Tracks in Time

Sym­mons Plains

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS -

Sym­mons Plains Tas­ma­nia

The Youl fam­ily has been en­trenched in the his­tory of Tas­ma­nia, and par­tic­u­larly Launce­s­ton, for more than two cen­turies, af­ter Rev­erend John Youl, an English mis­sion­ary, ar­rived from Tahiti and set­tled in the dis­trict. The fam­ily prop­erty was Sym­mons Plains Es­tate of 856ha, lo­cated just off the main Launce­s­ton to Ho­bart high­way about 30km south of Launce­s­ton.

Upon the death of John Youl in 1827, his el­dest son James in­her­ited the prop­erty and suc­ces­sive mem­bers of the fam­ily have farmed and man­aged grazing on the es­tate un­til it was sold in 2011. Pas­toral­ist Boyce Youl and his sons Gavin and John were all prom­i­nent in Tas­ma­nian mo­tor sport and key mem­bers of the Light Car Club of Tas­ma­nia. Both John and Gavin were tal­ented driv­ers and Gavin com­peted suc­cess­fully in open wheel rac­ing in Aus­tralia and in Bri­tain, where he was one of the first cus­tomers for the new M.R.D. (later Brab­ham) cars built by Jack Brab­ham and Ron Tau­ranac in London. The club had pro­moted race meet­ings on air­field cir­cuits such as nearby Quorn Hall and Val­ley­field, as well as the on­cea-year road cir­cuit at Long­ford, just a few kilo­me­tres from the Youl prop­erty. How­ever Long­ford was an ex­pen­sive and dif­fi­cult site for a race fa­cil­ity, with two river cross­ings and ex­ten­sive road clo­sures re­quired for each meet­ing. Tas­ma­nia did have a per­ma­nent cir­cuit, but this was Baskervill­e near Ho­bart which opened in Fe­bru­ary 1958. There had been club mo­tor sport ac­tiv­ity such as gymkhanas on the Sym­mons Plains prop­erty for sev­eral years be­fore the per­ma­nent cir­cuit was es­tab­lished, which it­self opened for busi­ness on Sun­day 13th March, 1960.

To fa­cil­i­tate the con­struc­tion of the Sym­mons Plains cir­cuit, the Light Car Club formed a lim­ited li­a­bil­ity com­pany – the Tas­ma­nian Mo­tor Rac­ing Com­pany – and in­vited mem­bers and oth­ers to sub­scribe to share cap­i­tal. Un­der the chair­man­ship of John Youl, and with an en­thu­si­as­tic up­take on the share of­fer, the 1.5 mile (2.4km) cir­cuit, which var­ied in width from 24 feet to 40 feet (7.3m to 14m) was con­structed in a very short space of time and was tar-sealed in Jan­uary 1960 in readi­ness for the open­ing meet­ing. The ac­tual de­sign of the track was the re­sult of in­put from sev­eral lead­ing Aus­tralian driv­ers who vis­ited the site af­ter com­pet­ing in the Aus­tralian Grand Prix (for cars) at Long­ford in 1959. World Cham­pion Jack Brab­ham also vis­ited the track just prior to the tar sur­fac­ing, and said that it would pro­vide a ma­jor fil­lip for the sport in Tas­ma­nia, and in­deed the South­ern Hemi­sphere.

The track oc­cu­pied a thin sec­tion of the Youl prop­erty, run­ning in an an­ti­clock­wise direc­tion, along a ridge on one side and across a flat ex­panse on the other. The start/fin­ish was lo­cated on the exit of a fast right hand bend lead­ing

onto a slightly down­hill straight which fin­ished in a daunt­ing down­hill hair­pin which was slightly banked and orig­i­nally known as Borg­ward Bend. Fol­low­ing the hair­pin it was a flat out blast through a long right hand sweeper, be­fore an­chor­ing up for a tight left han­der fol­lowed by a short straight and an­other left cor­ner. A fur­ther left turn brought com­peti­tors back to the start/fin­ish line. The pits were orig­i­nally lo­cated in­side the track at the north­ern end. There was ex­cel­lent view­ing for spec­ta­tors from the hill­side over­look­ing the start­ing line. On the in­side of the track ad­ja­cent to the start­ing line sat the con­trol tower, a two­s­torey build­ing giv­ing views of both sides of the cir­cuit. The pit area ac­com­mo­dated not only com­peti­tors but fire ten­ders, am­bu­lances, fuel ten­ders, break­down ve­hi­cles and work­shops.

