Tracks in Time


Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story Jim Scays­brook Pho­tos Alan Stone, Rob Lewis, Michael An­drews

Since the dawn of mo­torised rac­ing, cars and mo­tor­cy­cles have peace­fully co-ex­isted with the sport of kings. Some of our ear­li­est race tracks were sim­ply blasts around turfed ovals that were nor­mally the do­main of the nag, or dusty belt-ups around loose-sur­face trot­ting tracks.

Aspendale in Mel­bourne, be­side the Ne­pean High­way, is gen­er­ally recog­nised as Aus­tralia’s first pur­pose-built mo­tor rac­ing track, hav­ing been con­structed in­side the horse track and gravel-sur­faced. The mo­tor race meet­ing held there in 1906 is ac­cepted as the first ‘track’ race, as op­posed to pub­lic roads rac­ing. The same lay­out was later re­built as a con­crete struc­ture with slight bank­ing on the cor­ners, and ran un­til the mid 1920s. On a much grander scale was Syd­ney’s Warwick Farm track, which was closely mod­elled on the Ain­tree cir­cuit in Eng­land. The Bri­tish track, sit­u­ated within the grounds of the fa­mous Grand Na­tional race­course near Liver­pool, hosted the Bri­tish Grand Prix for For­mula One cars five times be­tween 1955 and 1962 and has also held mo­tor­cy­cle events from time to time. At ex­actly 3.00 miles (4.83 km) Ain­tree’s full Grand prix cir­cuit in­cor­po­rated two sec­tions (Melling Cross­ing and An­chor Cross­ing) where the mo­tor rac­ing cir­cuit en­tered the horse track it­self. The Aus­tralian Jockey Club, faced with de­clin­ing crowds fol­low­ing the in­tro­duc­tion of off-track bet­ting, lured Ge­off Sykes, the head of the Bri­tish Au­to­mo­bile Rac­ing Club (the pro­mot­ers of Ain­tree) to Aus­tralia with a pro­posal to build a sim­i­lar cir­cuit in the spa­cious grounds of Warwick Farm Race­course, co­in­ci­den­tally near Liver­pool, NSW. Sykes, a pop­u­lar and pleas­ant man, set about the task im­me­di­ately and over­saw con­struc­tion of a 2.25 mile (3.62km) bi­tu­men cir­cuit that crossed the horse rac­ing track in two places by means of tem­po­rary struc­tures laid across the turf. These had to be put down and taken up for each meet­ing, an ex­pen­sive and labour-in­ten­sive oper­a­tion, and were no­to­ri­ously bumpy. Un­like Ain­tree, one com­plete sec­tion (which in­cor­po­rated a short ‘club’ cir­cuit) ran in­side the horse rac­ing course, with the start/fin­ish op­po­site the huge grand­stand. The north­ern sec­tion which had the main straight (Hume Straight) was bounded by Cabra­matta Creek. Warwick Farm opened in late 1960 and be­came a well­sup­ported venue, par­tic­u­larly for the an­nual Tas­man Se­ries In­ter­na­tional meet­ing which drew star driv­ers and cur­rent For­mula One cars. Mo­tor­cy­cles never raced at ‘The Farm’, al­though sev­eral ‘demon­stra­tions’ took place, be­gin­ning with a few laps by World Cham­pion Tom Phillis in 1962 on a 250cc four-cylin­der works Honda, a sim­i­lar demon­stra­tion by Kel Car­ruthers in 1969, and a more for­mal gath­er­ing in 1970 where around a dozen top rid­ers of the day, mainly on Yamaha twins, put on a spir­ited dis­play that in­cluded a crash by Rob Hin­ton. This was meant as a pre­lude to an ac­tual mo­tor­cy­cle race meet­ing, but it never even­tu­ated.

