Tracks in Time

Win­ton Race­way

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story Jim Scaysbrook Pho­tos Alan Stone, Robin Lewis

Win­ton Race­way Be­nalla, Vic.

The story of Win­ton Mo­tor Race­way, which is to­day Vic­to­ria’s old­est con­tin­u­ously op­er­at­ing rac­ing circuit, had its ori­gins back in 1957 when Bruce Watt, a school teacher from nearby Be­nalla, founded the Be­nalla Auto Club with an ini­tial mem­ber­ship of 20 peo­ple.

The club’s first or­gan­ised ac­tiv­ity was a gymkhana on De­cem­ber 1st, 1957 be­hind Ter­rett’s Sawmill in Roe Street Be­nalla. The club’s next step was to es­tab­lish an oiled-dirt 0.9 mile circuit at Bar­jarg, 50km from Be­nalla on the Strath­bo­gie Road. The site was a rugged one, with a rocky out­crop in the main straight which took skill to ne­go­ti­ate. How­ever the meet­ings at Bar­jarg were pop­u­lar club af­fairs with plenty of races crammed into the af­ter­noons, the first of which took place on 25th Jan­uary, 1959. Given the short­com­ings of the venue, the circuit was never go­ing to progress into sig­nif­i­cance, and with the BAC buoyed by the en­thu­si­asm (and with the prof­its gen­er­ated from each meet­ing), plans were laid to look for a more suit­able lo­ca­tion for a new circuit. On 23rd June, 1960, plans were an­nounced for the es­tab­lish­ment of a per­ma­nent mo­tor rac­ing track on what was then known as the Win­ton Re­cre­ation Re­serve, with a pro­jected open­ing meet­ing in early 1961. How­ever when work lagged be­hind sched­ule, one fur­ther meet­ing at Bar­jarg was con­ducted, on April 9th 1961, this time as a ben­e­fit for the fam­ily of the for­mer pres­i­dent of BAC Or­mond Al­li­son, who lost his life in an ac­ci­dent while work­ing on the con­struc­tion of the Be­nalla Go Kart track. Win­ton’s open­ing meet­ing fi­nally took place on 26th Novem­ber, 1961, fol­lowed rapidly by big­ger and bet­ter meet­ings, in­clud­ing Vic­to­rian Cham­pi­onship rounds for var­i­ous car cat­e­gories. It was to be some time how­ever be­fore mo­tor­cy­cling came to Win­ton, as the two and three­wheeled com­mu­nity were well served with venues at Phillip Is­land, Bal­larat, Dar­ley and Fish­er­men’s Bend. The tra­di­tional New Year’s Day meet­ing at Phillip Is­land was set down as usual for 1963, but the track, just six years old, was now in ru­ins, suc­ces­sive run­nings of the Arm­strong 500 race for tour­ing cars hav­ing de­stroyed the track sur­face. Hartwell MCC, pro­mot­ers at Phillip Is­land, was faced with a last-minute dilemma to find an al­ter­na­tive venue, and quickly be­gan dis­cus­sions with the BAC. And so the New Year’s Day meet­ing moved up­state to north­ern Vic­to­ria with the ti­tle of Vic­to­rian Grand Prix, and was hailed by all as a bril­liant week­end. For­mer Vic­to­rian Cham­pion and ace Ban­tam tuner Eric Walsh was moved to de­scribe the meet­ing as “The very best mo­tor cy­cle rac­ing we have had since Ge­off Duke’s 1954-55 visit.” In its first taste of mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing at their track, the BAC was cer­tainly im­pressed by the huge crowd that flocked into wit­ness an 18-race pro­gram. What greeted the all-star en­try which saw in­ter­na­tional Eric Hin­ton up against home

