Posts Tagged ‘Penrith Speedway’

Hector Jenkins, Fronty Ford, Penrith Speedway, New South Wales, practice in December 1927/January 1928…

Ronald Taylor took these wonderful, evocative photographs of a much more relaxed time and place, getting on for a century ago. Above is quite possibly Peter White testing the Fronty before winning the Unlimited Scratch Race on 2 January 1928.

The car above is the Alert Special, whilst it had an Alvis radiator it was a modified Ford. It appears more of a road-racer in specification than a dirt-track machine but the racers of the day often used the same car to do road trials, dirt events and race on the concrete saucer at Maroubra. The times of specialisation are still a way off in Australia.

Jenkins, Fronty Ford

Penrith is 60 Km west of Sydney, a long way then but now a soda, depending upon traffic traversing the Western Motorway to the Blue Mountains and beyond, I wrote an article about the place a while back which provides plenty of background; https://primotipo.com/2017/06/08/penriths-world-championship-race-1930/

David Manson has researched the photographs in this piece and wrote that ‘Bridget Wynne (photo further below in the article) claimed to be an experienced racing driver in England but she never drove in or raced in this country as far as can be established’ despite that he suspects it may be her at the wheel. I am intrigued to learn more about this lady.

Alert Special and Flint driven by T Poole- or is it being tested before the meeting by Peter White who was ‘timed to cover laps at a speed of about 70 mph’ the SMH reported on 22 December 1927

It’s all happening above- capped mechanics fuelling the cars and plenty of envious onlookers, amidst the Friday practice perhaps?

T Poole contested the Unlimited Car Scratch Race run over 3 miles on 2 January 1928 in the Flint and won by Peter White’s Fronty Ford, his average speed 67 mph.

The Thomas Special, Fronty Ford and the Flint ran at Penrith Speedway at a meeting which was split between 26 December 1927 and 2 January 1928- New Years Day was on a Sunday which partially explains the odd dates.

Thomas, Thomas Ford Special

Hector Jenkins was the New South Wales agent for Frontenac hotting-up parts for Fords, operating out of the Saunders Chambers premises at 247 Elizabeth Street, Sydney, he and his family used to camp at the Penrith  Speedway for race meetings. There are hints in the photos that not much racing was going on, so maybe they were taken on practice days before the Christmas/New Year meeting.

And we have ‘lift off’ below- a practice race start for Ms Wynne.

Miss Wynne aboard the Alert Special

Etcetera…

(mfca.com)

Here is the Hector Jenkins team/family campsite, come workshop at Penrith with banner proclaiming the Australian Track Record and Dirt Track Championship of NSW held by Fronty Fords. Hector is second from the right.

Peter White’s personal Fronty Ford had the Maroubra record at 101.3 mph whilst Hector’s DO Fronty had the dirt track record at Penrith. The cars above are the R, DO and SR Fronty.

Credits…

Ronald Vernon Taylor- all but one photo, David Manson, mfca.com, various newspaper articles via Trove

Tailpiece: Yep! He is the guy we have to beat: The Jenkins Fronty Ford crew watching the action…

 

Finito…

Arch Tuckett’s Henderson engined Midget out front of the workshop where it was probably built-off William Street, Woolloomooloo, inner Sydney in 1934…

The first race meeting in Australia for what became known as Midgets took place at Olympic Park, Melbourne in the summer of  1934, on 15th December. A motley crew of racers attacked the cinder track that evening, including Arch Tuckett.

Also on the grid were Bill Allen, who brought the sport to Australia, George Beavis, Barney Dentry, Charlie Spurgeon, Bill Thompson, Cec Warren, P Bouker, Lance Burgess, Fred Curtis, Arthur Higgs, Les Gough, Bruce Leckie, G Malone, J Farmley, A Shaw and Bob Finlay who was Australia’s first Midget champion.

Although there had been car racing on oval track venues around Melbourne such as the 1 mile Richmond Racecourse in Melbourne’s inner east and the bayside Aspendale track since about 1913- it was not Midget racing but events between larger dimensioned light cars ‘somewhat akin’ to American Championship Cars.

