There is no other operational circuit in Australia like Mallala. It’s 55 years since the former RAAF base first hosted a race and is still flying the flag for grassroots motorsport.
There is no other motor racing circuit in Australia like Mallala. Not now anyway. In the 1960s it was one of three racetracks in operation that were reincarnated Royal Australian Air Force bases. The others were Lowood (Queensland) and Caversham (Western Australia), both of which had hosted their last race meetings by the end of the 1960s.
Mallala looks more British than your typical permanent Aussie motor racing facility. The Old Dart’s racing scene is still heavily populated by tracks that owe their existence to being surplus to requirement after World War II. The Silverstone, Croft, Goodwood, Thruxton, Castle Combe and Snetterton circuits feature layouts incorporating sections of former aircraft runways and taxiways. Mallala Motor Sport Park still retains the feel of an airfield. Maybe it’s the three-storey khaki-cladded control tower or similarly-coloured paddock structures lined up in military fashion. Or the flat-as-a-pancake layout surrounded by canola fields that stretch as far as the eye can see. You half expect a WWII-era bomber to pop over a distant row of trees at any moment.
Regardless of its origins, look and feel, the 2.6km track remains South Australia’s only permanent circuit. Located on the northern plains, about 60km from Adelaide’s CBD, the challenging, technical track holds a special place in Australian racing history. It has underpinned local racing for decades, but is fast approaching a watershed point in its 55-year history.
South Australian motorsport’s earliest venues were the ‘closed road’ circuits at places like Victor Harbour, Nuriootpa, Lobethal and Woodside. When the fun police intervened and banned them, a purpose-built circuit was established at Port Wakefield, 100 kays north of Adelaide. It was at the dusty, remote circuit that the 1955 Australian Grand Prix was held. This was an era when the AGP was rotated around the states, meaning SA’s next hosting of the nation’s then pinnacle event was scheduled for 1961. A year or so out CAMS decided that Port Wakefield was not up to scratch as ’61 host venue and that a site closer to the city of churches was needed. The South Aussies, not willing to give up their slot and have to wait another five years, went on the hunt.
It was noted that the RAAF’s 24 Squadron operational airbase at Mallala was coming up for sale in 1962. With a willing buyer in the, erm, wings, the sale was brought forward to April 1961 – six months before the AGP’s proposed date. The site was bought and subdivided, with a 200-acre chunk encompassing the airfield retained and the rest sold off to farmers.
Mallala’s first race was the race to be ready for its August grand opening which would serve as a test run for the AGP. Even though the site featured plenty of useful tar-sealed taxiways and roads it was clear there was much work to be done. Many of Port Wakefield’s facilities were unbolted and reinstalled at Mallala – buildings, grandstands and fencing. The effort was enormous and the roughly T-shaped circuit that