state hero Ken Rum­ble, lo­cal stars Al­lan Os­borne, Barry Smith, Ron Robin­son and Alan Hop­kins, South Aus­tralian Peter Richards and all the lead­ing side­car crews, was a 1.26 mile track laid out of fairly flat graz­ing land, be­side the Old Hume High­way half­way be­tween Wan­garatta and Be­nalla. Ten cor­ners had been jammed into the lay­out, the sig­na­ture be­ing a sweep­ing left han­der that tight­ened into a hair­pin at the far end of the circuit, orig­i­nally re­ferred to as the Water Tower. Al­though there were many out­stand­ing per­for­mances, the star of the day was Eric Hin­ton, who took three wins in­clud­ing both the Ju­nior A and Se­nior A Grade races. In the Se­nior, Hin­ton and Rum­ble (who fin­ished a close sec­ond) were cred­ited with the first out­right record for mo­tor­cy­cles at 1 minute 19 sec­onds. Richards took out the 250cc race and Os­borne the 125. The first of the two fea­ture races, the Ju­nior GP over 12 laps, went to Rum­ble af­ter Hin­ton ran off the track on the third lap. In the Se­nior GP, Hin­ton made no mis­takes, win­ning the race (short­ened to 10 laps with day­light fad­ing) and low­er­ing the lap record to 1.18. The ac­tion was no less frantic in the graded races, with wins go­ing to Vince Tier­ney (650 Nor­ton, Se­nior B), Dave Paw­son (BSA, Ju­nior B), and Peter High­land (Yamaha, Ju­nior C and Se­nior C). As al­ways, the side­cars put on a thrilling display, with Lind­say Urquhart de­feat­ing Ray Fos­ter and Ron Hem­pel to win the Ju­nior GP in an all-Nor­ton fin­ish, with an iden­ti­cal re­sult in the Se­nior Side­car GP. Fos­ter set up the first side­car lap record at 1.25. Find­ing a date on a crowded cal­en­dar wasn’t easy, but a sec­ond meet­ing at Win­ton took place in Septem­ber 1963, but there were no lap records as the en­tire meet­ing was con­ducted in very wet con­di­tions. How­ever this negated the power ad­van­tage of the big­ger bikes and pro­duced some sur­prise re­sults, with Ken Rum­ble, Len Atlee, Steve Oszko and Bill Barfield all tak­ing dou­ble wins. It was Ron An­gel who cap­tured the fea­ture race, the first run­ning of the Tom Phillis Me­mo­rial Tro­phy, lead­ing all the way. Al­lan Os­borne scored the first win for an Aer­ma­c­chi in Aus­tralia with vic­tory in the 250 race, while Barry Thomp­son won the Side­car race by inches from New Zealan­der Bill Rus­sell.

Win­ton se­cured the Vic­to­rian Grand Prix for New Year’s Day 1964, and the event would be­come a reg­u­lar fix­ture at the track, as did the Tom Phillis me­mo­rial. Win­ton can also lay claim to pi­o­neer­ing His­toric mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing in Aus­tralia, stag­ing the first-such event in March 1973. The race was spon­sored by Aus­tralian Mo­tor Cy­cle News and won by Peter Hern on a 350 Ve­lo­cette. “I was lucky enough to cross the line first in that in­au­gu­ral clas­sic race at Win­ton” says Peter. “It was run as a hand­i­cap event and as I was about to tip into Turn One af­ter get­ting the che­quered flag, my friend Clint Bradley on a Manx came past. One more cor­ner and his name would have been on the tro­phy. Peter Lord and Derek Pickard put a lot of ef­fort into get­ting that first race or­gan­ised.” The AMCN Tro­phy race be­came a reg­u­lar fix­ture and stayed on the pro­gram for sev­eral years, with the boom in His­toric rac­ing re­sult­ing in the All

His­toric Win­ton meet­ing that be­gan in 1976, fea­tur­ing 9-time World Cham­pion Mike Hail­wood as the guest star. Hail­wood rode a 500 Manx Nor­ton be­long­ing to Charles Ed­monds. His­toric Win­ton cel­e­brated its 41st an­niver­sary in 2017, mak­ing it the long­est run­ning event of its type in the world. As the ‘eight­ies dawned, Win­ton was echo­ing to a new sight and sound – Su­per­bikes. The class had grown in leaps and bounds and by the middle of the decade would take over as the premier class in the coun­try. But the early ac­tion was cen­tred around the Vic­to­rian cir­cuits at Win­ton and Calder, draw­ing big crowds to watch the heroes wres­tle with the mon­ster ma­chines on tyres that strug­gled to keep up with the horse­power. Rob­bie Phillis on the Mick Hone Suzuki, An­drew John­son, on the Syn­di­cate Kawasaki, Scott Stephens, Paul Feeney Mal­colm Campbell and the of­fi­cial Honda team of Den­nis Neill, Mick Cole, Alan Decker and Roger Heyes, thrilled spec­ta­tors with el­bow to el­bow rac­ing around the tight track. For four years, Phillis claimed the se­ries ti­tle, which re­ceived a ma­jor boost in 1984 with the back­ing of in­sur­ance firm West­ern Un­der­writ­ers. The Al­bury rider had al­ready sealed his fourth se­ries win by the time the se­ries con­cluded at Win­ton in Novem­ber, where Campbell cleaned up on the day. One year later at the same track, Campbell sealed the

