Wide open spa­ces

Lowood, Qld.

Old Bike Australasia - - FRANS VANDENBROE­K - Story Jim Scaysbrook Pho­tos Bill But­ler, Bob Toombs, John Fin­glas.

Post-war, Queens­land had no pur­pose-built mo­tor rac­ing cir­cuits, and tol­er­ance to the use of pub­lic roads for rac­ing was lim­ited. But there were op­tions, and needs must when the devil drives…

Like so many sim­i­lar sites, what even­tu­ally be­came a mo­tor rac­ing cir­cuit be­gan as a WW2 air strip. In the case of RAAF Sta­tion Lowood, this was just one of seven set up in Queens­land un­der the Em­pire Train­ing Scheme (EFTS) to train air­crews for ser­vice with the Royal Air Force. There were 49 such air­fields scat­tered through­out Aus­tralia. When EFTS moved to Lowood (ac­tu­ally lo­cated at Tarampa, 10km west of Lowood and 75km west of Bris­bane) in 1942, there was noth­ing but a grass air­field with par­tially con­structed hangars. The US Air Force took up res­i­dence soon af­ter, but were crit­i­cal of the con­di­tions and stayed only a short time, be­ing re­placed by RAAF’s 23 Squadron. Grad­u­ally the fa­cil­ity was im­proved, with cam­ou­flaged huts and new taxi­ways, and a new op­er­a­tions build­ing sited on the north slope of Mount Tarampa over­look­ing the air­field. A Trans­mit­ting Sta­tion was also con­structed, about 4km east of the air­field, and both these build­ing still ex­ist to­day. Seal­ing of the main run­way be­gan in late 1944 and was com­pleted by early the fol­low­ing year. But the war ended be­fore Lowood could be­come fully op­er­a­tional, and even the sealed run­way (which was 100 foot wide) was found to be highly abra­sive on the tyres of the sta­tion’s Bris­tol Beau­fort bombers. For­tu­nately, in view of later events, the perime­ter taxi­ways were grad­u­ally sealed, and although nar­row in com­par­i­son to the main strip, formed a com­plete ‘lap’. Lowood was re­tained by the Com­mon­wealth for some time af­ter the war, but was not main­tained. Even the in­te­rior of the Op­er­a­tions Build­ing was stripped by 1949, but the Mt Tarampa Ob­ser­va­tion Post was re­tained. As the RAAF drifted away, the mo­tor rac­ing fra­ter­nity moved in, and Lowood (along with nearby Strath­pine and Ley­burn) be­came the site for some fairly in­for­mal mo­torised sport. The first events were or­gan­ised in 1948 be­tween the Toowoomba Auto Club and the Gat­ton Mo­tor­cy­cle Club and run as com­bined

car/mo­tor­cy­cle meet­ings. In mo­tor­cy­cling terms, Lowood’s first big event was ac­tu­ally the big­gest on the cal­en­dar – the all-im­por­tant Aus­tralian TT, which was al­lo­cated to a dif­fer­ent state each year on a ro­ta­tional ba­sis. It was Queens­land’s turn in 1951 and as it was the first time the of­fi­cial na­tional cham­pi­onship had trav­elled to the north­ern state, ev­ery­one was keen to make it a roar­ing suc­cess for the TT, held on Mon­day June 11, 1951.