One week prior to the of­fi­cial open­ing meet­ing at Sym­mons Plains on 13th March 1960, many of Aus­tralia’s star rid­ers – in­clud­ing Isle of Man TT win­ner Ken Ka­vanagh – were at the Aus­tralian Grand Prix at Long­ford, and many re­mained on the Ap­ple Isle for the races on the fol­low­ing week­end. Eric Hin­ton had been the star at Long­ford, win­ning the Ju­nior and Se­nior GPs on his Nor­tons. The 125cc and 250cc races were com­bined, so Ka­vanagh elected to ride his 125cc Du­cati and handed his 223cc Du­cati to Hin­ton, who won the 250 GP while Ka­vanagh ran away with the smaller class. Al­though not listed in the pro­gramme, Ka­vanagh ap­peared at Sym­mons Plains, this time rid­ing the larger Du­cati in the com­bined 125/250 race with Hin­ton on the smaller bike. It was a packed pro­gram of events, with five car races and four mo­tor­cy­cle races which in­cluded two with com­bined classes. Car events were con­ducted by the Light Car Club of Tas­ma­nia while the Tas­ma­nia Mo­tor Cycle Club looked af­ter the bikes.

The very first race held on the cir­cuit was the com­bined 125/250 event, with Ka­vanagh win­ning the larger class on the works-sup­pled 223cc Du­cati, with Hin­ton sec­ond on the 125 Du­cati and win­ner of the 125 sec­tion. It was again a field day for Eric Hin­ton, win­ning the 350cc, 500cc and Un­lim­ited races on his Nor­tons and set­ting up the Out­right track record at 1 minute 08 sec­onds. By com­par­i­son, the fastest lap by a car was Alec Mil­dren’s Cooper Maserati, one sec­ond slower. 15,000 spec­ta­tors wit­nessed the meet­ing. In May the

same year, a sec­ond com­bined car/mo­tor­cy­cle meet­ing was held be­fore the cir­cuit closed for the win­ter. This featured the first event for side­cars, won by lo­cal Keith Bing­ham on a HRD. As in the pre­vi­ous year, the an­nual Long­ford meet­ing for 1961 was fol­lowed by Sym­mons Plains, where in­ter­na­tional Jack Ahearn staged some en­ter­tain­ing bat­tles with lo­cal star Lau­rie O’Shea. At the end of 1961, Kel Car­ruthers brought his 250 4 cylin­der Honda from Syd­ney and cleaned up the meet­ing (with the ex­cep­tion of the 125 class won by Ian Til­ley), win­ning the 250, 350, 500 and Un­lim­ited races. The 1962 sea­son dawned with a triple-header, be­gin­ning with Baskervill­e, fol­lowed by Long­ford and Sym­mons Plains. The lat­ter was to be a com­bined car/bike show, but when the cars pulled out it be­came the first all-mo­tor­cy­cle meet­ing on the cir­cuit, with the Tas­ma­nian gov­ern­ment putting up £850 in prize money – the rich­est mo­tor­cy­cle race meet­ing on the Aus­tralian cal­en­dar. Fresh from his suc­cess at Long­ford, reign­ing 125cc World Cham­pion Tom Phillis pock­eted the lion’s share of the purse, with tro­phies pre­sented by the Tas­ma­nian Pre­mier Eric Reece. Alan Os­borne took out the 125 race on his Honda while the Side­car event went to Lind­say Urquhart and Jack Craig on a 500 Norton. Sym­mons Plains con­tin­ued to play a dou­ble act with Long­ford each year, and in 1963 the star at­trac­tion was World Cham­pion Jim Red­man, who brought with him a pair of well-worn Honda pro­duc­tion rac­ers. Not un­ex­pect­edly, he won the 125, 250 and 350 races, but fell off in the 500 race without se­ri­ous in­jury. In win­ning the 500 and Un­lim­ited races, Jack Ahearn fi­nally equalled Eric Hin­ton’s lap record which had stood since the open­ing meet­ing in 1960. It took un­til 1966 for the record to be bro­ken, go­ing to Alan Os­borne on the works-supplied RD56 Yamaha 250 with a lap of 1.07. That proved to be the fi­nal year for bikes at Long­ford, and there­after the Sym­mons Plains meet­ing be­came the pre­mier out­ing for two and three wheel­ers in the state.

