Tracks in Time
Tasmanians are a resourceful lot. They have to be. And when it comes to enthusiasm for motorcycle racing, they’re 100%. The Island State has produced some very fine riders, and boasts an incredible passion for the sport.
During World War 2 the Federal Government decided, with the Japanese so close, they needed somewhere safe where the air force could retreat to and regroup if necessary. Many large Tasmanian properties had basic airstrips and Western Junction (later to become Launceston airport) was being used as a training airstrip for new pilots. So, Tunbridge, Valleyfield and Quorn Hall were upgraded to be able to handle heavy bombers. Quorn Hall was situated on Mr T.C. Clark’s property. It had been in the Clark family since the 1830s and specialised in fine wool. As Trevor Jowett described how to get there in his January 1952 column in the Tasmanian Motor Trade Journal, “To reach the course from Campbell Town, spectators should travel to the southern end of the town, turn left on to the Lake Leake Road, some 200 yards beyond the bridge. Approximately three miles along this road, banners will be seen on the right hand side. Turn right through the gate for half a mile, and there you are. It’s as easy as that and you’ll have a great day’s fun. Be seeing you!” Astute members of the Tasmanian Motor Cycle Club organised in May 1946 a club ride to Quorn Hall for a picnic lunch where keen beach racing members were able to see the potential for the airstrip. In fact, later reports indicate the TMCC did run some races on that “picnic” day. By then many states were using exwar airstrips as race tracks. The runway was still in use for commercial flights and was in the midst of a tug of war as to which airstrips should be upgraded and which should be closed. The plan hatched was to put straw bales down the middle of the runway with 44-gallon drums as corner markers and use some of the oiled gravel access road in a “J” shaped pattern. It may
have been basic but, unlike beach racing, you didn’t have to wait for the tide to go out and most of the 1½ miles was sealed. It wasn’t until 1951, in front of 2000 people for a combined car and bike meeting conducted by the Southern Motor Cycle and Light Car Club, that racing was officially noted. The first motorcycle race was for 250/350 Clubman machines and was won by Devonport’s Pat Brown on a 348 BSA. Interestingly the first car race was won by J Taylor in a Jaguar; the same surname as the owners of the nearby Valleyfield property, where airstrip racing had begun in 1949. The success of the first meeting saw the clubs combine to run another one in January 1952 with Max Stephens able to dominate the Junior and Senior races on a 350 KTT Velocette. The Tasmanian Road Race Association had been formed to bring the clubs together and to take some of the heavy workload off the usual competition promoter, the Tasmanian Motor Cycle Club. The TMCC still dominated the positions in the TRRA but other experts were able to help run the events. That made two very successful meetings in a row so the TRRA decided to return in March for a third meeting. With racing so new to many riders it was decided to encourage younger new riders with two races aimed at them; one for B grade clubmen riders who used pump fuel and the last race for riders who had been unplaced for the day. Again, Max Stephens dominated, winning the 350 and 500 races, and the pairing of Max Eaves/Bill Denne taking out the Sidecar race on their 500 Manx Norton. The Tasmanian TT set down for the November long weekend in 1952 was switched from Valleyfield to Quorn Hall.
