Starting with this issue we switch our focus from defunct circuits to those that live-on today. Now we pay homage to the great survivors. First up: Lakeside’s Lazarus act.
Our Sacred Sites section has changed. Until now we’ve covered circuits from the prime muscle car era that have been lost to the sport. From this issue we switch our attention from the dearly departed to the living treasures – long-serving circuits that still host motorsport today.
We start with a little gem of a track, Lakeside, with a truly unique claim-to-fame. It’s a facility that closed down for seven years and looked certain to be lost to the sport. But then, in a move that would make Lazarus proud, it re-opened as a boutique, limited-use racing venue. Tell us of another circuit in the modern era that’s shut its gates for an extended period and then successfully fended off the NIMBYS and property developers to return from the ashes.
Lakeside’s against-the-odds survival stands as a testament to the determination of a small group of enthusiasts who refused to let the much-loved track die. We salute them.
Telling its story is an appropriate way for us to begin our refocused Sacred Sites.
It’s a circuit with character, charisma and history. It hosted the Australian Touring Car Championship no fewer than 29 times, including the standalone events of 1964 and ’67 won by Pete Geoghegan and the ’81 decider, more of which later.
“It’s a brilliant racetrack. It really is. And that has never changed,” so says 1981 victor, Dick Johnson, the famed Queensland venue’s most celebrated son.
birth of Lakeside was typical of the time. Sid Sakzewski, who owned a parcel of former dairy land on the northern outskirts of Brisbane and also had a company called Lakeside Plant Hire, went for a drive on his tractor one day back in 1958.
A band of willing helpers from the local motor sport club helped turn his original layout into a genuine racetrack and the first official meeting on the tar-sealed course was run in 1961.
The track is alongside Lake Kurwongbah and over the years there were a number of times when the lake overflowed during heavy rain and the course was flooded.
There were plenty of glory days, from genuine Formula One cars competing for the Australian Grand Prix trophy in 1966 and 1969 through to world-class sports car contests and classic touring car tussles well into the 1990s. In 1996, Craig Lowndes even met his (first) wife Nat while celebrating his victory in the ATCC at Lakeside. But there were also dark days, including the death of Glynn Scott in an openwheeler and the eventual decline in support once Lakeside lost its V8 Supercars race.
One man, David Harding, was at Lakeside from the beginning until close to the end. He’s now 75 and the former general manager of the track has clear memories of the early days.
“Sid decided he was going to build a motor racing circuit. It was his baby. And he did it, with help from many people,” Harding recalls for Australian Muscle Car. “It was his amazing drive that inspired us to help him build the circuit. We virtually built it with our own hands, and a few old graders and tractors, and the Lakeside International Raceway was born.
“I was the secretary of the car club and then the president. We virtually leased the track. None of the money went to the Sakzewski family, the club ran it and sustained it.”
There were seven or eight major meetings each year and most major national categories raced at Lakeside, from touring and sports cars to open-wheelers and sports sedans. Among the famous names on the track’s honour roll are Jack Brabham and Jim Clark in the Tasman Series, Kevin Bartlett and Max Stewart in Formula 5000s, John French and Jim Richards in GTs, Alan Hamilton and Bap Romano in sports cars, as well as everyone from Ian Geoghegan and Norm Beechey to John Bowe and Russell Ingall in touring cars. And, of course, Dicky Johnson.
“Almost every weekend there would be
something happening,” Harding says. He travelled regularly to Europe to sign the grand prix stars for the Tasman meetings and remembers their reaction to the Queensland course.
“Many drivers, including some internationals like Jim Clark, thought it was highly challenging because it was so fast. Particularly the kink at the end of the straight. The challenge was to go through flat-out.”
Clark was credited with the first no-lift run through the kink, while Chris Amon was first to lap at better than 100mph in his works Ferrari.
Talk of the track brings Harding around to the names for the corners.
“It was the Karussell because it was not unlike, we thought, the Karussell at the Nurburgring. And Hungry was because so many cars crashed there. It had two cambers, positive going in and negative coming out.”
