On this day: Bright begins his V8 Supercars career
Virgin Australia Supercars Championship
By V8 Supercars
When Jason Bright woke on Saturday May 4 1997 and heard the rain falling outside his Launceston hotel room, he inwardly groaned.
This was the day - 18 years ago today - that the 24-year old openwheeler star was scheduled to make his debut in the Australian Touring Car Championship.
"It was a two day race meeting back then and I remember waking up on the Saturday morning thinking 'man that's pretty disappointing' given I had never done a lap in a V8 Supercar in the wet," Bright recalled.
In fact, Bright had only a little more experience in V8s in the dry, having tested the Garry Rogers Motorsport Holden Commodore VS for "20 or 30 laps" before heading for Tassie.
Bright had been enlisted to take over the seat of the Valvoline/Cummins Holden in the fourth round of the 1997 Shell Australian Touring Car Championship because regular pilot Steven Richards had a date clash with the Super Touring series.
Bright had picked up the drive with renowned talent spotter Rogers at least in part because they shared Valvoline backing. The lad from Moe had won the 1995 Australian Formula Ford series with the support of the oil company and had retained its sponsorship for his 1997 Formula Holden campaign.
So it seemed grossly unfair that Bright would be handed his chance to strut his stuff against the likes of Peter Brock, Dick Johnson, Larry Perkins, Glenn Seton, John Bowe, Russell Ingall and co only to have the weather potentially scupper his chances of making an impression.
He couldn't have known then the rain was to actually work in his favour. The key in those days before control tyres, was his Bridgestone wet weather rubber.
"I was thinking 'this is going to be a disaster'. I couldn't believe how unlucky I was. Little did I know the Bridgestone tyre was the best tyre to be on and it made me look like a hero," he told v8supercars.com.au.
"I remember the very first practice session I went out and did five laps and came back in and I was 20th or something, went back out came back in 'where am I?' and I was third! What the hell!"
While qualifying didn't go as well as it could have because of a decision to put brand new - rather than roaded - wets on the car, Bright parlayed his 10th spot on the 17-car grid into ninth places in the first two 22 lap races.
"The racing was just crazy," he laughed. "The Bridgestone was just so much better than any other tyre out there in the wet.
"I was passing some of the guys I grew up watching racing - sometimes by mistake and pulling it off."
Bright missed out in the third and final race because of a misfire, but by then he'd achieved exactly what he'd hoped for - made the team bosses pay attention.
By the way, the Holden Racing Team dominated up-front that weekend, with Brock qualifying on pole and taking race one, while a young bloke by the name of Greg Murphy claimed the next two wins.
Glenn Seton chased them all weekend in the Ford Credit Falcon and ended up winning the drivers' championship.
"It was funny how much that one race did for my career," Bright muses. "My chances of getting a V8 Supercar drive before that were probably pretty slim, because it was a bit of a full shop.
"And then I did that one race and I had several offers for full-time drives for the year after.
"It was just very lucky how it all panned out in the wet, because I am sure it wouldn't have been as impressive in the dry."
Bright raced in the 1997 enduros alongside 1980 Formula One world champion Alan Jones in a Komatsu-backed Ford Falcon EL prepared by the legendary Ross and Jimmy Stone. They finished a fine third at the Sandown 500, where Bright obviously made another important connection.
"It was a bit of a wet-dry day that one as well," he recalls. "It was pretty surreal.
"That was another defining moment because I remember going to the podium and AJ had had a bit of a long day and decided not to go to the podium and the guys from Pirtek handed me a flag to hold up while I was on the podium and the next year they were sponsoring the car with me driving it."
That car was an EL Falcon campaigned under the banner of newly-formed Stone Brothers Racing and Brighty used it to great effect to win the Bathurst 1000 with Steven Richards - yep, the same Richo he's subbed in for at Symmons Plains less than 18 months prior.
"Steve had obviously gone over and driven for Nissan in the 2.0-litre championship over in England and it was a good opportunity to put someone in the car that had really good V8 Supercar experience.
Most other teams would team up their two main drivers, but Mark Larkham and I couldn't team up because we had different sponsors. So putting Richo in there made sense.
"It was bit of a big circle considering I drove his car in my first race."
Despite all this domestic success, the fire still burned in Bright to race overseas and he headed back to the USA in 2000 to race in the Indy Lights series for the 1999 championship-winning Doricott operation. He finished sixth in the championship.
Since returning home Bright has raced for the Holden Racing Team (2001-02), PWR Racing (2003-04), Ford Performance Racing (2005-06), his own Britek operation (2007-09) and has since 2010 found a happy home at Brad Jones Racing.
In his V8 career he has scored 20 wins and claimed a best championship finish of third in 2001 and 2004.
Now 42 and the senior man in the championship following Russell Ingall's retirement, Bright is homing in on 500 race starts.
And as his fifth place in the opening race at the UBET Perth Supersprint proved last weekend, he still has the pace to run at the front. Importantly, despite his business Taskforce growing rapidly and he and wife Lucy expecting their second child, he also still has the enthusiasm for racing.
"I still enjoy all of the different aspects; the technical aspects and the driving of course. I still get plenty out of it.
"I feel like each race meeting I can still go there and expect to get podiums. We just have to get all our ducks in a row. That's the challenge. When everything is right I think we still can challenge."