The ‘Big Cars’ at Wentworth Park in November 1933. L>R Fred Braitling 1924 Alvis s/c, Charlie Spurgeon Fronty Ford Spl and Don Shorten Rajo Ford Spl. This is the race meeting referred to below in the text (S Hood)

In Sydney an organisation known as the ‘Dirt Track Car Racing Club’ (DTCRC) ran speedway meetings at Granville Showgrounds from 1932 and made an impression on the Sydney oval track scene. These cars were bigger machines including Rajo and Fronty Fords, Overland Miller and Morris Specials. They were putting on a good show at Granville but were a dismal failure as a spectacle when tried on the shorter Wentworth Speedway quarter mile in November 1933.

A year later several of the leading drivers of the DTCRC including Bruce Leckie, Charlie Spurgeon and Arch Tuckett gathered in Melbourne with the rest of the pioneering members of ‘The Midget Car Drivers Association of Australia’ to commence the new sport at Olympic Park.

Wentworth Park, Glebe. Midget race during the 1935/6 season L>R Arthur Wylie, speedway racer, constructor, road racer and ‘Australian Motor Sports’ magazine founder/publisher, Archie Tuckett and Sam Aggett. No chassis/engine details sadly. I worked in Glebe for 12 months- is that big building still there? (VS)

The first race meeting for Midgets in New South Wales was at Wentworth Park in Wattle Street, Glebe on 5 October 1935.

Sixteen drivers contested scratch races for A and B grade drivers, triangular match races and 5 lap handicap events. The first race of the afternoon was the A Grade 5 lap scratch won by none other than Arch Tuckett who led home Bruce Leckie and four times Australian Grand Prix winner Bill Thompson in a time of 1 minute 52.5 seconds. So, ‘our’ Archie won the first Midget race in NSW.

All the Midget Drivers Association competitors were well known guys from the ranks of road racing (such as Dentry, Thompson, Warren) former motorcycle and sidecar riders from the old concrete saucer Maroubra days and dirt track speedway sidecar riders who would all be unfamiliar with Midget car racing.

(S Hood)

Tuckett’s car looks so immaculate I suspect its just completed, perhaps the workshop built the car in whole or in part. Little is known about the specification of it other than that it is powered by a Henderson four cylinder, air cooled motorcycle engine and is no-doubt based on established American practice of the day. Let me know if you can add details about the cars specifications.

I know that part of the world reasonably well, the design and branding consultancy I was a part of was located at 160 William Street for a few years, i’ve poked around many of the lanes between William Street and Woolloomooloo Bay. Using the evidence- part of a street name on the fence, and the number 252 in the other photo- I think the address may be 252 Dowling Street just off William Street. This fits with the caption together with Sam Hood’s photos on the State Library of New South Wales Flickr post of these amazingly clear, evocative shots. Wonderful aren’t they?

Arch Tuckett with the Midget he bought from Duane Carter after the 1937/8 Summer NZ Tour he contested. The chassis was built by the Technical Institute in Alameda California in 1935. Originally built with a Continental Star engine, here it is fitted with a modified A Model Ford unit (G McIsaac)

As to Tuckett himself, variously said to be from Queensland and Victoria, he built the car pictured himself and raced it to Queensland and Victorian State Championship wins.

He travelled to New Zealand to contest the first Midget races there, contesting events held at Western Springs Stadium in the summer of 1937/8 in Auckland.

At the end of that tour he bought the ‘Alemite Lubricant Special’, a professionally built, Continental Star engined racer from Duane Carter, one of five Americans on that tour. He raced that chassis very successfully in South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales before emigrating to New Zealand in 1940, subsequently enlisting in the RNZAF.

The car featured in this article, his first Midget, was sold to Kiwi ‘Pee-Wee’ Anderson.

The Alemite car exists, restored in NZ, it would be interesting to know what became of the Woolloomooloo built car! Similarly what became of Arch?…

Wonderful cover of the Olympic Park, Midget racing meeting program, 14 March 1936 (D Zeunert Collection)

Etcetera: Motor Racing at Olympic Park, Melbourne…

The current site of ‘AAMI Park’, one of Victoria’s premier football and rugby Stadiums, is situated within the city’s leading sports precinct nestled between the Yarra River and Melbourne Park, the site has served a myriad of purposes including motorsport. This section of the article is of arcane interest to Victorians only I suspect. But it was interesting to me just how many iterations of motorsport there were in an area many of us know so well. The piece is a truncated version of the AAMI Park site history.

