Sa­cred Sites

D.O.B. 1961

Australian Muscle Car - - Contents -

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.

His­tory 101

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

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