ti­tle in a crash-strewn con­test that saw Len Will­ing as the day’s top-scorer. Per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant mo­tor­cy­cle race ever held at Win­ton – at least in name – was the Aus­tralian Grand Prix, which took place on the week­end of Oc­to­ber 31st – Nov 1st, 1987. Wayne Gard­ner had just se­cured the World 500cc Cham­pi­onship, and Aus­tralia was go­ing GP mad at the prospect of hold­ing a round of the cham­pi­onship in 1989. There was much ma­noeu­vring go­ing on as to where such an event could be held, and who the pro­moter would be. The ACCA was lob­by­ing for a re­vamped Calder Park, Mo­tor­cy­cling Vic­to­ria wanted Sandown, and a sep­a­rate en­tity, Barnard project Man­age­ment, headed by Bob Barnard, who had con­structed the For­mula One circuit in Adelaide, wanted to re­build the crum­bling ru­ins of Phillip Is­land. To prove their bona fides (and to demon­strate to the FIM that their sub­mis­sion was su­pe­rior), BPM un­der­took to pro­mote the Aus­tralian Grand Prix, which in re­cent years had be­come en­trenched at Mount Panorama, Bathurst. BPM spent a con­sid­er­able amount of money in the lead-up to the event, and even or­gan­ised a he­li­copter to pick up Gard­ner and his fi­ancé Donna Forbes from Melbourne Air­port and fly them to Win­ton, where the new World Cham­pion demon­strated the new Honda VFR750 – the only one in ex­is­tence. Three tem­po­rary grand­stands were erected around the circuit in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a bumper crowd, who would also be treated to an air demon­stra­tion fea­tur­ing the only fly­ing Spit­fire in the coun­try.

On the race week­end, the tem­per­a­ture soared, reach­ing 37 de­grees on the Sun­day, and the spec­ta­tors stayed away in droves, de­spite an ex­cel­lent en­try with rid­ers eye­ing the sub­stan­tial prize money on of­fer. The ti­tle races be­gan with the 125cc GP, which was a closely-fought con­test be­tween Peter Galvin, An­drew Palmer and Trevor Man­ley. Hav­ing just snatched the lead the slip­pery track claimed Palmer, leav­ing Galvin’s sin­gle cylin­der Honda to take the flag from Man­ley’s MBA twin and Peter McFay­den’s Honda. Run over 30 laps, the 250cc GP brought to­gether vet­eran Jeff Sayle, Don­nie Os­borne, and Hamish McNi­col and Martin Ren­frey – the last two aboard ex-works RS250 Hon­das pre­vi­ously raced by Kork Balling­ton in USA. Af­ter a race-long bat­tle, Sayle took the win by cen­time­tres from Ren­frey with McNi­col third. 27 out­fits faced the starter for the Side­car GP, another 30lap­per, and af­ter an early scrap be­tween Gavin Por­te­ous, An­dre Bos­man and Doug Chivas, but af­ter a string of re­tire­ments, Por­te­ous was left with a handy lead. How­ever the heat and leak­ing fuel soon pushed Por­te­ous to the point of near col­lapse, and his big lead evap­o­rated with Barry Ditch­burn through to the front, then just me­tres from the line, los­ing sec­ond place to the West Aus­tralian team of Hib­bert/Al­lain. That left the premier 1000cc GP, with Kevin Magee on the Marl­boro Team Yamaha miss­ing some skin af­ter a prac­tice crash. Pole-sit­ter Rob­bie Phillis led from the start and af­ter a brief bat­tle with Mal­colm Campbell, held the lead un­til dis­placed by Magee, who was seem­ingly un­af­fected by the sti­fling heat and set the fastest lap of the meet­ing at 1.01.7 on his way to a clear win over Phillis with Campbell third ahead of Sean Gal­lagher. Win­ton re­mained sub­stan­tially un­changed un­til 1995, when the BAC un­der­took a $500,000 up­grade, with a new sur­face and some sec­tions of the circuit widened. Two years later, a ma­jor re­de­vel­op­ment took place with a new loop ad­ding al­most one kilo­me­tre to the lap, tak­ing it to 3.0km (al­though the orig­i­nal circuit could still be used), and the en­tire track resur­faced. For the new lay­out, which turned left at the end of the back straight prior to what had al­ways been known as The Esses, the start/fin­ish area was moved, and pit build­ings grad­u­ally erected. The new circuit is known as the Win­ton na­tional Circuit while the orig­i­nal lay­out is called the Win­ton Club Circuit. In June 2005, an ar­son­ist set fire to the old race con­trol tower that had stood since the early days, de­stroy­ing the struc­ture. Af­ter some years away, the Aus­tralian Su­per­bike Cham­pi­onship is once again a reg­u­lar fix­ture at Win­ton, and the circuit is heav­ily booked on most week­ends of the year for a wide variety of mo­tor sports, ve­hi­cle test­ing and cor­po­rate func­tions. And in terms of His­toric Rac­ing, it seems the track has many more episodes in store.