Bound by nature

‘Prior to European settlement of Melbourne in 1834, the Yarra River Valley was inhabited by the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. The area has always been idyllic for recreational pursuits. Surveyor-General Robert Hoddle surveyed Melbourne in 1837 and set the boundary for ‘Government Paddock’, an area that comprised the current Yarra and Melbourne & Olympic Parks. The lower reaches of the paddock near the Yarra (i.e. AAMI Park) were quite marshy, a chain of lagoons proving popular with duck shooters.

These riverside pastures of what was also called ‘Richmond Paddock’ became the first location for Melbourne’s Zoo. The Zoo area became the ‘Friendly Society’s Gardens’. The Combined Friendly Society used the land for athletic carnivals and social events. The Yarra constantly flooded until 1896 when the Board of Works realigned the river between the City and Richmond.

The League of Victorian Wheelmen completed a banked cycling track in 1897, which included a grandstand, bar and a range of amenities. Motocyclists also used the 32-35ft wide asphalt track which was enclosed by a picket fence. However, their machines became too fast and the track useless for racing purposes. As well as other cycling and running tracks (often flooded or swamp-like) the area was used for football, tennis, rugby union and women’s cricket either side of the century’s turn.

The ‘Amateur Sports Grounds’ basically consisted of two ovals – one rough and ready, the other encircled by the cycle track. On these fields were turf wickets for cricket, and two adjacent double tennis courts. Athletics was still a regular feature, the St Stephens Harriers using both ovals regularly.

In 1915 the Great War halted preliminary work on a private company’s £5000 motordrome, based on the popular yet extremely dangerous board tracks of the United States. Pioneered by Jack Prince, these banked tracks were capable of handling speeds up to 100mph, but overpowered motorbikes caused mayhem on a weekly basis.

Thrills ‘n spills at the ‘Drome

Melbourne Carnivals Pty Ltd developed and leased the site until the conclusion of World War II. Undeterred by carnage on similar tracks in America, dynamic and colourful local entrepreneur John Wren was a driving force (along with ace promoter Campbell) in reviving the previously shelved ‘Melbourne Motordrome’. Built over 18 months on the old cycle track, it opened on 13 December 1924 at a cost of around £30,000.

A campaign led by defunct newspaper, The Argus, condemned the appropriation of public space for commercial activities, however authorities maintained the land was still open to the community. From the venue’s inception official complaints about the noise levels arose – the ‘peace and tranquility’ of the nearby MCG test match disturbed, along with local residents. Criticism subsided as people attended all manner of entertainments such as wrestling. Few were keen to make an enemy of the powerful Wren in any case- he was one of those chaps who played right on the envelope of legal and bent activity in many areas.

The treacherous 629 yard concrete drome’s primary attraction was two lap ‘professional wheel racing’ events. Recruited by ace promoter Campbell, American star motorcyclists Jim Davis, Ralph Hepburn and Paul Anderson regularly thrilled crowds whilst Ron Hipwell was the local favourite. Crowds nearing 30,000 also thrilled to eclectic programs that featured sidecars, cycling, athletics and wrestling bouts. Some novelty events bordered on the farcical; racing ostriches were imported from South Australia in December 1926, but in what The Argus labelled ‘a complete fiasco’, the confused and terrified beasts (with cardboard cutout ‘jockeys’) wandered aimlessly, scampered in all directions, or simply stood stupefied. ‘Motor Push Ball’ was another bizarre affair, as were children being pulled by billy goats in two wheeler carts.

Tearing around at over 80 miles an hour with no brakes on the steep banks, it was little surprise that five riders lose their lives, the track earning the nicknames ‘Suicide Track’ and the ‘Murderdrome’. Due to instances of flying debris and that the vertical wall at the top was only half the height recommended by Jack Prince, the Motordrome’s innovative ‘saucer’ track featured ‘Danger – don’t lean over’ signs and additional strategically placed fencing. A red danger line half way up the daunting 48 degree bank acted as a guide for riders, however serious trouble often ensued when oil spilt on the track, riders ‘wobbled’, skid on the painted red line or tried to ride more than three abreast.

