29 Jul KILLARNEY CHARACTERS: BRIAN PEEK
Brian Peek (Peekus Minimus!), the Godfather of the Killarney commentary team for many years, was much more than a commentator – he was a successful racing driver, a kart designer and builder, a timekeeper, one of the founding fathers of the WPMC marshals and above all else, an Alfa Romeo enthusiast of note.
A little man with a big heart, he knew all the motocross riders by name – with or without their helmets on! – and for some years he sponsored the trophies for the Blind Navigators Rally. But what most people don’t know is that he even helped to build the Killarney circuit as we know it.
Brian Peek was born on 9 March 1937 in Walthamstow, in north-east London. His family emigrated to South Africa in 1948, where his father set up a successful packaging business. Brian attended SACS until Standard 8 (Grade 10) and finished his schooling at a technical school, preparatory to joining his father as a workshop technician.
As a boy, Brian had always been fascinated by speedway racing, but his father forbade from taking part on the grounds that it was too dangerous. His first car was a Renault Dauphine, which he entered secretly for a few races at the then 1.65 kilometre triangular, Killarney circuit in the late 1950s under the name A N Other.
When the current circuit was laid out in 1960 the racing drivers were asked to help with clearing the bush for the new track. Hacking fynbos is, of course, thirsty work, and those Saturday bush-clearing sessions ended in some legendary parties, fueled by copious quantities of high-octane libations.
Brian was among the volunteers, and it was at one of these Killarney social functions that he met a West Coast farmer’s daughter named Helena Maria Goosen. This was way too much for Brian’s English tongue so Marie she became, and Marie she stayed.
In 1960 the Dauphine made way for a sportier Dauphine Gordini. This was a proper piece of kit in the right hands and soon the inevitable happened – Brian won a race and got his picture in the papers.
Equally inevitably, his father saw it and an almighty row ensued – not so much because Brian had gone racing against his father’s wishes but because the Gordini was not prepared to Peek Senior’s exacting standards.
At his insistence it was pulled into the workshop, the engine stripped and ‘blueprinted’, and a handmade free-flow exhaust fitted. The car became even more competitive, and Brian enjoyed a moderately successful racing career for the next few years.
In September 1964, however, he traded in his competition licence for a marriage licence; he and Marie were soon joined by Michael in 1965 and Derek in 1968.
Nevertheless, Brian wasn’t about to give up motorsport altogether, and he soon became involved in the new sport of karting. He raced a 100cc McCullough-powered kart himself initially, but when Michael was six years he became a ‘racing dad’.
He devised a new and improved way of mounting a 50cc Soloped engine in a standard frame, producing a kart so much faster than the opposition that Michael qualified on pole for his very first race. For the next two years Michael was practically unbeatable in the 50cc class and won two Western Province karting titles, but when the time came to move up to the 100cc class he lost interest.
By this stage, however, Brian had become even more deeply involved in the sport, first as a karting timekeeper, where he devised a handicapping system that was used for many years, and later as a flag marshal because, as he said himself, he “liked to be in the middle of the action”. Timekeeping for karts was taken over by Marie and the handicapping system by a schoolgirl named Arlene van Tubbergh.
Brian later became a flag marshal on the main circuit as well, and eventually, chairman of the marshals’ section – the only person ever to hold this position without being Chief Marshal at the same time, “because he had remarkable talents in the fund-raising department”, according to a fellow marshal who shall remain nameless for his own protection.
In 1972 Brian bought his first Alfa Romeo, a two-litre Alfetta Berlina, and soon became a dedicated Alfaholic and a staunch member of the Cape Alfa Romeo Club, where among other things, he helped judge many of their concours competitions.
The defining moment of Brian’s motorsport career, however, came when he was recruited as a commentator in the mid-1970s by the legendary Rodney Goldberg, who knew a good thing when he heard one.
Never at a loss for words, with his clear, slightly gravelly North London voice and phenomenal memory for names and faces Brian proved to be a natural on the mike. A regular in the old commentary box on top of the Dunlop Bridge over the start/finish straight at Killarney, by 1980 Brian was also commentating full-time at both Junior and Senior Motocross.
He didn’t miss a motocross event in the Western Cape in more than two decades, as well as travelling all over South Africa to commentate at National Motorcross events – and even found time to marshal at rallies, usually with Marie at his side.
In 1984 he was joined in the commentary box by younger son Derek, who was then 16, and the two soon became known as the ‘Twin Peeks’. For the next two decades they were an on-the-mike tag team at every regional (and almost all national) motocross events.
Brian led the commentary team at Killarney for more than 30 years, until his sudden and untimely passing from a heart attack in March 2016. A little man with a huge heart – and voice! – motorsport was his life, and through motorsport he contributed to the lives of everybody in the Killarney family.