The suc­cess of Warwick Farm was not lost on the Mel­bourne rac­ing set, both mo­torised and horse-pow­ered, be­cause con­struc­tion of a brand new fa­cil­ity was well ad­vanced at Spring­vale, 25 km outh east of the city in a now densely pop­u­lated area. Sandown Race­course ac­tu­ally be­gan in the late 1800s, but was closed down dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion. The site lay dor­mant for many years but dur­ing the 1950s, var­i­ous plans were floated to con­struct a mo­tor rac­ing cir­cuit as part of a pro­posed new horse rac­ing fa­cil­ity. Sev­eral key play­ers in the au­to­mo­tive in­dus­try, in­clud­ing Len Lukey who would later own the Phillip Is­land cir­cuit, threw their sup­port be­hind the project, with the for­mer sec­re­tary of the Light Car Club of Aus­tralia, Neil Mars­den, ap­pointed man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the pro­mot­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion, Sandown Park Mo­tor Sport Pty Ltd. Lo­cated along­side the main Princes High­way leading to the Dan­de­nong Ranges, the track in its orig­i­nal con­fig­u­ra­tion mea­sured 1.929 miles (3.104 km) which was about all that could be squeezed out of the avail­able ter­ri­tory. It may have been short by in­ter­na­tional stan­dards, but it was fast, with sub­stan­tial straights run­ning al­most par­al­lel. The main straight swept past the 10,000 seat grand­stand that would even­tu­ally be used for horse race pa­trons as well, thence through a fast left han­der (Shell Cor­ner) with the pits lo­cated on the in­side on this cor­ner. Fol­low­ing this was a short straight run­ning slightly up­hill be­fore a sharp left. This cor­ner, known orig­i­nally as Peter’s Cor­ner, was ringed by a sub­stan­tial Armco fence to ar­rest er­rant ve­hi­cles, be­cause im­me­di­ately be­hind was a deep dam. The track then swept through a right kink (Mo­bil Cor­ner) and onto the back straight, which ran up­hill (Leighton’s Hill) to what was known as Roth­mans Rise. At the crest of the hill the track wig­gled left (Lukey’s Cor­ner) and right be­fore an­other sharp left han­der (Dan­de­nong Cor­ner). Fi­nally came the Esses – a right/left sec­tion which led to a sweep­ing left un­der the Dun­lop Bridge and onto the start/fin­ish straight. In keep­ing with its in­tended equine use,

the whole place was im­mac­u­late, with man­i­cured lawns, flower gar­dens and white painted fences. The mo­tor track was com­pleted in time to host the In­ter­na­tional Cup on Labour Day weekend, March 11/12, 1962 – three years be­fore the horse rac­ing track was ready. It marked four years since Vic­to­ria had hosted an in­ter­na­tional meet­ing – at Al­bert Park in 1958. The In­ter­na­tional Cup drew a high qual­ity field in­clud­ing Jack Brab­ham, Stir­ling Moss, Bruce McLaren, John Sur­tees, Jim Clark, Ron Flock­hart and Amer­i­can Chuck Daigh, plus New Zealan­ders An­gus Hys­lop and Pat Hoare and most of the top Aus­tralian driv­ers. In win­ning the 120-mile race, Brab­ham av­er­aged 102 mph (166 km/h) for the 60 laps. The cir­cuit drew al­most uni­ver­sal praise, be­ing wide and smooth, but the lo­ca­tion of the pits did not. Be­ing in a hol­low, the pits was in­vis­i­ble to the ma­jor­ity of spec­ta­tors, and those con­fined to the pit area had a very re­stricted view of the rac­ing. It was a pe­riod when Vic­to­rian mo­tor sport went from a famine to a sur­feit in terms of cir­cuits. Just prior to the Sandown meet­ing, the short Calder track opened, giv­ing the state no fewer than six op­er­a­tional tracks – Phillip Is­land, Win­ton, Tar­rawingee, Sandown, Calder and Hume Weir. At this time, mo­tor­cy­cles also had the use of Dar­ley and Vic­to­ria Park, Bal­larat, both of which used sec­tions of pub­lic roads, but bikes would not fig­ure in Sandown’s plans for some time. In fact, from the en­cour­ag­ing be­gin­nings, when a to­tal of 120,000 people filed through the gates over the four days of the 1962 open­ing meet­ing, Sandown quickly fell from pub­lic favour. At least one rea­son for this was the en­er­getic pro­mo­tion from Calder, a “blue col­lar” track that of­fered close rac­ing, bar­gain prices and reg­u­lar meet­ings. By con­trast Sandown was an ex­pen­sive cir­cuit to pro­mote, with cor­re­spond­ingly high gate charges, and gen­er­ally only one ma­jor meet­ing per year.

