The cir­cuit owner

Australian Muscle Car - - Muscle Man -

The im­por­tance of Mal­lala Mo­tor­sport Park to South Aus­tralian Mo­tor­sport is un­ques­tion­able. As the only per­ma­nent cir­cuit in the state, its ab­sence now would crip­ple the in­dus­try in the state. If the pub­lic face of the sport in Ade­laide is the Clip­sal 500 V8 Su­per­car event, Mal­lala is its beat­ing heart.

Founded as Royal Aus­tralian Air Force Base Mal­lala dur­ing World War II, the cur­rent cir­cuit was orig­i­nally the home of the RAAF No. 6 Ser­vice Fly­ing Trans­port School, be­fore the taxi­ways and hangar hard­stands were first used as a race­track. That was in 1961, as CAMS looked to find a per­ma­nent home for the sport in South Aus­tralia with Port Wake­field deemed too short.

How­ever, af­ter 10 years of solid use, the cir­cuit fell into dis­re­pair as the new Ade­laide In­ter­na­tional Race­way (AIR), built just 20 min­utes away by Keith Wil­liams, took over as the prom­i­nent cir­cuit. Wil­liams had bought Mal­lala and closed it for mo­tor rac­ing. En­ter Clem Smith. “It was ’76 when I started ne­go­ti­a­tions to buy and I think I ended up pay­ing for it in ’77. Any­thing good from Mal­lala was taken down there to AIR; they didn’t rip the track up or any­thing like that, though I thought they had.”

“The story was they sold it to a farmer and he had it up for sale in ’76. A very good friend of mine, the late Reg Sparks, who was a great guy for the sport, sug­gested we get it go­ing again: People didn’t like AIR very much be­cause it wasn’t a very in­ter­est­ing track, they liked the sharp, hard cor­ners of Mal­lala as more of a driver’s track. Reg said, ‘why don’t we give it a go, put some money in and buy the thing’.”

Ex­pe­ri­ence told Clem that this was a ven­ture that needed to be taken on alone.

“I said: ‘If I have to do this Reg, I will take it on. But if you get a group of people to­gether it is not go­ing to work.’ So I put all the hard work in. It started off very dif­fer­ent to what it is to­day. (I was) not helped by CAMS by any means. There is a big story there, but it takes a while to tell it, and all the le­gal side...”

The full tale of the ef­forts put into bring­ing Mal­lala back from the dead de­serves to one day to be told in full. It is one of le­gal bat­tles, al­leged un­der­handed deal­ings from the op­po­si­tion and is­sues with CAMS. How­ever, af­ter years of strug­gle, fi­nally Smith cut through the red tape.

“In 1982 we got a li­cence and started rac­ing again,” Clem re­mem­bers, again not pulling any punches when it comes to the gov­er­nance of mo­tor­sport at the time.

“It was all held up by CAMS. They have done me no favours! The only favour they did, well, Bob Jane did, was they pulled the pin on tour­ing cars at AIR and they had to come to me didn’t they?

Mal­lala’s ATCC re­turn came in 1989 and con­tin­ued for 11 years.

His­tory will show that the Clip­sal 500 would take the V8s away from Mal­lala, its days of at­tract­ing such crowds now well in its past. How­ever, the fa­cil­ity re­mains solidly booked for both rac­ing and the es­sen­tial track days and cor­po­rate events that nowa­days are the bread-and-but­ter for all cir­cuits.

Had it not been for Clem Smith, South Aus­tralian mo­tor­sport might be in a very dif­fer­ent place al­to­gether – and not all for the bet­ter.

Big-time rac­ing re­turned to Mal­lala in 1989 in the form of the Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship. If not for Smith, South Aussies wouldn’t have got their an­nual tin-top fix through the 1990s.

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