Ade­laide In­ter­na­tional Race­way

Australian Muscle Car - - Sacred Sites -

For the last two decades Ade­laide In­ter­na­tional Race­way has been some­thing of a Clay­ton’s cir­cuit – the race­track you have when you don’t have a race­track. It sits there on metropoli­tan Ade­laide’s sparsely veg­e­tated north­ern fringes, out past the salt pans that hug the coast, in its orig­i­nal form and open for busi­ness. Yet the level and fre­quency of ac­tiv­ity in­side the gates sug­gests it’s some­where be­tween op­er­a­tional rac­ing fa­cil­ity and time-warped ghost cir­cuit. True, cars reg­u­larly hit the track, but it is don­key’s years since AIR hosted a mo­tor rac­ing meet­ing that most other Aus­tralian race­tracks hold nearly ev­ery week­end. Rac­ing, that is, in­volv­ing more than two cars on the track at once.

This is in sharp con­trast to its first two decades, when it was the epi­cen­tre of South Aus­tralian mo­tor­sport. As the of­fi­cial his­tory of one lo­cal car club, the Austin 7 Club of SA, records, “AIR took the sport in SA into an­other realm – that of top level Aus­tralian and in­ter­na­tional mo­tor rac­ing, with its at­ten­dant pro­fes­sion­al­ism, ex­po­sure and stan­dards.”

There’s no bet­ter way to pin­point AIR’s glory days than to high­light its host­ing of SA’s Aus­tralian Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship round for 17 con­sec­u­tive years be­tween 1972 and 1988. Some years the venue had two rounds – or more fre­quently an ATCC sprint round and a ManChamp en­durance race – pulling crowds well into five fig­ures.

Then, sud­denly, the tap got turned off. Na­tional cham­pi­onship events for tin-tops, open­wheel­ers, Sports Sedans and other classes switched back to near-neigh­bour Mal­lala, the cir­cuit AIR suc­ceeded in the first place. For al­most 30 years it’s been the for­mer air­field track that’s sup­ple­mented the big an­nual street race in the city’s park­lands and AIR has been peren­ni­ally on the back­burn­ers with the flame barely flick­er­ing.

AIR may well be a Clay­ton’s cir­cuit – when viewed through the eyes of a main­stream mo­tor rac­ing en­thu­si­ast, at least – but the 2.4km venue does have its own unique story, flavour and char­ac­ter­is­tics.

His­tory 101

Con­struct­ing,

own­ing and op­er­at­ing Surfers Par­adise In­ter­na­tional Race­way must have been a pos­i­tive, prof­itable en­deav­our for en­tre­pre­neur Keith Williams in the late 1960s. For in 1970 he pressed the ‘go but­ton’ on a sim­i­lar cir­cuit 26km north of Ade­laide’s CBD. The count­less chal­lenges in­volved in build­ing and run­ning a mo­tor rac­ing fa­cil­ity has never been for the faint-hearted or shal­low-pock­eted.

Williams pos­sessed nei­ther. He did, how­ever, have a ‘hard nose’ and a heart that pounded for his pet mo­tor­sport projects.

Williams ac­quired the vir­gin site at, ap­pro­pri­ately, Vir­ginia, and set about trans­form­ing the flat-as-a-pan­cake precinct into a multi-func­tion venue.

It wasn’t long be­fore the planned new track up­set some mem­bers of the South Aus­tralian mo­tor­sport­ing es­tab­lish­ment, who ini­tially thought they would have a sec­ond place to race, in ad­di­tion to the state’s only fully-func­tional mo­tor rac­ing cir­cuit. Williams must have rea­soned SA could not vi­ably sus­tain two tracks, and he pur­chased Mal­lala, a fur­ther 30km to the north, in 1971, with a view to shut­ting it down.

Williams im­me­di­ately took steps which pre­vented any mo­tor rac­ing tak­ing place at Mal­lala, di­vid­ing up the ex-RAAF air­field base and sell­ing it on the pro­viso that it wouldn’t op­er­ate for mo­tor rac­ing. Thus, he handed his

new cir­cuit a mo­nop­oly in the state. He was first and fore­most a busi­ness­man...

Al­though car rac­ing ceased at Mal­lala, it re­mained open for mo­tor­cy­cling for an­other 12 months or so, and was used for ve­hi­cle test­ing by Chrysler Aus­tralia and the Ade­laide-based Elfin sports car com­pany.

Mean­while, work con­tin­ued apace at Vir­ginia where a multi-cir­cuit de­sign was tak­ing shape. The lay­out al­lowed for three sep­a­rate cir­cuits, all of which in­cor­po­rated the half-mile (0.8km) oval which was mildly-banked for most of the lap, a 1.7km short cir­cuit and a 2.4km main cir­cuit.

The par­al­lels be­tween SPIR and AIR are ob­vi­ous: ba­sic shape, lit­tle el­e­va­tion change and a long main straight that dou­bled as a drag strip. Williams had strong opin­ions on most things, the ideal cir­cuit lay­out in­cluded. He be­lieved that af­ter a long start/fin­ish straight there should be very fast cor­ner, as this pro­moted over­tak­ing.

John Goss, who we quote from the era, con­curred on the two tracks’ sim­i­lar­i­ties.

“I tend to par­al­lel it with Surfers Par­adise,” the AMC favourite as­serted. “It’s a fairly open, fl at cir­cuit that of­fers it­self as a good spec­ta­cle of mo­tor rac­ing. There’s a good long straight which en­ables the fast cars to get their feet down and get go­ing.

2017

Top: AIR hosted the dra­matic ‘79 ATCC ti­tle de­cider. Above: The first big event was 1972’s Tas­man Series round won by English­man David Hobbs. Right: The unique pad­dock set-up had cars ac­cess­ing the track from the dummy grid (shown) via a gate onto the fi­nal cor­ner. Pit­lane, for en­duros like the 1980 AEC round, was in­side the bowl.

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