In 1963, the Light Car Club of Aus­tralia took over the Sandown lease, and the em­pha­sis shifted from the ‘clas­sic’ sin­gle­seater grand prix cars to big, noisy

tour­ing cars, al­though the in­ter­na­tional Tas­man Se­ries event re­mained as top billing. It was 1967 be­fore bikes gained a foothold, and then only as a pro­gram-fill­ing se­ries of four races within the Vic­to­ria Tro­phy, the third round of the Aus­tralian Cham­pi­onship Gold Star se­ries for cars on Septem­ber 16th and 17th. How­ever by all ac­counts, the bikes put on a bet­ter show than their four-wheeled coun­ter­parts. The first mo­tor­cy­cle race, a com­bined event for 250cc A Grade and 250cc B Grade over six laps, went to Dick Reid’s Kawasaki in a blan­ket fin­ish from Al­lan Os­borne on Bert Flood’s wa­ter-cooled Bul­taco and Alan Hop­kins’ Kawasaki in the A Grade sec­tion, while Graeme Os­borne took out the B Grade sec­tion. Al­lan Os­borne had his re­venge later by tak­ing out the Un­lim­ited Sandown Cup af­ter an­other close bat­tle with Reid, but the fastest rider on the day was Bill Pound on the Vin­cent-en­gined Nor­ton for­merly raced by Arthur Pimm. From a field of 54 starters, Pound led the Un­lim­ited for three laps, record­ing 245 km/h on the main straight, be­fore slow­ing with front brake woes. 57 rid­ers faced the starter for the com­bined B&C Grade Un­lim­ited, with Jeff Cur­ley in front un­til he re­tired. Gerry O’Brien (Bul­taco) took the win, with Graeme Os­borne as top C Grader. By the time prac­tice had con­cluded the side­car field had whit­tled it­self down from 21 to 13, but some of the sparkle went out of the race when Den­nis Skin­ner’s big Vin­cent was re­luc­tant to fire from the push start. Ron Hem­pel (Nor­ton) made the early run­ning from Alex Camp­bell, but a bro­ken chain fin­ished Hem­pel’s ef­fort leav­ing Camp­bell to win from Skin­ner, who had blasted through the field from his poor start, and Ray Kelly’s 650 Tri­umph. De­spite the enthusiasm for the mo­tor­cy­cle com­po­nent, it was des­tined to re­main a one-off for five years, un­til an­other 2+4 ef­fort on Oc­to­ber 29th, 1972.

