SUNRISE commitments with my motor racing, and train 6 hours a day was exhausting, however I will always credit the win to Amanda, her partner and her brother who did all the routines. They pushed me all the way and Amanda was the book – I just turned the page.”
The Summit Fleet Leasing Ford also had good speed during 2006, with many top 5 finishes, a third fastest in qualifying at Bathurst and although Grant didn’t do all rounds due to TV commitments, he still finished Top 9 in the series. Sandown and Bathurst rolled around and after being paired with Alex Davison in the DJR Ford, finished 14th at Sandown and a magical 9th at Bathurst – again Grant placed as the highest finishing rookie. “We were running top 3 at Bathurst – and were on track to finish in the top 5 when Alex had his belts pop open coming down Conrod Straight under green – a quick stop to fix dropped us back but we were over the moon with the result.”
2007 – and a new team under the Ford Rising Stars banner didn’t deliver the
results Grant wanted in V8 Supercars, although he did finish 15th at Bathurst with the WPS Team and was running 8th at Sandown when the engine dropped a cylinder. He drove for the Subaru Factory Team in the Bathurst 12 HR production car race, finishing 3rd in class and 5th outright and has done a number of tarmac rally’s finishing in the top 20 at Targa Tasmania, second in the Suncoast Rally in Queensland, and 3rd at the Mt Buller Sprint. “I was running second to Jim Richards Porsche in the Rally of Burnie; however we had a brake issue and left the road, clobbering a tree. It was a real wake up call and set a new level of respect for guys like Jimmy.”
His TV commitments have continued to soar hosting Australia’s Got Talent, It Takes Two, Carols in the Domain, the Dare Denyer segment on SUNRISE plus 2 Logie nomination for most popular TV presenter.
2008 started well with a fighting 2nd place in the Bathurst 12 Hour Production car race with Tony and Klark Quinn in the VIP Pet Foods Mitsubishi. “We led the event for most of the day, however 3 drive through penalties during the race cost us a win. The last one was for having a jack 20 mm over the red line in pit lane before the car pitted for its final stop. The penalty in the last hour dropped us from first to second, and that’s where we finished - by only 23 seconds after 12 hours.”
His first 2 V8 Supercar wins also came in 2008 driving for Matthew White Racing in the Summit Fleet Leasing/PlayStation Ford at Sandown and Queensland Raceway. He was also leading the new MINI Challenge Series - however in September it all came undone when Grant landed heavily in a monster truck demo and shattered his L1 vertebrae in 6 places. “It was just a promo jump for Sony/PlayStation, no big deal and I had done them 30 times before – however the truck landed heavily and crunch – instantly I was in great pain, couldn’t walk and I knew this was serious.”
Former NRL footy player Jack Elsegood comforted Grant while an ambulance was called and after a trip to St Vincent’s Hospital Intensive Care and a number of scans, the news wasn’t good.
“I couldn’t walk, the pain was unbearable, and in the first 3 days there were plenty of unknowns. I was advised I faced 6 months of rehab – all this just 3 weeks before Bathurst where I was to drive with Ford Rising Stars.”
Grant missed Bathurst, was bedridden for 8 weeks and then had to wear a back brace for many months. However the long term prognosis was encouraging and with the support of Dr Richard Parkinson at St Vincent’s Hospital and good friend Dr Anton Mechtler, he has made an excellent recovery and is now back at work – and to the surprise of many back in a race car.
“The accident certainly caused me to re-evaluate all aspects of my life, and the support of my partner Cheryl, family, friends and the thousands of messages of encouragement was the catalyst in pushing me to make a full recovery. Racing and TV are my 2 passions, and once the doctors gave the clearance, I was chomping at the bit to race again. Many questioned why I would want to race after such as rough time, however life isn’t a dress rehearsal – this is it - I love it and I want to experience all aspects of life to the max. Wrapping myself in cotton wool wasn’t an option and you have to accept the fact that life is full of unknowns – the accident could have happened just going to the corner store for a loaf of bread.”
For 2009, Grant returns to Dick Johnson Racing for the Fujitsu V8 Supercar Series with backing from new partner Crimsafe, taking a win recently in the Fujitsu V8 Supercar final at Winton Raceway; will drive for the Decorug Team in the Mini Challenge Series; and recently attacked the German Nurburgring 24 Hour race in the VIP Pet Foods Porsche with the Quinns and Craig Baird. For Grants first major overseas Enduro race against the worlds best factory backed sports car teams from Audi, Porsche, Aston Martin, Dodge Viper and BMW, the Aussie combo finished a sensational 9th outright with over 200 starters on the 23 kilometre, 172 corner track known as “The Green Hell.”
He is a feature reporter on SEVEN’S new Sunday night programme – SUNDAY NIGHT, and was nominated again for a Silver Logie for most popular TV presenter.
“I swam with the great white sharks off South Australia, free falled from the top of Auckland’s tallest tower, been covered in a coffin of cockroaches and run through the main street of Bathurst in Borat’s mankini all in the name of entertainment – for who? No one knows the angst I go through internally and I know that if the cameras weren’t rolling – I simply couldn’t do it. However, I have now looked and re-evaluated life from a different perspective and realised it is still there to be lived.”
With 5 Guinness World Records to his name, including the worlds longest bungee jump from a helicopter – “Mad Dog” has well and truly earned his nickname.
The early years on the farm are an important part of his heritage. He recently returned to Ariah Park near the family farm, a small village of 600 people ravaged by seven years of drought to host the town’s centenary celebrations. Grant presented a local version of “The Towns Got Talent” to a packed hall anxious to forget the failing crops and increasing bank foreclosures. To them he will always be the kid that tore up his Uncle’s good clover paddock in his quest to one day make it to Bathurst.