Tracks in Time

War­wick Farm Syd­ney, NSW

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War­wick Farm

In the an­nals of mo­tor­cy­cle sport his­tory in Aus­tralia, few cir­cuits can boast a ca­reer as short as War­wick Farm in Syd­ney’s west. In fact, this am­bi­tious ven­ture hosted just three short demon­stra­tions, and no races, dur­ing its life span from 1960 to 1973.

Like so many rac­ing cir­cuits in Aus­tralia, War­wick Farm came into be­ing on the wave of pop­u­lar­ity for motor sport when Jack Brab­ham be­gan his rise to fame. In Bri­tain, the Ain­tree cir­cuit, near Liver­pool, had been con­structed in 1954 in­side the horse rac­ing com­plex which an­nu­ally hosted the Grand Na­tional Steeple­chase. This cir­cuit was ad­min­is­tered by the Bri­tish Au­to­mo­bile Rac­ing Club, with Ge­off Sykes at the helm, and hosted the For­mula One Bri­tish Grand Prix on five oc­ca­sions be­tween 1955 and 1962. Brab­ham ac­tu­ally made his For­mula One de­but at the cir­cuit in 1955. Al­though the 4.84km cir­cuit was short­ened af­ter 1964, it is still in use for cars and mo­tor­cy­cles.

The Ain­tree ex­am­ple was the in­spi­ra­tion for War­wick Farm’s cir­cuit, and the Aus­tralian Au­to­mo­bile Rac­ing Com­pany was formed for the ex­press pur­pose of pro­mot­ing rac­ing at the venue. There were many at­trac­tive fea­tures of the site, which had been utilised as a mil­i­tary camp by Aus­tralian, Bri­tish and Amer­i­can forces dur­ing WWII when it was known as Camp War­wick. It even had its own 1.6km branch line and sta­tion (orig­i­nally built for mil­i­tary use) off the main Syd­ney to Liver­pool rail­way line that brought pa­trons directly to the track.

The search for a suitable venue in Syd­ney had been go­ing on since 1950, cham­pi­oned by Pe­ter An­till from the Aus­tralian Sport­ing Car Club. In 1957 a site at Hox­ton Park, a graz­ing prop­erty owned by Reg Dun­bier and Nel­son Phillis, was be­ing strongly con­sid­ered, but the prob­lem of rais­ing the money to de­velop the cir­cuit – around £60,000 – proved in­sur­mount­able. Then Dan Mc­Far­lane, with Ain­tree in mind, ap­proached the AJC and sug­gested they con­sider a sim­i­lar venue at War­wick Farm. The AJC was grap­pling with an­other sea­son’s loss of nearly £20,000 and took lit­tle time to give the green light to the plan, an­nounc­ing they would in­vest a to­tal of £86,000 on con­struc­tion be­fore hand­ing over the new cir­cuit to the AARC on a per­cent­age-profit ba­sis.

Cru­cially, the AARC man­aged to en­tice Ge­off Sykes to mi­grate to Aus­tralia and look af­ter the run­ning of the com­pany and the new cir­cuit. At the time, in the late 1950s, horse rac­ing was in the dol­drums, and tracks like War­wick Farm were ex­tremely ex­pen­sive to run and main­tain. The Aus­tralian Jockey Club, which had owned War­wick Farm since 1925, eyed the Ain­tree ex­am­ple closely as a means of in­creas­ing rev­enue, and within its ranks had a ma­jor motor sport fan in Sam Hor­den, who was hugely in­stru­men­tal in get­ting the idea off the ground. Sadly, he passed away be­fore the new track ac­tu­ally opened.