Fol­low­ing a fa­tal­ity at the cir­cuit in 1966, safety con­cerns be­came a ma­jor is­sue and or­gan­is­ers, faced with de­clin­ing crowds, strug­gled to keep abreast of costs. Still, the an­nual in­flux of ‘main­land’ stars con­tin­ued, with Bill Hors­man, Dick Reid, vet­eran Ahearn and Alan Os­borne as regular starters. The clo­sure of Long­ford in 1968 fur­ther added to the de­cline of mo­tor sport in the state, but both Baskervill­e and Sym­mons Plains sol­diered on. Ken Blake with the Jesser Tri­umph be­came a regular win­ner at the track, while Lau­rie O’Shea and Lyell Wil­liamson showed that the lo­cals could still hold their own. For 1971, Sym­mons Plains hosted the Aus­tralian TT, which was still the of­fi­cial na­tional ti­tle, al­lo­cated to a dif­fer­ent state year by year. How­ever com­ing just be­fore the big Bathurst meet­ing, with its much-im­proved prize money, many big names gave the Tas­ma­nian event a miss. In an at­tempt to lure top talent, the club hosted the Tas­ma­nia TT at the same track on the pre­vi­ous week­end, where Len Atlee was the star. The Syd­ney rider con­tin­ued his form the fol­low­ing week­end, win­ning the Un­lim­ited TT and the 250 TT, while Bill Hors­man won the 350, Paul An­son the 125, and Ken Blake took out the

500cc on Ron An­gel’s Kawasaki. Blake took the win de­spite falling at the hair­pin and re­mount­ing, set­ting a new out­right record lap of 1.04.2 on the way. Side­car honours went to I. Sheldrick (Ju­nior) and Gerry O’Brien (Un­lim­ited).

The fi­nal Aus­tralian Grand Prix to be con­tested be­fore it be­came a mul­ti­round af­fair was also held at Sym­mons Plains, in March 1972. Watched by a very small crowd, Bill Hors­man was top man at the meet­ing with three GP wins, each time from Bob Rosen­thal. The two thinly­sup­ported Side­car GPs went to Jim Craig (Un­lim­ited) and Brian Woods (Ju­nior). The fol­low­ing year, the track hosted an­other mile­stone – the first round of the six-round new-look Aus­tralian Road Rac­ing Cham­pi­onship. This at­tracted all the top names and the com­pe­ti­tion was red hot, with Ron Toombs carv­ing Blake’s lap record down to 1.03, only to have Bryan Hindle trim it fur­ther to 1.02.13. 18-year old War­ren Will­ing took out the 250 event, with other wins go­ing to Atlee (125), Hindle (350) Toombs (500) and young Queens­lan­der Gregg Hans­ford (Un­lim­ited). The Bayliss fa­ther and son squad dom­i­nated the side­car events with Stan win­ning the Un­lim­ited and Steve the Ju­nior. As far as ma­jor mo­tor­cy­cle events went, that marked the start of a lean pe­riod for Sym­mons Plains, but with the growth in pop­u­lar­ity of long-dis­tance Pro­duc­tion Rac­ing, it wasn’t long be­fore the Tas­ma­nia track tried it as well, with a Three Hour race in De­cem­ber 1975, which even­tu­ally be­came an an­nual Two Hour Race. The club also branched into a new (for them) sec­tion of the sport by run­ning the 1976 Aus­tralian Short Cir­cuit Cham­pi­onships on an ad­join­ing part of the prop­erty near the airstrip, re­sult­ing in a near clean sweep for Can­berra rider Kevin Pat­ton. In the mean­time the an­nual ARRC round con­tin­ued, and by 1977 Gregg Hans­ford on the Team Kawasaki Aus­tralia 750 had the lap record down to 57.3 sec­onds.