Reports indicated this was the first time mainland riders were to appear at the circuit. Now mechanics were getting interested in the racing as well, with three specials mentioned. The Brown Brothers in Devonport were building a 125 based on an early Overhead Cam Velocette with their own designed crank in an over square 52 x 55 bore/stroke. Launceston mechanics, Bill Gough and Trevor Jowett were yet to reveal their creations, but it was known that the 125 Gough Special was using a new idea of a swinging arm suspension attached to a full loop frame. For this meeting the TRRA conducted some improvements to the concrete surface of the runway. They tarmacsealed an extension to the northern end and sealed some of the perimeter road – modifications that tempted an influx of top riders from the mainland. Saturday’s races were the main championship races with Victorian motor mechanic Ray Owen the star of the day with winning rides on his 125 CZ, 249 Triumph and 500 Norton. He then bolted a sidecar on the Norton and put younger brother Ron in to finish second in the Junior sidecar, with mechanical gremlins slowing him. In the Senior he was to lead home local stars in Dave Powell (498 Triumph) and Max Stephens (348 Velocette). With the championships won, Monday’s program was devoted to support races with N.S.W. rider John Astley (499 Norton) winning the A grade race from local “Ike” Chenhall (998 Vincent Black Shadow) and Owen. The Clubman class was won by Charlie Rice with his 498 Matchless. For the March long weekend in 1953 all attention was switched to the first meeting at nearby Longford, signalling the start of circuit racing proper in Tasmania. This was a very big boost for road racing in the state and the biggest influx of top names since the 1950 Tasmanian TT at Valleyfield, when a charted aircraft brought riders like Ken Kavanagh, Bernie Mack, Maurie Quincey, George Skinner and Frank Sinclair to the isle. The November 1953 Quorn Hall meeting was billed as the Tasmanian TT with another bumper crowd. The meeting again showed the talent of Max Stephens who defeated Dave Powell, the Hobart pastry cook known as “Pastry Dave”, to win the 350 class on his trusty KTT Velo and the Unlimited on a 500 BSA. It was Stephens who World Champion Geoff Duke approached at Longford in 1955 to join him on the International circus. Stephens couldn’t afford to go and stayed in Tasmania. Reg Leslie won the 250 class on his BSA, and Powell on his new £600 Norton took out the Senior after Stephens stepped off his Velo. Riders like Don Thompson, Donny Miller, Peter Thurley, Dave Perry, Peter Ricketts, John Barrenger, Ike Chenhall and Sam Hughes were also beginning to appear on the result sheets. The preview to the 1954/55 season opener on October 31st showed how much the local mechanics had also taken to road racing and expanding their horizons. New rider Laurie O’Shea was entered on a 125 Bantam with a Walsh conversion kit. Ex-pat Swiss rider Tony Branderer had obtained hot up specs from DKW for his Bantam. Another Bantam converted by Alan Ikin was to be ridden by Don Thompson, the Gough Special was ready to go and the Brown Bros. special was hoped to be ready. Dave Powell again dominated although it could have been different as Max Stephens had purchased the ex-Quincey Manx Norton, but he clipped another rider after a slow start and sliced the front tyre. With no spare available, he was out for the remainder of the weekend. Quorn Hall was now the warm up meeting for each season with the high- light being Longford the following March. The 1955 season opened in October on 27th and was all about Max Stephens with his new 350 and 500 Nortons, who smashed the lap record by 2 seconds with a lap time of 1min 5 sec in the ‚
500 race, on his way to a 350/500/ Unlimited triple win. The 125 was won by Don Thompson’s Bantam and Ev Sadlier (Sadlier Special) took out the 250. The 1956 Longford meeting was cancelled because of a shipping strike so a TT meeting was set down for Quorn Hall on the 15th April. Don Thompson’s Walsh-kitted Bantam again collared the 125, and Thompson’s little bike proved so quick that it placed second to Ev Sadlier in the 250 TT. BSA-mounted Dave Powell used the 350 TT to start his run of 5 wins. He took the 350 from Peter Thurley (348 BSA) and the 500 from Larry Eaves (497 Ariel). He used the same bike to win the Unlimited, then attached a sidecar to win that race as well. The November 1956 meeting was a Quorn Hall Championship and “Clubman” meeting. The “Clubman” class was for non-factory racing bikes running on standard pump fuel, and saw Peter Thurley’s BSA win the 350, while the 500 was won by Dave Powell (BSA) from Sam Hughes (Matchless) who also won the 350 B grade Clubman’s. The return of Max Stephens fired up Powell with the two of them taking Powell’s recent lap record of 1min 5sec down to a final 1 min 3sec. The 125 went again to Don Thompson with Ev Sadlier as usual winning the 250. Thurley ((BSA) defeated Dave Perry (Norton) to win the 350, while the 500 was taken out by Powell (Norton) from Stephens (Norton) and Peter Ricketts (Matchless). Stephens got the better of his rival to claim the Unlimited and the sidecar was won by John Barrenger (Norton). The 1957 season concluded in May at Quorn Hall with a full program of Clubman, Sportsman and Open classes. The 250 provided a win for Dickie Lee (348 Velo), while Peter Thurley (348
BSA) downed Dave Powell in the 350. Peter Ricketts brought his G45 Matchless home first in the 500 race, but was beaten home in the Unlimited by Powell’s Norton. This meeting entered local folk law when Sam Hughes, at full noise heard a bang and lost power. When he pulled up he found that under the tank the head mounting bracket held a small amount of metal with nothing below it. The motor was spread all over the track and it was made worse by the fact that it was a borrowed bike.