In July 1973 the bikes were back to stage a meet­ing an­other com­bined car/bike af­fair, pro­moted by the San­dring­ham club. This was round four of the new-look multi-round Aus­tralian Road Rac­ing Cham­pi­onship which re­placed the sin­gle meet­ing Aus­tralian TT as the of­fi­cial na­tional ti­tle. The meet­ing drew a bevy of top lin­ers, and a star from a dif­fer­ent sphere – ac­tor Sir Ralph Richard­son who was given the hon­our of flag­ging away the Un­lim­ited field. Len Atlee on the Clem Daniels-built CSD downed Ron Toomb’s works 125 Yamaha in the 125 en­counter, and War­ren Will­ing de­feated Bryan Hin­dle and Kenny Blake to take out the 250 race. But the star of the day was vet­eran Ron Toombs, the 40-year-old trounc­ing the op­po­si­tion to win both the 350 and 500 classes on his Yamaha, plus the ten lap Un­lim­ited on the Neville Doyle-tuned H2R Kawasaki triple. Sur­prise of the Un­lim­ited was Syd­ney ar­chi­tect Peter Stronach, who brought his 350 Yamaha home ahead of Gregg Hans­ford and Bob Rosen­thal. Stan Bayliss won both Ju­nior and Se­nior Side­car races, each time leading home his son Steve. By 1974 the July Sandown meet­ing had be­come some­thing of a tra­di­tion – as had the mis­er­able mid-win­ter Mel­bourne weather. As well as the top lo­cals, the meet­ing, which in­cluded the $1,000 Milledge Yamaha Tro­phy, at­tracted three top Amer­i­cans – Cliff Carr (750 Suzuki), Pat Hen­nen. Satur­day’s races were held in the dry, with 125 win­ner Tony Hat­ton just edg­ing War­ren

Will­ing for the 250 win, but Sun­day’s con­di­tions were atro­cious. Prior to the main race, Ken Blake took out the 350 (af­ter Gregg Hans­ford crashed spec­tac­u­larly into the fence) and the 500, and (750 Yamaha, and Hur­ley Wil­vert (750 Kawasaki), plus Kiwi John Boote. Peter Camp­bell scored an up­set win to take the Side­car race from Den­nis Skin­ner’s Laverda. In the Milledge Un­lim­ited race, Blake quickly dis­posed of Boote to lead through the gloom be­fore run­ning off the track, leav­ing the race to Hans­ford over Ross Barelli and Greg John­son. The Bri­tish Air­ways Un­lim­ited Fea­ture be­gan with many of the top names miss­ing, and Boote took out the race from Barelli and Wil­vert, who had never rid­den in the wet be­fore! With the weather wors­en­ing and the track par­tially flooded, the rest of the meet­ing was aban­doned. One high point was the stag­ing of the fi­nal round of the 1979 Swann In­sur­ance In­ter­na­tional Se­ries, which saw Dutch works Suzuki star Wil Hartog take on the lo­cals on a 653cc ver­sion of the Suzuki RG500. Other im­ports in­cluded Bri­tish Cham­pion Bob Smith (on a Yamaha TZ750 leased from War­ren Will­ing), and Malaysian Cham­pion Fabian Looi on the lat­est pro­duc­tion RG500. Greg pretty only needed to fin­ish to claim the se­ries win, which he did, while Ron Boulden rode a de­ter­mined race to de­feat de­fend­ing Swann cham­pion Jef­frey Sayle, with Graeme Crosby third on the Kawasaki KR750 he had rid­den so im­pres­sively at Bathurst. In or­der to at­tract a round of the World Sport­scar Cham­pi­onship (and in the process, lose a great deal of money) Sandown Park un­der­went ma­jor mod­i­fi­ca­tions in 1984. The track was deemed too short so an in­field loop was added at the north­ern end, turn­ing sharp left at Roth­mans Rise. More im­por­tantly, the first cor­ner, which had been the scene of nu­mer­ous ma­jor prangs, was di­verted to run through the orig­i­nal pit area and fin­ish with a right/left slow cor­ner be­fore re­join­ing the orig­i­nal cir­cuit on the run up to what was now called Arco Cor­ner. The pit area was moved to the out­side of the track be­side the main grand­stand. A tight right/left was added just be­fore the run onto the main straight un­der the Dun­lop Bridge. The Light Car Club, which had been fi­nan­cially bat­tered by the dis­as­trous World Sport­scar Cham­pi­onship event in 1984, re­lin­quished the pro­mo­tional rights to Sandown Mo­tor race­way, a com­pany owned by Jon David­son, whose fa­ther Lex had died at the cir­cuit af­ter suf­fer­ing a heart at­tack while com­pet­ing. The 0.8 km loop added in 1984 was aban­doned, and the cir­cuit re­verted to the orig­i­nal sec­tion join­ing the back straight and the north­ern ex­trem­i­ties. How­ever mo­tor­cy­cles no longer fig­ured promi­nently in the track’s plans, mainly due to the aftermath of a bit­ter and very pub­lic squab­ble over just where the 1989 Aus­tralian Mo­tor­cy­cle Grand Prix would be held. Mo­tor­cy­cling Aus­tralia pres­i­dent John Thomp­son de­manded that the race be staged at a suit­ably re-vamped Sandown Park, while just about ev­ery­one else wanted Phillip Is­land. The is­sue was ef­fec­tively set­tled by Sandown be­ing un­able to com­ply with safety re­quire­ments de­manded by the FIM, no­tably the lack of run off at Arco Cor­ner and else­where on the cir­cuit. The open­ing round of the 1988 Aus­tralian Road Rac­ing Cham­pi­onship in Fe­bru­ary 1988 was the fi­nal fling for bikes. These days, Sandown is just an­other an­nual out­ing for the V8 cars, and there seems no pos­si­bil­ity that mo­tor­cy­cles will ever re­turn.