Holder of the first Side­car lap record at Win­ton, Ray Fos­ter on his Nor­ton out­fit.

Side­car stars at the open­ing meet­ing, Lind­say Urquhart and Jack Craig. ABOVE On his Bul­ta­co­engined BSA Ban­tam, John Read rounds the Water Tower cor­ner. LEFT Kel Car­ruthers’ 250-4 Honda in the pits at the open­ing meet­ing for mo­tor­cy­cles.

Ron Toombs won three suc­ces­sive Tom Phillis Tro­phy Races on the Hen­der­son Match­less. ABOVE RIGHT Tight field in a 350 race circa 1966 with Steve Osz ko (78), Ron Toombs (63), Trevor Pound (be­hind Toombs) and Fred Hamil­ton (21).

LEFT Peter Jones about to head out for a 1966 Pro­duc­tion race on a Suzuki T500. ABOVE Graeme Trea­sure tests the lim­its of ad­he­sion in 1972.

The bat­tle for the 1973 Tom Phillis Me­mo­rial Tro­phy be­tween Rob Gar­ner (38), win­ner Kenny Blake (6) and Bob Rosen­thal.

ABOVE Start of the 1972 Vic­to­rian TT. Peter Jones (18), Ross Hed­ley (137) Ron Toombs (63) and John Ma­her (32). BE­LOW Darryl White heads Brian Fisher in 1973. BOT­TOM LEFT Any­thing goes at Win­ton, even a MaicoEl­star grass tracker, seen here in 1974. BOT­TOM RIGHT Graeme Os­borne holds off Owen El­lis in 1973.

TOP LEFT Den­nis Skin­ner’s 810 Honda out­fit in 1974. TOP RIGHT David McLen­nan’s 7R AJS in the AMCN Tro­phy of 1974 – one of the ear­li­est His­toric Rac­ing events to be held. ABOVE 1974 shot of Gavin Por­te­ous and Dar­rell Decker. ABOVE RIGHT Seems like Graeme Laing wasn’t the only man to race a Suzuki Step Through, as this ’74 shot shows. RIGHT Greg John­son aboard the ex-War­ren Will­ing Yamaha TZ750 in 1976.

TOP LEFT At the peak of his form in 1977, Gregg Hans­ford plays on the TKA H2R Kawasaki. Photo: Sue Scaysbrook TOP RIGHT Win­ner of the 1978 Tom Phillis Me­mo­rial Tro­phy, Bob Rosen­thal on the Team Milledge TZ750 Yamaha. ABOVE The Honda team at Win­ton in 1980. L-R: Mick Cole, Den­nis Neill, Roger Heyes and Alan Decker. BE­LOW Start of the 1985 Denso 500 Pro­duc­tion Race. Win­ner Kevin Magee (7), sec­ond placed Len Will­ing (4) and third fin­isher Rob­bie Phillis (32).

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