From the be­gin­ning, the plan was to use as much of the ex­ist­ing in­fra­struc­ture as pos­si­ble, in­clud­ing the main grand­stand. The engineerin­g pre­sented many chal­lenges, not least the ne­ces­sity to cross the horse rac­ing track in two places. This was achieved by lay­ing tem­po­rary struc­tures to cross the grass sur­face, made by De Hav­il­land Aus­tralia, but these had to be in­stalled and re­moved for ev­ery meet­ing – and were a ma­jor im­ped­i­ment to mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing. They were con­structed on a steel frame­work with as­phalt­cov­ered tim­ber pan­els in­laid, and were nat­u­rally far from smooth. The geog­ra­phy of the venue meant that the track had to be con­fined within the me­an­der­ing Cabra­matta Creek and the ma­jor Ge­orges River, so space was tight. Nev­er­the­less an in­ter­est­ing 3.62km lap was at­tained, with the main straight run­ning close to the Hume High­way. The sur­face was a hot-mix as­phalt com­pound, only the sec­ond cir­cuit in the world (af­ter Bri­tain’s Oul­ton Park) to use this process. It was vir­tu­ally flat, but con­tained an in­ter­est­ing mix of

cor­ners which were mostly “un­wind­ing” – mean­ing that the en­try was tighter than the exit.

A pro­jected date for the open­ing meet­ing was an­nounced for Novem­ber 6th, 1960, but this had to be postponed af­ter the NSW Po­lice, which were to li­cence the cir­cuit un­der the dra­co­nian Speed­ways Act, de­cided the safety fence was a few inches too low. The Novem­ber 6th date was used as a ‘test day’ with no spec­ta­tors ad­mit­ted. The ex­tra work in­volved pushed the of­fi­cial open­ing back to De­cem­ber 18, which was orig­i­nally to be the date of the sec­ond meet­ing.

Ge­off Sykes, as well as be­ing a ge­nial chap and a skilled ne­go­tia­tor, was also a mo­tor­cy­cle en­thu­si­ast, and owned a Ve­lo­cette MSS among other bikes. His task was to get the show on the road as quickly as pos­si­ble, which he did in 1960, al­though the first meet­ing was all-but washed out. How­ever in Jan­uary 1961 War­wick Farm hosted the “In­ter­na­tional 100” with a star-stud­ded field in­clud­ing the reigning World Cham­pion, Jack Brab­ham, plus Stir­ling Moss, Graham Hill, Dan Gur­ney, Ron Flock­hart and Innes Ire­land, plus all the top lo­cals. De­spite a heat wave (the track tem­per­a­ture was mea­sured at 64ºC) 65,000 peo­ple surged through the gates and ‘The Farm’ was up and away.

At this point, mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing it­self was go­ing through a lean patch, but Sykes was keen to ex­plore the pos­si­bil­ity of at­tract­ing bikes and jumped at the chance to al­low newly crowned 125cc World Cham­pion Tom Phillis a demon­stra­tion run on Kel Car­ruthers’ 250cc 4-cylin­der Honda early in 1962. Al­though the scream­ing Honda made a big im­pact with fans, noth­ing fur­ther came of the plan to in­tro­duce mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing, al­though in 1969 the same 250 Honda again took to the track, this time rid­den by Car­ruthers him­self. Kel had just won the World 250cc Cham­pi­onship on a Benelli, and reeled off sev­eral laps in front of the car rac­ing fans. Again, ac­tual rac­ing failed to ma­te­ri­alise.

The clos­est bikes came to gain­ing a foothold was in 1972, when on April 30, a troupe of mainly Yamaha rid­ers staged a spir­ited demon­stra­tion – so spir­ited that Robert Hin­ton ac­tu­ally crashed on the ap­proach to the Cause­way over the internal lake. Rid­ers who were in­vited in­cluded Bryan Hin­dle, Allen Burt, Len Atlee, Mike Steele, Ross Hed­ley, Hin­ton, Bill Dil­low, Keo Madden, Laurie Turn­bull and Sid Lawrence, all on Yama­has, and Max Robinson on a Manx Nor­ton. Ron Toombs’ Yamaha was still in tran­sit from his rac­ing trip to Asia, but he was there as an in­ter­ested on­looker.

The demon­stra­tion lasted just five laps, but it made an im­pres­sion, no­tably on Ge­off Sykes. He told a re­porter for Revs magazine, “I’ve al­ways been a mad keen mo­tor­cy­cle fan. In the ‘30s I was an of­fi­cial and trav­el­ling mar­shal for the Brook­lands Mo­tor­cy­cle Rac­ing Club.”