Leading Sportsman class rider Laurie O’Shea had a brand new 350 Clubman’s Gold Star BSA for the October 1957 meeting. More and more local riders were also crossing to the mainland to race and the story pointed out that the star of the meeting would be Peter Thurley who the weekend before had placed 3rd in the Junior TT at Fishermen’s Bend. Not crossing to the mainland to race but “crossing over to the dark side” was Max Stephens who was down to race a Buchanan MG car. Only a year or so later Dave Powell was to do the same. Cars, many of them home-made specials, had all along been on the support card for each meeting usually with 3 or 4 races in an up to 15 event program. In fact on many occasions these basic cars were raced with the sidecars, usually in handicap races as sidecar stars like Trevor Jowett with a 350 AJS could give them a lap start in a 4 lap race and still win. O’Shea’s new toy was a winner straight out of the box beating Ian Tilley (348 BSA) and Dickie Lee (250 Velo) in the Sportsman class race. The combined 125 and 250 class went once again to Ev Sadlier on his home-brewed special from Don Thompson’s rapid Bantam, while Dave Powell took a 350/500 double on his Nortons.
Australia at the time was trying to increase the population with quality imports called 10-pound POMS. If someone would sponsor a family and find work for them the government would pay most of their passage. The Tasmanian Motor Cycle Club decided to get in on the act and sponsored 5 men whom had a motor cycling background. Bill McGregor, a handy racer on the rise, was one of them and won the B Grade Clubman race. A combined 125-250-350 Sportsman handicap showed the officials were on the ball. It was won by Ian Tilley from Peter Thurley and Laurie O’Shea, all on 350 BSAs. Although the bikes were the same, Tilley was a rising star, Thurley top line “A” grader and O’Shea almost a star with a new bike. Chief handicapper Jack Bratt allocated handicaps based on times from previous meetings. Talk of the meeting would certainly have been that in 4 months a new track near Hobart was to be opened called Baskerville – the first purpose-built circuit in Tasmania. It opened in 1958 to a reported 20,000 crowd to show the popularity of road racing following the great success of Longford. Symmons Plains near Launceston opened two years later and both are still in operation. It was the time spent “airport racing” at Valleyfield and Quorn Hall that had set the foundations for road racing in the state, but it was time to move on and lock the gate, as the Tasmanian Road Race Association under the control of the Tasmanian Motor Cycle Club, with the added expertise of some other club officials shifted their focus to Longford, Baskerville and a continuation of beach racing.
Dave Powell leads Max Stephens around the oil drums in 1952.
View from the top hairpin with Max Stephens and his traditional rival Dave Powell on their KTT Velocettes.
ABOVE The November 1952 Tasmanian TT. Senior winner Ray Owen with second placed Dave Powell (21) and Max Stephens (74). BELOW Start of the Senior TT in 1952 with the Stephens brothers Col (49) and Max (74) well away.
Visiting Victorian Ivan Tighe on his 7R AJS in 1952. Ray Owen leads NSW rider John Astley in 1952. With a sidecar mounted on his 500 Norton, Dave Powell (21) chases George Martin’s pre-war R10 AJS (10). Bill Gough on his homebrewed 125cc special.
Max Stephens flat out on one of the straights. Jack Bratt, Dave Powell and Don Gorringe with Powell’s new Manx Norton in January 1953.
ABOVE Max Eaves gets his 500 Norton under way ahead of Bob Easton’s Triumph. ABOVE RIGHT Scratch man Max Stephens waits at the back for the start of a handicap event. BELOW‘ Ike’ Chenall (90), Sam Hughes (18) and Noel Windsor rounding the drums in 1954. This is the hairpin at the bottom of the ‘J’.
TOP CENTRE Max Stephens exits the main straight on his KTT Velocette in 1952. ABOVE Ev Sadlier – almost ready to go racing.