Australian Muscle Car - - Sacred Sites Special -


old Castlereagh emer­gency bomber air­field, be­tween Pen­rith and Rich­mond, 50km west of Syd­ney, had been home to a va­ri­ety of small mo­tor rac­ing events when in Oc­to­ber 1959 the ARDC de­cided to stage a sprint event and then two ‘Amer­i­can drag rac­ing’ events, in Fe­bru­ary and May 1960.

Th­ese events weren’t big, but they were in­flu­en­tial when sev­eral years later the grow­ing Syd­ney hot rod­ding scene, sparked into ac­tion by the suc­cesses at Mel­bourne’s River­side drag strip, went look­ing for some­where near their city to do the same.

They set­tled on Castlereagh, as the ob­vi­ous choice, but were beaten to the punch again in May 1964 by the Eastern Sub­urbs Sport­ing Car Club. This event was a flop, though an­other the fol­low­ing Novem­ber was more suc­cess­ful, with the ap­pear­ance of two im­ported Amer­i­can Su­per Stock­ers. But the next March, the hot rod­ders (see Mus­cle Mail for de­tails on the 50th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions) rented the track from lease holder, Manly War­ringah Sport­ing Car Club, and drew a much big­ger crowd and en­try list and the land’s own­ers were happy to sign a lease with the NSW Hot Rod As­so­ci­a­tion, for 15 per cent of the gate.

The track de­vel­oped rapidly, with new park­ing ar­eas, fences, an old bus as a race cen­tre and PA, and was fully resur­faced for the 1966 Dragfest tour by Amer­i­can drag­sters, had a con­trol tower built – later re­placed by an im­pos­ing three-story struc­ture – and later grand­stands. It was re­garded as the lead­ing drag strip in the na­tion, fea­tur­ing the best con­di­tions for rac­ing.

The track was of­fi­cially named Syd­ney In­ter­na­tional Drag­way in mid-1966, though this was changed to Castlereagh In­ter­na­tional Drag­way in about 1970 af­ter a dis­pute with the track’s found­ing manager, John Flem­ing.

The track was the first in Australia with night rac­ing, the first to run off-street races in 1971, and in 1968 was the sub­ject of a ‘raid’ by the po­lice look­ing for stolen ve­hi­cles, and who were sent away shame-faced.

In 1969 then manager, John Flem­ing, had be­gun a project to pur­chase the site to se­cure its fu­ture, but when he was de­posed in a coup later that year his plan was dumped with him. The prob­lem was that a de­ci­sion to pro­ceed with the con­struc­tion of a huge three-storey con­trol tower in the mid-1970s left the track in so much debt that when the land on which most of the track sat was re­zoned for five-acre blocks in the early 1980s a pur­chase was out of the ques­tion. A de­vel­oper moved in and bought the land, just to get rid of the venue and its noise im­pacts on his horses at a nearby stud, in op­po­si­tion to all lo­cal res­i­dents, and the last race at Castlereagh was run amidst high emo­tion in April 1984.

To­day there is lit­tle sign that this was a place where races were run and nerves tested, other than sev­eral stormwa­ter drains, though in aerial pho­to­graphs it can still be made out as an area of min­i­mal devel­op­ment in an ur­ban ex­panse.

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