Calder Raceway underway in 1961, Pat Hawthorn’s Holden and Jim Houlahan’s Chev on site (Hawthorn Family

Pat Hawthorn’s team turn the first sods of soil to create Calder Raceway, 30km west of Melbourne later in 1961…

I’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the place. On one hand it’s the first place I drove a racing car – an Elfin 620B Formula Ford at the Jane-Gardner Race Driving School in mid 1975 – but on the other I’ve always thought the flat, featureless hot n’ dusty or freezin’ and wet joint a bit of a shit-hole. Gimme Sandown, the Island, Winton, Eastern Creek, Wakefield or Mallala.

But it’s close to Melbourne, I’ve probably done more laps there than anywhere else despite it being closed forever. While the layout has always been simple (Thunderdome challenges duly noted) the challenge of doing a great time are there given ya have so few corners to work with.

I thought Keilor farmer Jim Pascoe built it, then Bob Jane bought it in the early seventies, several years after Pascoe died. The Jane Estate still owns it, how wrong about the early days I was though.

Pat Hawthorn aboard his ex-works/Davison Aston Martin DBR4/250 3-litre F1/F Libre car at his servo in Clayton, on the corner of Thomas and Centre Roads. While there wouldn’t have been another Aston Martin resident in that part of the world, for some time, new AMs were retailed from a showroom in Springvale Road, Springvale – right ‘on’ the railway line near Sandown. A most unlikely place as well, the good residents of Toorak struggle to go further east than Glenferrie Road let alone Burke Road (Hawthorn)
The Spanos sportscar is an Elfin Streamliner Coupe, a car George owned all of his life, and still retained by his family I think
1962 meeting at Calder, advice welcome on whom is whom (O Campion)

It turns out that racer/garage proprietor Pat Hawthorn is the man we should all thank for the original entrepreneurship.

For some years Pat had a servo in Clayton. One of his regular customers, Jim Houlahan had land on the Calder Highway, he wondered if Pat would be interested in helping develop it for use as a wreckers yard.

Pat thought the location was ideal for a race track, a dream he had for a while. Soon a company was incorporated with funds provided by Melbourne bookie (bookmaker) John Corry and Jim Pascoe. His business interests spanned several fields including Drive-In-Theatres (very much a sixties and seventies thing) and race-horse training.

A simple layout to Pat’s design provided the track layout, a fundamental element of which was that spectators be able to see most of the action.

Australia had a shortage of racetracks from the beginning of time. With a global economy that was booming, a strongly growing Australian population thanks to post-war immigration, and plenty of young men with money in their pockets resulted in an epidemic of circuit construction. Within a short space of time circuits popped up across the country; Lakeside, Warwick Farm, Catalina Park, Oran Park, Hume Weir, Winton, Sandown, Calder and Mallala were all built over a span of four or so years.

I don’t propose to write the history of Calder, but rather to put on-the-record some wonderful pages of the late Pat Hawthorn’s scrap-book posted on Bob Williamson’s Australian Motor Racing Photographs Facebook page.

While Pat Hawthorn died some years ago, we have his son Russell Hawthorn to thank for sharing these invaluable records for preservation. Click here for a piece on the Aston Martin DBR4 Grand Prix cars, including Pat Hawthorn’s; Lex’ Aston Martin DBR4/250s… | primotipo…

Back Straight, one turns right at the end  (Hawthorn)

As the newspaper articles tell us, the star of the first meeting held on Sunday 14 January, 1962 – the public were invited to the rehearsal on 6 January (a freebie I wonder?) – was Bib Stillwell who had wins in both his Cooper T53 Climax Formula Libre single-seater and Cooper Monaco sportscar.

A quick glance at the results shows many of the names-of-the-day supported the opening meeting including Stan Jones, Jon Leighton, Jack Hunnam, Brian Sampson, Ian McDonald, Harry Forde, Norm Beechey, Bill and Bob Jane, John Ampt, John Roxburgh and Bob Page.