Fresh from his suc­cess at the Easter Bathurst races, ris­ing Vic­to­rian star Mau­rie Quincey en­tered his KTT Ve­lo­cette for the Ju­nior class and the 500cc Shel­s­ley Match­less, pre­pared by Earl Brooks, for the Se­nior. In or­der to com­plete the 98- mile race with­out re­fu­elling, the Match­less had an ex­tra fuel tank un­der the seat, bring­ing the to­tal ca­pac­ity to 5 ½ gal­lons. Also rep­re­sent­ing Vic­to­ria were Joe Dono­van (500 Nor­ton) and side­car star Bernie Mack. What greeted com­peti­tors was a fairly flat ex­panse of typ­i­cal sun-parched Queens­land coun­try­side, the 2.8 mile anti-clock­wise cir­cuit hav­ing an ex­cep­tion­ally wide main straight (the main run­way) of 1 1/8 miles in length. The first cor­ner, orig­i­nally known as Mo­bil­gas, was a 180º hair­pin, lead­ing to a fast right (KLG Cor­ner) and onto Dun­lop Straight. A left/right flick brought rid­ers to Bar­dahl Curve, a dou­ble left that led to the sharp MG Cor­ner and back onto the main straight. Satur­day and Sun­day were given over to prac­tice, which saw a num­ber of fan­cied run­ners strike ma­chin­ery prob­lems, but also saw Jack For­rest and lo­cal star Lind­say Nixon (both on Vin­cen­tHRDs) break the ex­ist­ing lap record, with For­rest quick­est at 2 min­utes 5.4 sec­onds. As most com­peti­tors were stay­ing some dis­tance from the cir­cuit, the place was buzzing with ac­tiv­ity early and the break­fast mar­quee, thought­fully pro­vided by the or­gan­is­ers, was well pa­tro­n­ised. Around the course, a de­tach­ment of Army

Sig­nallers main­tained walkie-talkie con­tract with the ob­ser­va­tion posts al­low­ing an­nounc­ers to keep the large crowd in­formed of de­vel­op­ments. At 9.30am the flag dropped to start the first event, the Lightweigh­t TT, and within a lap the favourite, jockey-sized Sid Willis, had dis­posed of early leader Dick Hardy­man’s Rudge and pulled away to com­plete the race with 15 sec­onds in hand. Third placed lo­cal Jack Ogilvie was so elated with his re­sult that he fell off on the way back to the pits! Soon af­ter, 21 rid­ers lined up for the 30 lap Ju­nior TT, with Willis again mak­ing the run­ning while one of the favourites, Ernie Ring, strug­gled to get his Ve­lo­cette to fire and was last away. On lap 6, Mau­rie Quincey caught and passed Willis, who had his Ve­lo­cette give up the ghost shortly af­ter, leav­ing the Vic­to­rian a clear win­ner from For­rest and Lau­rie Hayes af­ter more than one hour of rac­ing.

Lloyd Hirst was red hot favourite for the Side­car TT , but he first had to over­haul lo­cal hero Sandy McCrae, who shot away at the start on his HRD and was soon un­der at­tack from Mack’s 600 Nor­ton un­til Mack over­did things and shot off the track, pick­ing up a punc­ture on the way. Af­ter over­haul­ing Ge­orge Skin­ner’s Vin­cent, Hirst hit the lead in spec­tac­u­lar, tyre-smok­ing fash­ion and drew away, but on the fi­nal lap his Vin­cent went onto one cylin­der. He had enough in hand to limp to the fin­ish ahead of Skin­ner and McCrae in an all-Vin­cent podium. With the lunch ad­journ­ment com­pleted, the 36-strong field for the Se­nior TT, which in­cluded 22 from other states, came to the grid for their long jour­ney. Af­ter his scin­til­lat­ing prac­tice form, For­rest was ex­pected to dom­i­nate, but he struck un­ex­pected op­po­si­tion from lo­cal Clive Nolan, who led for

