His­tory 101

Australian Muscle Car - - Sacred Sites -

It’s a mi­nor miracle that Wan­neroo Park got built in the first place. The years lead­ing up to its open­ing were tough for the WASCC; the 1962 Aus­tralian Grand Prix nearly sent the club broke, and then there was the on­go­ing saga with the Aus­tralian De­fence De­part­ment over the con­trol of Caver­sham.

It could have eas­ily been all too much for the key fig­ures at the WASCC, the likes of pres­i­dent Dick Blythe and fu­ture pres­i­dent and se­nior club fig­ure Max McCracken (who had been in­stru­men­tal in se­cur­ing a cru­cial ex­tra year of use at Caver­sham). They could have all walked away. But in­stead they got con­trol of some land nes­tled be­tween mar­ket gar­dens and quar­ries in the tiny ham­let of Wan­neroo, rolled up their sleeves, and built some­thing out of noth­ing.

“Look­ing back, I was al­ways im­pressed with two things,” re­calls John Hur­ney, a WASCC life mem­ber and a man who spent a col­lec­tive 15 years as pres­i­dent of the club.

“Firstly, that the peo­ple who were run­ning the club even went to the trou­ble of build­ing Wan­neroo when Caver­sham closed. I know that might sound re­ally strange, but it was the same poor peo­ple that had had to drag the club back from the brink of bank­ruptcy af­ter the ’62 AGP at Caver­sham. They’d only just paid off all the debts when they found out they were go­ing to lose the [Caver­sham] track. Any rea­son­able per­son would have said ‘we’re not go­ing to worry about this, some­body else can’.

“The sec­ond thing is, re­mem­ber that back in those days there were prob­a­bly a max­i­mum of 30 ded­i­cated rac­ing ve­hi­cles in WA. The vast ma­jor­ity of the cars that raced were mod­i­fied road cars, and they were road reg­is­tered.

“So if there was no track, peo­ple would have said ‘so what? I’ll just go back to street drags and hill­climbs’. If the gov­ern­ment said to­mor­row that they were turn­ing the cur­rent track into

an air­port, every­one would want to know where they are go­ing to race. That wasn’t the case back then. I al­ways thought it was amaz­ing that peo­ple like Dick Blythe, and Patsy and Max McCracken, they stuck with it all.”

Reg­u­lar read­ers may recog­nise the name John Hur­ney from our fea­ture on the Caver­sham cir­cuit last year ( AMC #82). Back in the late 1960s, as a rac­ing-mad teenager, Hur­ney was a loyal club mem­ber who helped dis­man­tle Caver­sham and build Wan­neroo. Quite lit­er­ally.

“Max McCracken de­signed the track, and then over­saw the build­ing of it,” Hur­ney con­tin­ues. “He said ‘we’ll have a work­ing bee ev­ery sec­ond Sun­day.’ We had cou­ple of them and then he said, ‘guys, not many peo­ple are turn­ing up. We’ll have to do it ev­ery Sun­day.’ Then it be­came ev­ery Satur­day as well. When we got to the mid­dle of De­cem­ber he said, ‘this is not look­ing good guys – any­one got any hol­i­days they can take over Christ­mas?’

“Lit­er­ally, ex­cept for the ma­jor clear­ing and lay­ing the as­phalt, ev­ery­thing was done by vol­un­teers.

“It was a mas­sive les­son for me as a young

man be­cause it showed me what a small, but ded­i­cated group of peo­ple can do. It was only the stay­ers who kept com­ing ev­ery week­end to build Wan­neroo.”

Against the odds, the cir­cuit did get fin­ished. It was of­fi­cially opened in March 1969 at the in­fa­mous dust storm of a de­but race meet­ing, and the crowds kept com­ing into the mid-1970s. The con­tin­u­a­tion of the Six-Hour ‘Le Mans’ events from Caver­sham were a big draw­card, and were even broad­cast live on Chan­nel Seven in Perth. Ian Dif­fen’s World of Tyres also pro­moted pop­u­lar race meet­ings, with fea­ture races for Sports Sedans, Porsches, and For­mula 5000.

The big­gest race meet­ing of the early days, how­ever, was the first visit by the Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Championship in 1973.

