What do Ferraris, Corvettes, racing and off roading have in common with professional golf?
The Ferraris have all gone. So have the wild, customized Chevy pickups and the garage full of Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
These days you’ll find the man they call “The Great White Shark” behind the wheel of more sedate transportation, a stealthy, supercharged Range Rover.
But it was a treat for Celebrity Car Magazine to sit down with Australian golfing great Greg Norman and, over a cup of breakfast java, talk quick cars and fast driving.
As always, the man is constantly on the move. He has more than 60 golf course design projects on the go, mostly in the Middle East and Asia. Then there’s the Greg Norman clothing collection, the wineries, the steaks, the turf, the restaurants. On top? What else would you expect from a man who spent more than 300 weeks in the 1980s and 1990s as the Number One golfer on the pro tour.
So what about those Ferraris? What was the first one he bought? He says it came soon after he won his first European Tour in 1977 and signed his first big endorsement deal.
“I’d just turned 22. I was living in London and went out on a shopping spree. In addition to buying some necessities — a suit, pants, shirts and shoes — I bought a used Ferrari 308 GTB. A red one, naturally.
“Unfortunately, that Ferrari and my fair hair quickly became all too visible to the authorities as I sped along the M4 motorway. After a time, I decided that red was too conspicuous. So I stored it in the garage and bought a silver one . . . a new and more powerful GTS.”
That’s how the collection began. Buy a new one; keep the old one. Well, at least until the market for Ferraris began going ballistic. Then he unloaded a s fast as he could.
“While car collecting may seem like an extravagance on the surface, you have to remember that I always treated it like a business, just like acquiring works of art.
“Sure, I enjoyed driving my Ferraris, but I also meticulously maintained each and every one, and eventually sold them at a profit.”
As for the most fun he has had behind the wheel, he’ll tell you it was at the Indianapolis, Ind., Motor Speedway in 1998. Chevy had asked him to pilot the Corvette pace car for that year’s Indy 500 race and he flew in a few of weeks before for some practice laps.
“I proceeded to do about 120 laps, much to the chagrin of those who wanted this to be a largely ceremonial experience,” he says. “Let me tell you, opening up a Corvette on that historic track was far more exhilarating than anything I had ever experienced behind the wheel.”
Sadly, he was forced to have shoulder surgery right before the race and withdrew from driving the ’Vette. He reluctantly handed over the keys to 1963 Indy 500 winner Parnelli Jones.
Norman says that it was his love of speed that led to his close friendship with Nigel Mansell, a former Formula One World Champion and a passionate golfer. They had met at a pro-am tournament, where professionals team up with high-profile amateurs, in Norman’s native Australia in 1986 and quickly formed a bond based on a love of golf and fast cars.
“We also shared a similar chemical makeup, which included an intense desire to compete, and win,” says Norman.
Norman tells the story of how their competitive “juices” began to flow after Mansell had watched the Shark compete in the European Open in England in 1987.
“After the final round, I bet him dinner that I could make it to my hotel, a 35-minute drive from the course, faster than he could. Nigel was in his helicopter, and I was in a rented Jaguar. The caveat was that he had to give me a 10-minute start before he turned on the chopper’s engines.
“In the end, we arrived at the hotel at exactly the same time, but he later admitted — in typical Nigel fashion — that he’d only waited five minutes before taking off.”
These days Norman gets his driving fun by going off road. At his sprawling 13,000-acre ranch in Colorado, he says he loves taking his Range Rover along a bolderstrewn creek bed on the property.
“The only other vehicle I think I’ve ever taken up there is my John Deere 670D grader.”
Then, just as he begins to give Celebrity Car Magazine the impression that he’s no longer into fast cars, Norman casually mentions the V12-engined Aston Martin Vanquish sitting in his garage back at his Florida home.
At appears that you can’t take the speed out of the Shark, even if he is just a little whiter around the temples.