two laps and then clung to For­rest un­til lap 26 when he dropped the model. There­after For­rest sailed away, lap­ping the en­tire field to win from Col McBride’s Tri­umph and vet­eran Wal Hawtry on his pre-war R10 AJS. That left just the main race, the Open TT, and although Hirst soon had the chair un­hitched from his Vin­cent, en­gine trou­ble pre­vented him from tak­ing the start. Once again, For­rest, this time on the ex-Tony McAlpine Vin­cent Black Light­ning, shot to the lead, but disas­ter struck on lap ten when a fuel line to the aux­il­iary tank that had been mounted be­hind the seat came adrift, spray­ing the rear tyre with fuel. This was un­no­ticed un­til he tried to take the tight Mo­bil­gas cor­ner, when the ma­chine slewed side­ways and headed for a wire fence, at which point For­rest bailed out. This left Bill Mor­ris, from Wol­lon­gong, in the lead on an­other HRD, closely fol­lowed by Queens­land’s star all-rounder Tony Ed­wards on his 500 Nor­ton, who took the lead when Mor­ris pulled in to re­fuel. But Ed­wards needed a rapid pit stop him­self on the very last lap and sur­ren­dered the lead, and the win, to Syd­ney vet­eran Lau­rie Hayes, rid­ing Harry Hin­ton’s 500 Nor­ton.

It had been a wildly suc­cess­ful meet­ing, but soon af­ter the Air Min­istry, which was in com­mand of the prop­erty, de­cided to close it for mo­tor rac­ing. It was a ma­jor blow for mo­tor sport in the state, but in 1956 the Queens­land Rac­ing Driv­ers Club (QRDC) man­aged to pur­chase the run­down prop­erty and be­gan a long process of pre­par­ing it for rac­ing again. Over the next few years much of the track, with the ex­cep­tion of the main straight, was resur­faced, spec­ta­tor con­trol fences and ticket col­lec­tion boxes erected, and work slowly un­der­taken on a proper pits fa­cil­ity. QRDC ran fre­quent meet­ings for cars, but in 1957 mo­tor­cy­cles ven­tured back for two meet­ings, the first be­ing the Queens­land TT in June. 18,000 spec­ta­tors, starved of mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing in re­cent times in the state, crammed in to see a day of thrills and spills, the most spec­tac­u­lar be­ing when Jack For­rest un­loaded from his ex-works BMW in the Se­nior TT af­ter hit­ting a pool of oil from the pre­ced­ing car race. The BMW was ex­ten­sively dam­aged but Jack was not, and the race was even­tu­ally taken out by Les Moore’s Nor­ton. There be­ing no 250cc race, For­rest rode his 250 NSU in the Ju­nior and won eas­ily, while the Side­car races went to Sandy McCrae (Se­nior) and C. Else (Ju­nior). In Novem­ber of the same year, it was Tom Phillis who starred, the young Syd­ney rider win­ning all three mo­tor­cy­cle races in the com­bined bike/car meet­ing. Phillis re­ally showed his style in win­ning the Hand­i­cap race from the back mark, ahead of Doug Fug­ger’s BMW Rennsport and im­pres­sive lo­cal Reg Warry on an im­pres­sively quick 350cc Royal En­field. Eric Hin­ton starred in the March, 1958 meet­ing which was run as the Queens­land TT in con­junc­tion with car races. Eric won both Ju­nior and Se­nior races with Vic­to­rian Ron Miles run­ner up in both races. Young Kel Car­ruthers ven­tured to

Lowood for the June, 1959 meet­ing and came away with a win in the Ju­nior event. What could have been a dou­ble vic­tory was spoiled when his Nor­ton oiled a plug on the start­ing line for the Se­nior race. Prob­a­bly the apogee, in mo­tor­cy­cling terms, came in 1961 and it was Eric Hin­ton who starred in the an­nual Septem­ber meet­ing, which car­ried the ti­tle of Queens­land Grand Prix, win­ning the Ju­nior-Se­nior dou­ble and beat­ing Jack Ahearn home in both events. Jack Saun­ders had a good day in the non-Ex­pert events, which were run con­cur­rently with the ti­tle races win­ning the Ju­nior on his 7R AJS and plac­ing third in the Se­nior on his Tri­umph be­hind Brian O’Con­nor and Tom Kib­ble. A crowd of 13,000 watched the ac­tion, which con­cluded with an all-in hand­i­cap won by L. Allen’s Ve­lo­cette, who took the flag just ahead of Hin­ton, who had started from scratch in the 5-lap race.

