Glenn Robbins plays Wayne Wheeler in the ABC’s Upper Middle Bogan
The brainchild of creative couple Wayne Hope and Robyn Butler, Upper Middle Bogan tells the tale of two families who live at the opposite ends of the freeway.
Bess Denyar, played by Annie Maynard, is a doctor who comes from a well-to-do family. Or so she thinks…
Sensing she doesn’t quite fit in, Bess learns that she is in-fact adopted and her birth parents are Drag Racers, the Wheeler family who live and breathe Top Fuel.
And this is where the fun begins… a clash of cultures in some ways and a coming together in others.
For drag racers and fans there’s a lot to like about this program. I’ve been lucky enough to see the first two episodes and I laughed, cringed and connected with the Wheeler Family.
If you’re after an expose on Drag Racing, Upper Middle Bogan isn’t it. It is however a humorous and engaging story of two families which uses Drag Racing as a colourful and brash backdrop, juxtaposed to the BMW driving, latte sipping life in the inner-suburbs.
Wayne Hope explains… “I grew up in Wantirna South, in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, which was way out and not serviced by a train line, so I was of the generation that got my licence at 8am on my 18th birthday. ”
“I have an interest in cars overall and so when we had the idea for the show about these two families who come together through one woman, we decided her real family would be a family of Drag Racers. ”
In 2010 Wayne, Robyn and the kids ventured to Mildura over the Easter Weekend on a fact finding mission disguised as a holiday. “So we went to Mildura and of course the first person we met in the main street on the day of the show-and-shine was Darren Morgan,” said Wayne.
“We were blown away. The first look down the main street we saw some drag cars and Darren’s Top Fueler. There were speed boats and the whole town was just alive with it. We kind of felt the buzz of all those sports combined. We even loved the trailers attached to the F250s, these monstrous towing vehicles. They are immaculate with their cars and their trailers and main street looked fantastic.”
“I’m a director so visually the look of all this was just brilliant. Then we rounded the corner and saw Darren’s car and just loved it. We hung around there for as long as we could, and we thought we’ve got to meet them. We’ve got to do something. So we sidled up to their merchandise caravan, and we spoke to Caitlin, Darren’s daughter. And we said to Caitlin we are writing a show and can we just talk to the team’s owners. She said, ‘oh you need to speak with mum’.”
“She didn’t say speak to Darren she said speak to my mum. That would be Natalie Morgan. So we spoke to Natalie and they were just great from the word go. They invited us into the truck, and showed us around and started to talk to us and then invited us the next day to come out to the drag meet. They were just doing a demo run and neither of us had seen a Top Fueler run before and it was absolutely fantastic.”
“So we hung out with the team and we spent a lot of time watching them. I had a little video camera with me and they pulled an engine apart and put it back together, and I started talking to Ben (Patterson) their head tuner, to try and pick up on well what it was like.”
“The biggest impression from that weekend was how close the team was and it was a family sport. We walked around the pits at Mildura with all the individual teams. It didn’t matter if they had a hotted up Torana or a Top Fueler, it was a really combined effort, really warm feeling with lots of family teams.”
“There were also lots of women involved which we were surprised at and delighted by because we made the lead, the head driver of this Top Fueler, we made her the mother of the family. We learnt that wasn’t the strangest thing in the world, that there have been women that have driven Top Fuelers and a lot of women driving Drag Cars in Australia.”
Many of the Drag Racing scenes were filmed Calder Park Raceway, interspersed with ANDRA footage from events around the country. For many of the cast members, the live action shots from Calder was their first experience of Drag Racing, let alone being up close and personal with a Top Fuel Dragster.
“They couldn’t believe what it felt like. They got used to it idling after a while but the launch itself was something completely different. I kept saying I wanted them to line up like Darren’s team does, behind the car. You have got to cross your arms to brace yourself. I tried to make them realise what it would be like, but you can’t explain it to anyone until you stand there and experience it. It’s an actual experience you have in your body; even just the sound of it actually goes through you. So a couple of them completely freaked out when it took off.”
“Michala Banas (who plays Amber Wheeler) thought it was incredible but she was shaking, completely shaking. She just couldn’t believe it. It took Michala about an hour to come down off that because she is so tiny and she was directly behind it and you know it went right through her. People talked about it for days. They had never experienced anything like it before.”
The cast of Upper Middle Bogan
Glenn Robbins who plays dad Wayne Wheeler went from self-confessed show-biz cynic to true believer in the space of an afternoon.
“I grew up in Essendon and Calder is quite close. I have childhood memories of looking over the concrete barriers as the cars went past but I’d never experienced Top Fuel before.”
“I had no idea what to expect. I was standing there and one of the mechanics came over and said ‘have you been near one of these things when they start up’? No I haven’t. And I kind of went to myself ‘it’s just an engine. It might be loud but so what, I’ll put some ear plugs in’. I’ve been to Formula 1 and I know that’s loud. He said ‘you’ll know about it’. And I said ‘sure’.
“So, the next day they started it… [a long pause]. They just started it, it was just idling. I’d never heard anything so powerful in my life. It went through me. It was incredible… just idling.”
“Then the next day they said they were going to do a launch and it would be louder and more intense. This time I believed them.”
“So I had to signal the burnout, standing right next to car as it went past. I’ll be honest with you, I nearly shat my pants. I’ve never felt anything else like it before. I was standing next to Michala at the back of the car and we just looked at each other.”
“Then it took off… and it threw me back. I closed my eyes; I reckon I screamed a bit.”
“And I opened my eyes to see the parachutes. I’d never seen anything like it. It was like watching a cartoon. It moved so powerfully and so quickly. I was worried about Michala… I think she levitated.”
“I went from being like ‘yeah whatever’ to total respect.”
For Darren Morgan and the team it was also a completely new experience. “We must have gone through 600 litres of fuel to capture a few minutes of footage. We had a ball, it was really good fun and the people were lovely, the cast, the crew and the whole gang.”
“It was wet when we filmed the shots at Calder so that made it interesting for Wayne and the crew. They didn’t realise that we can’t run when there’s any moisture on the track. They’re used to shooting come rain, hail or shine.”
“Apart from the spectacle that is Top Fuel Drag Racing the guys were blown away by the sheer logistics. We had two cars, trucks, spare parts, wings, the whole box and dice. The professionalism was a real eye-opener for the people who hadn’t experienced Drag Racing before.”
One concern some Drag Racers and fans have had is the use of the term “Bogan” in the main title for the show.
“Peoples first response is that you’re saying that the Drag Racing world is full of bogans and I think what the show does from the first episode is kind of explode your preconceptions,” said Wayne.
“Drag Racing is just a great subculture and it’s like any subculture, it involves passionate people, who love what they are doing and that’s the best part to tell, the part that straight away changes what peoples preconceptions are.”
“They go there and experience what people are doing, how much they are into it, they live it and breathe it. You can tell talking to them and a lot of them donate so much of their time and money, personal income for their sport. That’s engaging. You are doing something you love and a lot of people in life aren’t doing what they love. So it’s a striking contrast and one that we thought was perfect for our story.”
Upper Middle Bogan premieres 15th of August at 8:30pm on ABC1.
15/August/2013 – Written by Kym Oberauer.