Af­ter a steady start in 1978, the Swann In­surance In­ter­na­tional Se­ries made fur­ther strides for 1979, and Sym­mons Plains se­cured the fourth of the five rounds. De­spite the pres­ence of Suzuki works rider Wil Har­tog, Bri­tish Cham­pion Bob Smith and Sin­ga­pore cham­pion Fabian Looi, it was South Aus­tralian Greg Pretty who starred, win­ning both races on the day and slash­ing the lap record to 56.02 sec­onds. Im­prove­ments con­tin­ued for the track, with a new pit com­plex opened on the out­side of the cir­cuit in 1984 and the start/fin­ish line moved to the same area. Sym­mons Plains can take credit for pro­vid­ing the train­ing ground for a host of lo­cal rid­ers who would go on to greater things, among them Mal­colm Campbell, Barry Lack, Craig Bye, Rob Scolyer, and Scott Stephens, but in April 1998 came a tragic event that would se­verely af­fect the track’s fu­ture. In a train­ing day ac­ci­dent, Kris Campbell, 17year-old son of Mal­colm and Sue, crashed into the fence en­ter­ing the main straight and was fa­tally injured. The ac­ci­dent, as well as other con­cerns for safety, even­tu­ally caused the track’s li­cence to be with­drawn in 1999 for mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing. It meant Ride Days only at the track un­til a gov­ern­ment-spon­sored up­grade saw the li­cence re­in­stated. This in­volved the con­struc­tion of a very tight chi­cane near

the old start line, but al­lowed the strug­gling club to stage the Aus­tralian His­toric Road Rac­ing Cham­pi­onships in November 2005. Stag­ing the event rep­re­sented a mas­sive amount of work for the club, but they were re­warded with an ex­cel­lent crowd of 3,500 – a fit­ting re­sult for the 100th an­niver­sary of the Tas­ma­nian MCC – the third old­est con­tin­u­ously op­er­at­ing in the world. While the run­ning of race meet­ings for modern bikes has ta­pered off in re­cent years, Sym­mons Plains has reg­u­larly hosted the Aus­tralian His­toric Road Rac­ing Cham­pi­onships, in 2011 and again in 2016.

BLEFT Star of the open­ing meet­ing, Eric Hin­ton on one of his Nor­tons. BELOW A good view of the track as it was for the open­ing com­bined car/mo­tor­cy­cle meet­ing in March 1960.

ABOVE Ken Ka­vanagh in the pits with the 223cc Du­cati in 1960. TOP LEFT Bikes be­ing un­loaded af­ter the ferry cross­ing from Mel­bourne in 1961.

ABOVE Pro­gram from the open­ing meet­ing in 1960. RIGHT Map of the track in its orig­i­nal form.

Ken Ka­vanagh on the works Du­cati at the open­ing meet­ing. Alec Cor­ner drives his Vincent out of the hair­pin ahead of Or­rie Salter in 1965. Al­lan Os­borne on the Egan Ve­lo­cette in 1960.

Ron Toombs’ bikes ar­rive in Devon­port in 1965. Ray Fos­ter’s Norton out­fit on the dock at Devon­port. Bert Flood on his Bul­taco-en­gined Ban­tam BSA in 1965. Kel Car­ruthers and the 250-4 Honda dom­i­nated the 1961 meet­ing.

ABOVE Ron Boulden chases Greg Pretty in the 1979 Swann In­ter­na­tional Se­ries round. ABOVE CEN­TRE Lo­cal Chris Robin­son was a sur­prise win­ner at the 1980 ARRC. BELOW Front row of the grid for the 250cc race at the Aus­tralian Road Rac­ing Cham­pi­onships in 1980. From left, Paul Lewis, Rick Perry, Gregg Hans­ford, Lee Roe­buck and Graeme Geddes.

The new chi­cane, built in 2005, al­lowed mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing back onto Sym­mons Plains. 17-year-old Kiwi Sam Smith took out the 500cc Clas­sic ti­tle at the 2005 AHRRC. Lo­cals Mur­ray Seabrook and Grant Box­hall both won ti­tles at the 2011 AHRRC. Tas­ma­nian leg­end Mal­colm Campbell, shown here in 2016, has been com­pet­ing at Sym­mons Plains for over 40 years.

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