In one spectacular crash, Hipwell suffered concussion and assorted injuries (including his hip!) and never regained the form that saw him once defeat Davis in front of a full house. More tragic accidents saw Alec Staig, Allan Bunning, Charles Grigg, Reg Moloney and two teenage spectators lose their lives. Riders even contended with foolish attempts at sabotage; such as double sided tacks, or on one occasion, a five foot length of barbed wire that officials thankfully spotted. The final tragedy, local star Jimmy Wassell on 2 January 1932, appeared to be the last straw. Crowds declined and racing was restricted to slower side-cars in the final season.

Jumping aboard dirt track’s motorcycling’s wave of popularity in Britain, a new 494 yard track was added by 1928, enclosed by the ‘drome. Huxley and Van Praag were stars of these meetings. Cycling also became popular as the Great Depression took hold. The nature of this unique ‘velodrome’ lent itself to motor-paced feats such as Legendary cyclist Sir Hubert Opperman covering 100 miles in 90 minutes in 1930 and in a world famous performance, 1000 miles in 28hrs 55 mins. He also broke the world record for the dangerous five mile motor paced event. The Motordrome also hosted the historically significant Austral Wheelrace five times between 1923 and 1929.

The world’s richest professional footrace, ‘The Melbourne Thousand’ was established by Wren in 1928. The inaugural £500 winner’s prize went to South Melbourne star footballer Austin Robertson, the sprint last run in 1932. Other much hyped events such as the ‘World’s Championship’ sprint appeared on ‘sensationally historic’ athletic programs.

On 4 June 1932 the Motordrome became part of VFL/AFL history when Melbourne played the first of three VFL home games owing to the MCG undergoing resurfacing works. Melbourne lost all three games at the Motordrome.

Page of competitors, Midget events march 1936 (D Zeunert Collection)

Olympic Park Speedway

An untenable safety record, and declining financial viability, saw 20 charges of dynamite reduce the ‘Drome to rubble in 1932. The venue was reconstructed as the ‘Olympic Park’ sporting arena in 1933. Interestingly, this reference predated the ’56 Games. Said to better reflect the usage of the site than ‘Amateur Sports Grounds’, the name was prophetic, if not lacking in logic. Promoted successfully by Dick Lean Snr, popular midget speedcars debuted and were pioneered in Australia here in 1934 on a newly constructed dirt track around the sporting field.

Football returned on 30 March 1935 when a floodlit game between 1934 Grand Finalists Richmond and South Melbourne remarkably drew 25,000 spectators (causing Jack Dyer to walk to the ground, unable to get on the packed trams). The practice match was interspersed with midget car races in the breaks. Amid some controversy, around this timeWren almost closed a deal for Richmond to relocate to Olympic Park.

The Australian Imperial Force assumed control of Olympic Park in 1940, although with the permission of the Fuel Board one last speedway meeting was held on 1 April 1946 in aid of St Vincent’s Hospital.

Continued petrol rationing spelled the death knell for the speedway in the aftermath of WW2. The venue met with the wrecking ball in 1946 but few local residents lamented the demise of the noisy motorsports. Further deconstruction occurred inadvertently when a fire destroyed a large wooden grandstand in 1951.

Olympic Park lives up to its name

The welcome 1956 Olympic Games transformation began in 1951. A new sports arena at the southern end of the AAMI Park site hosted the field hockey preliminary rounds, subsequently known as the Eastern Sportsground or the No. 2 Oval. A 4400 seat, 333 metre long velodrome was also constructed, situated on the northern/Swan Street side at a cost of around £120,000. One of the fastest tracks in the world, it was made of reinforced concrete over a New Zealand pine base. Our cyclists won a gold and a bronze at the ’56 Games.

A couple of unidentified cyclists during the 1956 Olympics Velodrome, Olympic Park 3 December ’56

Entertaining the masses

The Victorian Amateur Football Association took up residence at the Eastern Sportsground in 1957, using the venue as its administration base and a weekly marquee game.

