DIRTY STUFF

YOU KNOW HOW IT GOES: RUBBER THONGS, SLIPPERY TIN, BARELY CONTROLLED SKIDS AND A DETERMINATION NOT TO DROP THIS BLOODY BLOCK AND GET IT DIRTY. THE IMPACT ON THE JOINTS OF MY LOWER BACK WAS INCREDIBLE

WILLIAM PORKER

FOR a very long time, I thought my body was totally bulletproof. I could do almost anything Ė lift any weight, work night and day, and get by with only a few hours sleep. Now, at age 76, the proverbial chickens have come home to roost. Iím facing a major five-hour back operation to fix two slipped vertebrae, the result of acting like a bloody hero and lifting heavy bits of motor cars by myself.

This is not a good situation. I have had back pain for decades, but this year I finally realised I would have to go under the knife, because the morning get-out-of-bed pain turned to an agony that the painkillers couldnít slow down, and I was struggling to do normal stuff like walking. The fix is that the surgeon is going to open me up and fit an expensive piece of titanium to those bones with four wood screws, along with a couple of reinforcing rods. This, combined with bone hormone glue, should set the whole thing solid.

After about 12 months, that is, and during that time I have to behave Ė Iím not allowed to bend, lift or twist, or the whole painful operation will be a total waste of the docís time, and mine. Six weeks of rehab, a minimum of eight grand out of pocket, and no working on mongrel motor cars until June 2017.

Do I feel sorry for myself? Not bloody likely. I got to this stage without any outside assistance, by doing things like lifting a Holden sideplate racing car engine into its bay in the middle of a sleepless night, so the FE could be towed to Warwick the next morning to compete in a hillclimb. This was under a high-set house and I didnít have a block and tackle, so this hero picked up that headless short engine and, sitting with legs braced inside the engine bay, struggled and got the thing fitted to the gearbox. You can imagine what that did to my back.

Years later, I was lifting Chevy V8 engine blocks solo Ė again usually in the middle of the night Ė so I could assemble yet another race car engine, fighting this lump of iron when it threatened to fall off the work bench. Stupid? Of course!

But the incident that really wrecked my spine was when I had just washed a Ford Formula Junior four-cylinder engine block, wearing my best Asian work thongs, and decided to pick this block up and walk across a wet piece of tin that was slippery with detergent. You know how it goes: rubber thongs, slippery tin, barely controlled skids and a determination not to drop this bloody block and get it dirty. The impact on the joints of my lower back was incredible as I did this, but as a true superman I ignored the agony and finished carrying the block over to a waist-high work bench.

I knew I had seriously stuffed something, but just kept ignoring the stabbing pain hits and carried on as normal.

That was about 10 years ago, and now itís time for the knife.

Working for years on noisy competition cars has not been beneficial to the ears, either. I have been in track situations where somebody fired up a high-horsepower engine almost next to me, and the decibels out of a fat-pipe exhaust were so loud I got severe pains inside my ears. The guy warming up the engine thought this was great fun, but I was expecting blood to run out of my head holes at any minute. Now I suffer from industrial deafness; the left ear is just about stuffed and my right-ear hearing isnít much better. Looking back, nobody heard much about hearing protection, and heroes like me never had earmuffs.

The same goes for the eyes; they have collected pieces of steel and cast iron many times, mainly from porting cylinder heads with small grinding stones. I thought that peering up ports while wearing uncomfortable clear goggles was just too much trouble, until red hot sparks got me and forced another hospital visit. I got lectured by the eye doctors, but being a true-blue hero I kept on doing this until tungsten carbide cutters came in, which only threw small shavings of metal at you.

But the worst bit of my crass stupidity in looking after my body happened at Warwick only a couple of years back. I was getting organised to go to a race meeting there, and decided to siphon a small quantity of ATF out of an over-full power steering pump. Got a length of tube, stuck this into the fluid and sucked until it hit the back of my throat, and I bloody near choked. Got over that, drove to a motel, and at 2.30am my slow-beating heart decided to go into overdrive. It was bad enough for my wife to rush me to the local hospital. After three days in intensive care they decided to send me to Brisbane for a heart operation, but my pump went back to a normal in the ambulance.

So, donít try to be an idiot hero Ė or youíll end up just like me!