ABOVE Fil­ing through the Esses in 1972: Ross Barelli (13), Ron Toombs (63), Len Atlee (1) and Mike Steele (8). RIGHT John Keogh/Bob Dick­son (Honda), ahead of Dar­ryl White/Greg Barn­den (Yamaha) and Gary An­der­son/Doug Mick­ele­john (BSA) in 1972.

Kenny Blake on the Ron An­gel-owned Imola Du­cati at To­rana Cor­ner in 1972. Peter Allen on his Tri­umph Metisse in 1972,just ahead of Peter O’Con­nor’s Suzuki.

TOP It may have looked com­i­cal, but Graeme Laing and his 125-en­gined Suzuki step through was a se­ri­ous com­bi­na­tion in the late ‘six­ties. ABOVE Bob Genda and Steve Kirby get the most out of their 650 Tri­umph in 1972. BE­LOW Un­beat­able at the 1973 meet­ing, Ron Toombs on the Kawasaki H2R. BOT­TOM RIGHT Ray Kelly and Al­lan Jamieson crest the rise in 1973.

Doug Sher­lock ac­cel­er­ates out of what was in 1972 called To­rana Cor­ner.

TOP Open­ing lap of a sod­den 350 race in July 1974, with Ross Barelli (13) leading Kenny Blake (6), Barry Lack (34), Mur­ray Sayle (112) and Denny McCormack (10). A prac­tice shot of Pat Hen­nen in 1974,show­ing the ex­pan­sive grand­stand.

Amer­i­can Hur­ley Wil­vert and Brit Cliff Carr in the 1974 Aus­tralianUn­lim­ited Grand Prix.

TOP Greg John­son on his H1R Kawasaki in 1974. ABOVE Start of the 350cc race in 1974 with Peter Smith (28) leading Ken Blake (6), Lou Nus­pan (01), Robert Hin­ton (4), Greg McDon­ald (71) and Vaughan Coburn (98). BE­LOW Graeme Muir, on his Egli-framed TZ750, leads Mur­ray Sayle in 1976. BOT­TOM Den­nis Ire­land cor­ners his RG500 Suzuki dur­ing the Swann Se­ries round in 1982.

Greg John­son and John Wood­ley, both on Suzuki RG500s, ne­go­ti­ate the Esses in 1976.

TOP LEFT Dutch­man Wil Hartog on the works 653cc Suzuki in the 1979 Swann In­ter­na­tional round. TOP RIGHT Steven Klein watches his TZ750 blaze in 1977. ABOVE LEFT Ron Boulden in de­ter­mined mood in the 1979 Swann In­ter­na­tional round. ABOVE RIGHT Swann Se­ries 1982, and Andrew John­son in typ­i­cally vivid ac­tion.

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