Pat Hawthorn receiving a trophy at Calder from the then Victorian Government Minster for Sport. The man in the suit behind the microphone is Jim Pascoe- both part-owners and directors at the time, date uncertain (Hawthorn Family)

Before too long the ownership of the business changed from the syndicate of businessman to Jim Pascoe solo. While Warwick Farm and Sandown were the blue-blood Tasman Cup venues, shorter tracks like Oran Park and Calder also thrived. Calder held a round of the Australian Touring Car Championship for the first time in 1969, that was symbolic of the venue’s rise in the tracks-of-Oz pecking order.

Geoghegan, Moffat, Jane and Thomson (?) at Calder in late 1969

Peter Brock and 1970 Australian Rally Champion, Bob Watson during a 1970 Calder rallycross event. HDT LC Holden Torana GTR XU1 and works-Renault R10 Gordini (I Smith)

Look at that crowd! Bryan Thomson’s Chev Camaro SS outside Allan Moffat’s immortal Trans Am Mustang as they blast onto the main straight in 1970 (R Davies)

Kevin Bartlett’s Lola T300 Chev during one of the Repco Birthday meetings in 1972. ‘Grandstand dreaming’ as per text below (I Smith)

Later, when Bob Jane bought the place it was subjected to constant change, development and improvement.

I can remember going to a meeting as a teenager with my father in the early seventies. At one stage Bob was standing at the very top of the new, but not quite opened grandstand at the start of the main straight, he was staring into the distance, all alone and dreaming of what might be. Perhaps he had aspirations of the Thunderdome even then?

At various times the venue hosted many international rock concerts (I couldn’t think of a worse place to see a band) and became a wonderful rallycross track, you could see all of the action, such was the compact nature of the place.

For decades the place was the capital of drag racing in Victoria, if not Australia. To see a pair of Top-Fuel dragsters do five-second (or whatever it was) passes is indelibly etched in my mind, that evening is the only day of race spectating where I felt I ‘tasted’ the cars. It was such a visceral, tactile assault on all of ‘yer senses.

Alan Jones on the way to winning the 1980 AGP at Calder, Williams FW07 Ford (unattributed)
Niki Lauda, Ralt RT4 Ford BDA (and below) during the 1984 AGP won by Keke Rosberg in a similar car (C Jewell)

Recent drag racing action, advice as to chassis/drivers/date welcome (calderparkdragracing.com.au)

Whilst Calder never held an F1 AGP, as Bob hoped, the 1980 Formula Libre AGP at Calder, and the 1981 to 1984 Formula Pacific AGPs were important steps in the direction Adelaide eventually seized.

I always thought ‘If only Bob owned Phillip Island instead of Calder’ his great acts of promotion could have played out on a vastly more impressive stage, but hey let’s be thankful for a venue so close to home.

It must be fifteen years since I last had a gallop there, in the last VHRR’s Summer Test Days they ran annually. I’m a regular traveller up the Calder Highway, it’s sad to drive past that huge wasted resource and think of the clusterfuck of family and CAMS disputation dramas that stopped the joint dead in its tracks, pun intended.

Mind you, the tom-toms are rattling a little at the moment, it might not be all over, after-all…

‘Rockarena’ at Calder in November 1977. Fleetwood Mac headlined and were supported by Santana, Little River Band, Kevin Borich Express and Creation (jpjaudio.com.au)

Etcetera…

I love improvisation, it seems CAMS didn’t have a Track Licence form so they adapted a Competitor Licence and issued that to Pat and his partners – ‘Calder Motor Raceway Pty. Ltd’, that registered address is at Kew Junction, a drop kick from Bib Stillwells’ then Holden dealership.

Bob Jane in his period of ownership tried plenty of great ideas as a promoter, but a race between Pat Hawthorn’s Aston and a trotter is very much on the innovative side!

Credits…

Pat Hawthorn Collection via Russell Hawthorn, Chris Jewell, Ian Smith, Ollie Campion, Robert Davies, jpjaudio.com.au, calderparkdragracing.com.au

Tailpiece…

Finito…

Comments
  1. Rob Bailey says:

    Great read as always Mark,please tell us more about Pat Hawthorn.

