Sa­cred Sites

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

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.

His­tory 101

The

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.

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