The Victorian Rugby Union competition used the Eastern sportsground, as did three Victorian Soccer Federation teams and even the Australian Equestrian Federation held twice yearly championships here. In one of Olympic Park’s more controversial moments, hundreds of protesters against the 1971 Springbok rugby tour clashed with mounted police armed with batons on 3 July. The demonstration was a forerunner to other protests around Australia and preceded Australia pulling out of its upcoming cricket tour of South Africa. Several court cases ensued with accusations of assault levelled towards, and against police. The game itself saw South Africa thrash Victoria 50-0.

A £50,000 investment by the Melbourne Greyhound Racing Association saw their relocation from Arden St. North Melbourne to a redeveloped Eastern Sportsground in 1962. On 20 August 6000 punters braved the cold for the first meeting. The velodrome was demolished in 1972, becoming a 800 space carpark, and the following year saw a new $6m 2200 seat grandstand built for greyhounds, soccer and rugby. The facilities pre-empted the dishlicker’s halcyon days which lasted until the 1980’s. Regular crowds of 5000 were also entertained by athletic races during the Monday night program, as well as promotions tied to Moomba, glamorous models and various celebrities.

A changing landscape

TThe Eastern Sportsground was upgraded with a synthetic pitch, practice running track and throwing area to coincide with the 1985 World Veterans Athletic Championship. As well as facilitating commercially viable sport and entertainment, Olympic Park Management’s other primary objective to increase the variety of sports. Consequently, hockey and American football utilised this field during winter, the latter playing their Victorian Championship on the ground in 1985-1993.

In November 1991, billowing smoke permeated through the greyhound track grandstand causing the evacuation of 2000 enthusiasts, moments after the last race. Forty firemen were dispatched to the blaze that began in a storeroom. The last race was run in February 1996 as 3000 punters sadly bid farewell, the club relocating to Broadmeadows.

The old Eastern Sportsground was reborn as Edwin Flack Field whereupon Collingwood used it as their training ground from 2004-06 – some irony given their legendary patron John Wren had built the Motordrome on the same patch of turf.

City of Melbourne folks- the area we are referring to is the modern white stadium and Olympic Park to its left beside the River Yarra- one can readily see that motor racing 1 km from a modern metropolis even in the 1940’s was a bit of a stretch! MCG right middle of shot as you cricket lovers, god help you, would know

State of the Art Stadium

Plans for the new stadium were originally conceived when Melbourne bid for a new Super 12 franchise. Upon being beaten by Perth, it didn’t take long for the plans to re-emerge. In April 2006, the Victorian Government announced a new 20,000-seat stadium would be built at Olympic Park to host Rugby League and Football. Melbourne Victory.

Construction commenced in late 2007 on the site of Edwin Flack Field- AAMI Park officially opened its doors on 7th May 2010, hosting the Rugby League ANZAC Test Match between Australia and New Zealand. The game attracted a near sell-out crowd of 29,442. As well as the Victory, Storm and Rebels; the Melbourne Demons Football Club (AFL) also have their training and administrative base at the venue, training on the adjacent sporting field.’

Built at a cost of $267.5 million, AAMI Stadium features a distinctive cutting-edge Bioframe design with a geodesic dome roof which substantially covers the seating area and is a great visual reference point when heading into town from the inner-East through South Yarra…

Bibliography…

australianspeedway.com, vintagespeedway.com, article by Ken Wylie, David Zeunert Collection

Photo Credits…

Sam Hood, State Library of New South Wales, Gordon McIsaac

Finito…

 

The finalists are off to a flying start in the 6 October 1930 ‘World Championship’ for under 1500cc cars on dirt, Penrith Speedway, Sydney…

The glass plate negative, wonderful monochrome photograph creates such an evocative feel apart from the scene itself. From the outside is John Sherwood’s cumbersome looking Lea Francis O-Type, then the Sam Aggett and Charlie East driven Bugatti T37’s and on the inside Tom Lord’s, Geoff Lowe owned Austin 7 Brooklands. On the very inside verge is Jack Field’s supercharged Lea Francis S-Type Hyper tourer slowing having paced the competitors for a lap before the championships 3 lap journey, East was the winner in his Bugatti.