The fol­low­ing year the in­de­fati­ga­ble Jack Ahearn ar­rived with his 350 and 500 Manx Nor­tons and com­pleted a clean­sweep of all three races in the com­bined car and bike pro­gram. In strong gusty winds, Ahearn was ini­tially har­ried in the 350cc GP by Kel Car­ruthers un­til he broke a pri­mary chain on his Nor­ton and the other chal­lenger, Alf Niel­son from Syd­ney broke a con­rod in his BSA. Ahearn even­tu­ally led home Gor­don Gil­lies’ Nor­ton and R. Beack (Velo). In the Se­nior GP, Ahearn won at a stroll from Car­ruthers’ Vin­cent Comet with Doug Wacker’s Tri­umph third. Start­ing from the back mark Ahearn scythed through the field to take out the 5-lap All Pow­ers hand­i­cap with Gil­lies and Beack again fill­ing the mi­nor placings. The 1961 meet­ing was sig­nif­i­cant in that one week later came the open­ing meet­ing (for mo­tor­cy­cles) at the Lake­side cir­cuit north of Bris­bane. Although the Side­car event had to be can­celled due to lack of en­tries, the meet­ing was hailed as a ma­jor suc­cess and was a nail in Lowood’s cof­fin as it was the first all-bikes meet­ing in Queens­land for three years, and shar­ing Lowood with the cars was not with­out its prob­lems. In­deed, as Lake­side went from strength to strength, Lowood was quickly for­got­ten by the mo­tor­cy­cling side.

Although the cir­cuit re­mained in use for car rac­ing, with the new Four Hour Sports Car race be­com­ing very pop­u­lar, it saw lit­tle fur­ther ac­tion as far as mo­tor­cy­cles were con­cerned. In 1966 the QRDC closed the cir­cuit and shifted its op­er­a­tions, and some of the Lowood in­fras­truc­ture, to Lake­side. The Lowood prop­erty was sold and most of it di­vided up into hobby farms. To­day all that re­mains of the cir­cuit is the main straight, which has been re­named Daisy Drive.

TOP LEFT Bill But­ler, who supplied many of the pho­to­graphs for this story, in Queens­land star Glynn Scott’s Cooper Cli­max in the Lowood pits. ABOVE CEN­TRE 1960 shot of Doug Wacker on his dust­bin-faired Tri­umph. ABOVE Vince Walker cor­ners his 350 Nor­ton...

Doug Fug­ger over­shoots Han­gar Bend on his BMW in 1957. ABOVE Ray Gib­son, on the Match­less G45 owned by Royce Nixon, leads Vince Walker’s Nor­ton through Han­gar Bends in 1957.

Lowood Cir­cuit Lap Dis­tance: 4.5 kilo­me­tres ht aig Str p nlo Du Cas­trol Cor­ner BP Bend Pits MG Cor­ner Mo­bil­gas Cor­ner Shell Start & Fin­ish Line

ABOVE Jack For­rest’s NSU in the pits in 1957. ABOVE RIGHT Star of the Queens­land TT in 1957, Tom Phillis (69) looms up be­hind C. Wil­son, with C. Else be­hind. BE­LOW Taken in 1959, with rid­ers lin­ing up for the next race. BOT­TOM RIGHT Terry O’Brien from...

ABOVE LEFT Lloyd Hirst, side­car win­ner at the 1951 Aus­tralian TT. ABOVE RIGHT Queens­land star Lind­say Nixon with his HRD.

BOT­TOM LEFT Jack For­rest’s spec­tac­u­lar crash in 1957. His boot can be seen at the far right of the photo.

Sandy McCrae’s ‘kneeler’ Vin­cent out­fit on the main straight, circa 1960.

An ex­pan­sive view of the Lowood cir­cuit, taken by Ron Toombs’ brother Bob.

ABOVE Star of the 1960 meet­ing, Jack Ahearn trails a foot onto the main straight.

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