These days Lakeside is considered narrow and with almost zero run-off, but that was typical of the sixties’ tracks.
“It was the standard width. Thirty feet,” says Harding. But there were consequences for any mistakes. “I’d say it was considered a track where if you made a mistake you paid for it. It was unforgiving. It sorted the men from the boys.”
Harding talks fondly of the Formula One days, with all sorts of silliness on and off the track, but his favourite international was a lesser-known sports car racer called Ken Miles.
“He was Carroll Shelby’s number one driver. It was just after a Tasman meeting and I thought we needed to give it a boost. There was no appearance money, I just paid for a container with the car,” Harding says. “We picked it up at the wharf with an old car trailer behind a clunker and hauled it out to Lakeside. That Shelby Cobra would be probably valued at $5-6 million now.”
Lakeside regularly drew crowds in the 10,000
range but Harding cannot resist a dig at former V8 Supercars supremo Tony Cochrane when he says talk of 40,000 at Lakeside was just for journalists and sponsors.
“The biggest crowd we ever had on site, on the ground, including every dog and cat and stray guinea pig, would have been 15,000.”
Apart from his work at Lakeside, there was a time when Harding also ran Surfers Paradise International Raceway for local entrepreneur, Keith Williams.
“We didn’t promote them differently. I argued to be fair and equal”, he says.
“Surfers was a more contemporary, more modern track, the next step up. Lakeside remained a great challenge but not quite as up to date.”
The Lakeside layout was short and actionpacked, similar in length to Wanneroo in Perth and the short circuit at Oran Park in Sydney, and its location on the side of a hill ensured a great view for spectators.
It was also fast. Even in a touring car it was possible to average better than 160km/h for a lap, a speed that put it close to Mount Panorama and Phillip Island.
The eight-corner track – measuring 2.4km (1.5 miles) – features a mix of fast and very fast turns (save for the the Karussell), each with their own characteristics, be it camber changes, blind crests or elevation shfts.
Time, however, eventually caught up with the track, despite solid attendances and some great racing, into the 1990s.
The loss of the V8 Supercars round was the biggest blow, as a financial decline led to the track’s official closure in May, 2002. The final major meeting had been a round of the V8 Supercars’ development series.
“The touring cars were always the most popular, like they are today. They were the crowd pleasers. The ATCC events helped cover the costs of one year.
“When that event was taken away from us at Lakeside, sadly that was the death blow. It was a slow but inevitable death.”
Harding retired in 1998 and watched from the sidelines as the track continued its downward spiral into bankruptcy. There were also growing complaints from some anti-noise locals.
However, remarkably, it was not all bad news, as a number of groups sprang up to try and protect Lakeside. Their work was helped when Pine Rivers Shire Council, now part of the Moreton council, bought the site from the receivers and cast about for potential operators.
John Tetley, who already had Queensland Raceway, tendered and won the rights to revive the track against three rival bidders – Motorcycling Queensland, the Police & Citizens Youth Club and Total Driver Pty Ltd – and has since spent millions to keep it open and updated. He avoided any involvement with CAMS, and a potential conflict over a track licence, and finally got the doors open again in June 2008 under a sanction from the Australian Auto Sport Alliance.
One of the many major jobs was re-filling the gravel trap on the outside of the Karrussell, as well as construction of a function centre.
Ironically, one of the first new ventures for Lakeside was providing a venue for testing tolling
equipment for Queensland Motorways. Smart.
Inset left: Race fans have Sid Sakzewski to thank for bringing the character-filled Lakeside Raceway to life 55 years ago. Bottom, from left: Leo Geoghegan, Bill Pitt and Bruce McPhee in ’62; Ken Miles, Shelby 427 Cobra, ’65; Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Jackie Stewart took on the locals in the ’66 AGP.
Left: Moffat and Geoghegan in 1971. Right, from top: Brock in Jane’s Monza, 1982; the fiery, Sierra destroying crash in 1989; Brock and Johnson were still bringing in the crowds 13 years after their epic ’81 encounter.