frank gardner

(John Ellacott)

Frank Gardner beside his Jaguar D Type ‘XKD 520’ at Mount Druitt on 23 May 1958, looking fairly relaxed, photographer John Ellacott recalls FG achieved a 14.57 standing quarter mile in the big, powerful car…

Its right at the end of Mount Druitt’s decade long life as a race circuit in Sydney’s western suburbs. FG took FTD in one of the sprint events after the circuit was ‘mortally wounded’ by circuit owner Belf Jones after a spat with its operator the ‘Australian Racing Drivers Club’ in 1958.

mt druitt 1

(TR0003)

These wonderful Mount Druitt, 1955 Sydney, New South Wales colour shots (the one above and below) were posted on ‘the Nostalgia Forum’ which, for those of you who haven’t discovered it is something you should do, but be warned you will be lost in interesting motor racing ‘threads’ for years…

http://forums.autosport.com/forum/10-the-nostalgia-forum/

Ace researcher/historian and primotipo contributor Stephen Dalton dates the shots as probably the 4 September 1955 meeting with the Healeys’ driven by #93 C Kennedy and #98 K Bennett. In the background Stephen thinks the #53 tail is an important Australian MG Spl, the ex/Dick Cobden/David McKay/Curly Brydon car.

The red car surrounded by mechanics is perhaps the ex Jack Saywell Alfa Romeo P3 then Alvis powered and driven by Gordon Greig. The covered #4 single seater is Stan Coffey’s Cooper Bristol ‘Dowidat Spl’ and #14 Jack Robinson’s Jaguar Special.

mt druitt 2

(TR0003)

All ‘The Fun of The Fair’ or ‘Mount Druitt Motor Racing’ as the case may be…

This article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 14 August 1954, it captures the atmosphere of the place and the day and ignorance of the public of motor racing;

THIRTY thousand picnicking spectators in 8,000 cars make a phenomenon in Australian sport and entertainment at Sydney’s monthly motor races at Mt. Druitt.

Cars park two to four deep the whole length of the two and a quarter miles racing track. Spectators drive between races from one vantage point to another over ‘horror stretches’ in the seemingly endless acres of paddocks around the track.

Vendors sell hot water, hot dogs, all the usual provendor of picnics. Children play rounders or football between races.

By the standards of Britain’s famous Brooklands, the informality is extreme for the spectators, but it is typically Australian; sunshine, open air, gum trees.

The Australian Racing Drivers’ Club, however, applies the strictest international rules of competition to its 12 or 14 race program.

Officials on motor cycles patrol the boundary fences. White uniformed officials with international motor racing flags signal the drivers safely through the races-a blue flag waved – ‘a competitor is trying to overtake you’; a yellow flag waved ‘great danger, be prepared to stop’; yellow, with vertical red stripes-‘take care, oil has been spilt on the track.’

A public address system links the whole of the two and a quarter miles of track with the finishing line.

A truck tows breakdowns off the course, often two at a time, ignominiously, like a defeated bull dragged from the ring.

At the end of the day 8,000 cars crowd the Great Western Highway in a colossal traffic jam, in which the ‘hot rodders,’ after a few imitative accelerations, lose their ardour for speed on frustrating miles of bumper-to bumper driving.

What attracts this crowd to a venue nearly 40 miles from the city is the excitement of speeds up to 140 miles an hour and skid turns on hairpin and right-angle bends. The straight of the bitumen track is a wartime airstrip.

The club conducts events for racing, sports, and stock cars and has 60 to 70 competitors at a meeting.

Most of the competitors are owner-drivers-fanatical seekers of perfection in the assembling and tuning of motors. They acquire a car, according to their means and choice. If it is a stock model they remachine and reassemble parts of the motor, and fit new parts, two carburettors, and a ‘blower’ (a supercharger), which gives the ultimate ‘kick.’

In all types of cars running and maintenance costs are high. A set of tyres is good for only 500 racing miles. A car may run half a mile and burn the top out of a piston. An owner may spend £250 on a new cylinder head and find it does not fit satisfactorily.

brabham

Jack Brabham in the Cooper ‘Redex Spl’ Bristol referred to in the text. On the outside is Bill Hudson, Hudson Spl at Mount Druitt in 1955. Jack was later to say he should have taken this highly self developed car to the UK rather than purchase the Cooper Alta he bought in the UK…still it didn’t hold him back in the end! (unattributed)

THE glamour driver of the moment is a 26-year-old motor engineer, Jack Brabham, with his British £4,000 six cylinder Cooper (frame)-Bristol (motor).

He is a former Australian midget car champion, whom some club officials put in ‘world class.’

In the lingo of the fans, he ‘lashes the loud pedal-(accelerator) down to the boards’ and scorns the ‘anchors’ (brakes).

His driving is, indeed, a spectacle as he relentlessly mows down a field, flashes past car after car, and changes gears at 85 to 90 miles an hour.

But the fans are watching a £7,000 Italian Ferrari, with a 12-cylinder two litre engine having a power output of 250 b.h.p. and a top speed around 150 m.p.h. Owner Dick Cobden, a fine driver, has had the car only a few months and is still familiarising himself with its tuning and driving.

The Ferrari is a Grand Prix car, which famous English driver, Peter Whitehead, drove in the Lady Wigram trophy at Christchurch, New Zealand, early this year’.

cobden

Dick Cobden’s ex-Whitehead Ferrari 125 at Mount Druitt, date uncertain. (G & L Liebrand Collection)

Circuit Map…

druitt circuit

(unattributed)

Mount Druitt Aerodrome, 45 Km west of Sydney was built for the Royal Australian Air Force during World War 2. The facility comprised 2 hangars, workshops and a runway 1,524 metres long and 48 metres wide, perfect as the basis of a racetrack postwar.

The first race meeting was held on October 4 1948 on a short track based on the runway established by the Australian Sporting Car Club.

In 1952 Belf Jones built a full circuit, 2.25 miles long using some adjoining land owned by a Mr McMahon, a Sydney businessman. The circuits’ first meeting was on 30 November 1952 organised by the Australian Racing Drivers Club, the main event, a 50 Mile Handicap won by future Australian champion, David McKay’s MG Spl. (one of the cars obscured in the first photo above).

Over the following 5 years over 25 meetings were run with crowd attendances often over 15,000, given the circuits proximity to Sydney. Mt Druitt’s last meeting was on 10 November 1957.

Commercial agreement for the circuits future use could not be reached between the ARDC and Jones, who did irreparable damage to the circuit; Jones cut a trench around the circuit with a digger!

gardner 2

Another shot of Frank Gardner’s D Type at Mount Druitt on 23 May 1958. (John Ellacott)

The last hurrah for the venue was a number of sprint meetings run in 1958. Victories resulted for Gardner’s D Type Jag, Arnold Glass’ HWM Jaguar and Len Lukey’s Cooper Bristol.

The ‘NSW Speedway Act’ in 1959 and consequent required investment in the facility to meet new safety standards was the final death-knell for this fondly remembered circuit.

The parts of the track added in 1952 remain but the airstrip section is long gone, the area is now known as the Whalan Reserve, it comprises the Mount Druitt industrial estate and Madong Avenue Primary School.

druitt circuit 2

Current google earth aerial shot of the circuit area. (speedwayandroadracehistory.com)

Bibliography…

The Nostalgia Forum Mount Druitt thread, particularly the contributions of Stephen Dalton and ‘wirra’. Sydney Morning Herald 14 August 1954, speedwayandroadracehistory.com

Photos…

John Ellacott, TR0003, G & L Liebrand Collection

Finito…

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