The circuit owner
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.