  2. bobmorrow@iprimus.com.au says:

    I was at the first Calder & I can still remember it . I remember the day it was about 40 degrees & with no shade people were dropping like flies with heat exhaustion . I also competed the day it snowed. When I came into the pits after the race there was ice on my inlet manifold.
    .Great crowds , some times they even had to take the fences down around the ajoining paddocks to park the overflow of spectators ‘ cars. I was told , probably wrongly , that the land was originally bought for a Drive In . I was also told that Bob Jane was , at one time, a partner & then bought the fellow shareholders out. He poured an enormous amount of money into it upgrading everything , even before the dreaded Thunderdome. Everyone raced at Calder.

    • markbisset says:

      Wow Bob,
      Lucky you. What did you run, send a shot of your car if you have one. I agree Bob spent a fortune but I always thought it was like polishing a turd! Did a few laps of the Thunderdome in my Formula Vee which was a buzz, but never saw a race there – other than a meeting where they used both circuits, that was pretty cool but I don’t think it happened much?
      Mark

      • Bob Morrow says:

        G’day Mark

        I can’t work out how to attach a photo to your site so here is one.

        Called the Monault it had a Peugeot 203 motor Renault Dauphine rear end & Fiat front end. Cost me $500 including trailer.

        Regards

        Bob

  3. David Zeunert says:

    Great article on the Calder racetrack Mark :
    Love Pats old Calder scrapbook
    Cheers,
    David Zeunert.

  4. Iain Ross says:

    Mark,

    Great stuff In the late sixties this track attracted huge crowds on what was a single lane Calder highway. I attended in all kinds of weather and loved it!!

    I remember on one occasion there was so much traffic getting away we were detoured out via Holden Bridge through the wilds of Bulla.

    Whenever I drive past it I get depressed these days I reckon the thunderdome killed it??

    I loved Pat Hawthorn and the open wheel Aston which I assume is one of those I saw competing at Goodwood!!

    I think I still have most of the programmes which list some great Aussie specials. Love local racing history

    Never to be repeated times, glad I could enjoy them.

    Iain R

    • markbisset says:

      Iain,
      I guess as a Melburnian we all loved it, not least because you could test your car after only a short tow.
      I don’t think the Thunderdome killed it – not that I know – but a couple of decades of ongoing litigation with CAMS meant the track simply didn’t have a licence for a long while.
      It would be interesting to know the truth, but truth is rare!
      Mark

      • Iain Ross says:

        Mark,

        Probably showing a bit of bias on my part, it was certainly a bold move by Bob Jane and some of the racing there was great.

        But it brought to an end a great period for the short track.

        And saw the establishment of AASA in competition with CAMS (MRA)

        Probably one of the last suburban tracks still existing in Australia, an end of a great era.

        Keep up the good work it is appreciated.

        Iain

  5. IAN SMITH says:

    Great story and collection of newspaper articles. I went to Calder in 1963 and have an 8 mm movie of that meeting. Knew Jim and Jean Pascoe well and Pat over the years contributing photographs for programs and publicity. Later worked for Bob Jane photographing aerials of the building of the Thunderdome.

  6. Deja vu. In the mid sixties I was driving on a dual carriageway in Manchester, England when I was surprised to see a Land Rover towing a an opened top trailer on the sides of which were emblazoned ‘Pat Hawthorn, Lycoming Special, Calder Raceway’. Only later was I able to put two and two together. Pat had sold the Aston Martin, complete with trailer, to Peter Brewer, a Manchester car dealer.

  7. Rod Callaghan says:

    It would have been the mid/late 60s when, if you wanted to do some practice or testing there, you would stop off at the Pascoe house in Keillor and Jean would give you the key to the gate: Jim may have died by then. Later they got a full time caretaker, so it always open but cost you $2 for as long as you liked.
    Winton was the same.
    You would cross the railway line in Benalla and go along to the Ronke’s milk bar and either Di or Mick would give you they key if it wasn’t already out.
    Haven’t things changed!

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