By the time the mo­tor­cy­cle demon­stra­tion took place, the old ‘cross­ings’ had been re­placed by a per­ma­nent sur­face laid across the horse track. For most of the year, this was cov­ered with a thick layer of soil and turf, which was re­moved for each meet­ing. Both en­ter­ing and ex­it­ing these sec­tions, there was a no­tice­able bump where the tar sur­faces joined, but as soon as they were fin­ished, Sykes be­gan ne­go­ti­a­tions to have the bike demo take place as part of the Aus­tralian Sport Car Cham­pi­onship meet­ing on 30th April. His ini­tial con­tact with the Auto Cy­cle Union was re­buffed, so he con­tacted the A Grade Rid­ers As­so­ci­a­tion who were much more en­thu­si­as­tic. Lit­tle won­der af­ter the long-run­ning feud be­tween the two groups that saw the A Graders boy­cott the 1973 Bathurst meet­ing – the ACU’s ma­jor in­come source. To a man, the rid­ers were en­thu­si­as­tic af­ter try­ing the cir­cuit. Bryan Hin­dle de­clared it “Fab­u­lous”, while Laurie Turn­bull praised the ex­ten­sive grass run-off ar­eas, which he ac­tu­ally tested dur­ing Satur­day’s prac­tice run. Bill Dil­low, with his brand new TR3 Yamaha, said he couldn’t wait to race on it. Oth­ers en­joyed the ex­pe­ri­ence but said they thought the spec­ta­tors were gen­er­ally a long way from the ac­tion, with the ex­cep­tion of Home­stead Cor­ner and Creek Cor­ner.

One of the ma­jor im­ped­i­ments was the in­stal­la­tion of Armco fenc­ing that had taken place at var­i­ous points of the track over the years. Gen­er­ally, this was a sin­gle strip of the metal fenc­ing, set about 300mm above the road sur­face – a se­ri­ous sit­u­a­tion for way­ward mo­tor­cy­cles. Sykes con­tin­u­ously lob­bied the AJC to have this lower sec­tion filled in be­tween the Esses and the Cause­way. Had this been done, Sykes said the Chief Sec­re­tary’s De­part­ment would ap­prove

the track for mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing, and even went as far as to nom­i­nate a race date in Septem­ber 1972, with races for 350cc, Un­lim­ited and Side­cars. At the same time, the cars’ con­trol­ling body, CAMS, was press­ing to have even more of the track en­cased in Armco, a di­rec­tive that was largely ig­nored by the AARC.

The ques­tion as to whether the bikes would gain a start was ac­tu­ally sealed by the track’s fi­nal hur­rah in Au­gust of the fol­low­ing year, af­ter lit­tle ac­tiv­ity in the pre­ced­ing 12 months. The AJC had long since solved its money prob­lems with the ad­vent of the TAB, and now no longer needed the ex­tra work and the com­par­a­tively low re­turns from the car races, which them­selves had faded fol­low­ing the demise of the Tas­man Se­ries. The fi­nal meet­ing was a low-key club car day.

Post-War­wick Farm, Ge­off Sykes con­tin­ued his pas­sion for avi­a­tion, fly­ing his own Thorp T-111 and other air­craft that were owned at var­i­ous times by the AARC, based at Bankstown. He also re­stored sev­eral his­toric mo­tor­cy­cles while con­tin­u­ing to ride his beloved Ve­lo­cette. He died in Syd­ney’s North Shore Hospi­tal in April 1992.

‘Dic­ing’ through the Armco-lined Esses: Keo Madden (69), Sid Lawrence (93), Len Atlee (1), and Mike Steele (8).

Bryan Hin­dle on the Brian Collins 350 Yamaha.

TOP LEFT Ge­off Sykes, driv­ing force be­hind the War­wick Farm cir­cuit. ABOVE Prior to the con­struc­tion of the cir­cuit, the AARC re­leased this con­cept of the lay­out.

War­wick Farm Cir­cuit

ABOVE Ross Hed­ley brakes for the north­ern-most point of the cir­cuit. BE­LOW Di­a­gram of the War­wick Farm cir­cuit lay­out and fa­cil­i­ties.

ABOVE Kiwi Mike Steele brakes for Creek Cor­ner. BE­LOW Noted for his fear­less rid­ing of his self-pre­pared Ve­lo­cette spe­cial, Sid Lawrence adapted quickly to his new 350 Yamaha.

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