“Al­lan Mof­fat in his GT-HO and Peter Brock in the XU-1,” re­calls Hur­ney. “They went over the fin­ish line at the end of the race with Brock car’s ba­si­cally touch­ing the back of Mof­fat’s car. The front of Brock’s car was sand­blasted, all the lenses were bro­ken, the wind­screen was trashed from all of the rocks com­ing off the back of Mof­fat’s car… it was an ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble race. It wasn’t a big field be­cause there was only one or two lo­cals, but it was a qual­ity field. “That was prob­a­bly the big­gest crowd we had up un­til the V8 Su­per­cars era.”

That same year was when the first ma­jor change was made to the cir­cuit. For the first four years both the start/fin­ish line and the pits were si­t­u­ated on top of the hill, with ‘The Bowl’, AKA Kolb Corner, the first turn. At the end of ’73 the start/fin­ish line was shifted down to what is now the main straight, with the erection of a new con­trol tower go­ing with it.

By the mid-1970s Wan­neroo boasted a vi­brant tour­ing car scene on the back of its Street Car cat­e­gory, where big fields of Fal­cons, To­ranas and many odds and sods raced on road tyres. The king of the skinny-tyred street car scene was HDT To­rana-equipped Wayne Ne­gus (who passed way sud­denly in Septem­ber 2016).

In 1979, with the WASCC con­cerned over dwin­dling crowds and want­ing to make the ac­tion more ac­ces­si­ble to the visit­ing public, the pits fol­lowed the start/fin­ish line from the top of the hill down to the bot­tom. A whole new pit area was built to co­in­cide with the WASCC’s next ma­jor race meet­ing – the 44th run­ning of the Aus­tralian Grand Prix.

Fol­low­ing the near fi­nan­cial dis­as­ter of ’62, it took some con­vinc­ing to get every­one at the WASCC on board to host an­other AGP. But with the state cel­e­brat­ing its 150th birth­day, and with a savvy spon­sor­ship struc­ture in place that meant the fi­nances weren’t re­liant on gate tak­ings, the AGP headed west once again.

The 18-strong field of For­mula 5000 and For­mula Pa­cific cars brought an­other bumper crowd to Wan­neroo Park, Al­fie Costanzo (Lola T430) putting on a heck of a show in qual­i­fy­ing with a 52.11s lap to take pole – a time that, to this day, is faster than the lap record. Costanzo didn’t get far in the race, though, he and fel­low

front-row starter Larry Perkins clash­ing at turn one. John Walker emerged from the en­su­ing havoc in the lead, but slipped back to third af­ter mak­ing a stop to re­move his bro­ken ex­haust pipe. He then hunted down sec­ond-placed John Bowe, and re­took the lead when John Wright’s en­gine gave up two laps from the end.

With the con­trol tower and pits now to­gether at the bot­tom of the hill, the cir­cuit re­mained largely un­changed for the next 13 years. It wasn’t un­til 1992 that the next ma­jor up­grade was made, long-time spon­sor, car dealer, Alf Barba­gallo tip­ping in the nec­es­sary funds needed to build the ‘short cir­cuit’ with a link from the exit of the track’s sole left-han­der across to the back straight.

The 1.7-kilo­me­tre ver­sion of the cir­cuit was used for the first time in Fe­bru­ary 1993, at which point the en­tire fa­cil­ity was re­named Barba­gallo Race­way.

A decade later more ma­jor changes fol­lowed. The en­tire cir­cuit was resur­faced in 2004, bring­ing with it a heap of new lap records – in­clud­ing a new out­right bench­mark, Gary West set­ting a 52.26s lap dur­ing a sprint event in ’05 to re­place John Bowe’s 53.44s, set more than two decades ear­lier.

A pur­pose-built hill­climb track fol­lowed the resur­fac­ing a year later, be­fore the in­field pit struc­ture ar­rived in 2011 to pro­vide the great­est aes­thetic change to the fa­cil­ity in more than three decades.

Clock­wise from top right: 1968, tak­ing shape; 1969 Le Mans 6 Hour win­ners Don O’Sul­li­van/Frank Matich in­ter­viewed by Dick Blythe; 1971 6 Hour start; John­son leads ’82 ATCC round; 1972 and 1971 race ac­tion; the first meet­ing, March 1969 (top in­set).

Top left: Mof­fat won the first ATCC round, ’73. Left: Costanzo and Perkins, 1979 AGP. Bot­tom: The tra­di­tional con­trol tower gave way to a mod­ern pit com­plex.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.