the success of three ‘drag race’ events at the Lowood circuit in late 1965 and early 1966 it seemed inevitable that drag racing on a larger scale would not betoo long in coming for South Queensland.
Funded by the booming success of his Surfers Paradise Ski Gardens, on the Nerang River west of the bustling coastal resort strip, promoter Keith Williams bought a parcel of floodprone land across the road and decided to build a motor race track (see AMC #73). While in the construction stage, someone suggested that he should check out this new drag racing. He flew to Melbourne to see it in action at Riverside, and incorporated a drag strip into the main straight of his under-construction circuit.
The track opened with a sell-out event for the first round of the April 1966 Dragfest tour by American dragsters. Founded by an entrepreneurial group of local racers who formed some powerful and active clubs, the South Queensland drag racing scene grew apace.
The drag strip wasn’t ideal. The main pit area was located half-way along the straight, so that racing had to stop periodically while racers were towed or drove up behind the startline. Since the surface was also used for circuit racing the use of traction compounds was discouraged, so grip was never optimal, the braking area was limited in length and track management kept drag racing on a drip feed, seeing no reason to further invest in something that was plainly already a success.
And what a success it was. At the beginning of each year the track ran a three-event series sponsored by Ampol, whose involvement was lubricated by the hospitality of Keith Williams’ large boat. These three events, usually involving two to three imported racing stars, paid all the bills for the track for the year, so that every dollar which came in from any activity there onwards was pure profit.
Major events which evolved at Surfers Paradise, and helped pave the way for success included the Winternationals, Speed Week and the Tin Top Titles. And the easy access to the glitter of the coastal strip seemed to ensure there was a ready pool of spectators looking for entertainment and to encourage racers to attend.
The track’s biggest weakness, however, was Williams’ other developments, which needed cash. Williams eventually sold the track to fund the bottomless demand of his Hamilton Island development, and after it passed through several hands was finally closed in September 1987 by its then Japanese owners. The coming end, though, had been clearly visible and the racing community had built an alternative track, at Willowbank west of Ipswich, opened in 1985.
Today the Surfers Paradise track site has a flooded lake with waterfront housing development.