Event and Competitors…

A record entry of 79 cars was received for the meeting. The winner of the feature event, Charlie East, described as an ‘old hand track and competition driver’, was proclaimed World Champion for cars under 1500cc on dirt tracks.

The 6 entries for this 3 lap race were all rather local notwithstanding the grandiose title of the Light Car Club of New South Wales promoted event, not that there is anything new in promoters ‘puff’ to put bums on seats!

The Nepean Times reported that the race was ‘No mere crow attracting stunt, but a legitimate worlds championship event’. The ‘International Racing Organisation…specified certain electrical timing apparatus, this to be controlled by officials sanctioned by the leading motor body of the state’. The event was supervised by the Royal Automobile Club of Australia, the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport was not formed until the 1950’s.

The Sydney Morning Herald noted Mr TF Lord’s supercharged Austin 7 Brooklands was a new car with Messrs Charlie East and Sam Aggett entering 1496cc (T37) Bugatti’s. Tom Sulman had a career which went all the way from the early 1920’s in the UK to his unfortunate death in a Lotus 11 Climax at Bathurst in 1970, was entered in a 1096cc Salmson.

John Sherwood was a luminary as a driver, businessman, motoring and motorsport administrator down the decades, he entered a 1496cc Meadows 4ED twin-carb powered Lea Francis O-Type. Sherwood was the driving force of the NSW Light Car Club as well as the key individual who created the Mount Panorama track at Bathurst. From a pioneering motoring family, he was a formidable competitor and later, as a Director of Empire Speedways, was a big contributor to the growth of Speedway Racing in Australia.

WH Northam was the final entry in another 748cc Austin, a combination which had many wins at Penrith and who later raced to 6th place in the 1932 Australian Grand Prix aboard this car. Bill Northam had an extraordinary life of achievement in commerce, sport and as a charity fund raiser. Long after he stopped motor racing he took up yachting in his mid-forties making the Australian Olympic Team and winning the Gold Medal in the 5.5 metre class at the Tokyo 1964 games. He was knighted in 1976 and died, aged 83, in 1988.

Other races on the ‘Eight Hour Day’ Monday public holiday card were an all powers handicap over 5 miles, a handicap for under 850cc cars over 3 miles, a four mile scratch race and finally the NSW LCC handicap over 3 miles.

The Championship Race…

Four starters took the flag with Sulman and Northam knocked out in eliminations conducted over 1 lap, a mile, with each car having a flying start. Aggett was the fastest qualifier at 66.91 mph from East, Lord, Sherwood, Sulman and Northam the slowest on 60mph.

The racers were given a rolling start behind JA Fields Lea Francis, then East immediately took the lead in his Bugatti from Lord’s Austin, then Aggett’s Type 37 and Sherwood’s Lea Francis ‘handicapped by a cumbersome body’, ‘Sherwood’s Lea Francis could not be opened up except in the back stretch’ in 4th. East drew away to a lead he never relinquished, and led Aggett by 100 yards from Lord. East’s lead stabilised at about 400 yards from Aggett, who was handicapped by an oiled plug, Lord was 100 yards further back and then Sherwood last.

In the final quarter of a mile Lord and his little supercharged Austin seized an opening through the dust, coming alongside Aggett’s Bugatti in 2nd. ‘Aggett swung a trifle wide on the last turn onto the home stretch, and, straightening up, cut down to the inner edge of the racing course. The two cars touched with the Austin spinning wildly. ‘Lord’s car spun on its side, dragging the driver, who was half out, and half in the Austin. Lord sustained abrasions to his legs and face. Charlie East one of the Maroubra stars, won in a time of 2 minutes 33 seconds at 70.58 mph by 100 yards with a wheel, literally, between Aggett and Lord in 2nd and 3rd. Sherwood’s Lea Francis was last car home.

The excitement was far from over though. ‘With Lord in the hands of the ambulance people, the stewards took prompt action. They disqualified Aggett and ‘sent him out’ (banned him from competition) for six months’. ‘The Referee’s’ report of the race then pointed out the unfairness of this process which was so speedy, their was no call for full evidence and Aggett appealed. I’m uncertain of the response of officialdom to this request.

Aggett and Lord make contact, the accident attributed to the Bugatti T37 driver rather than Lord aboard the tipping Austin 7 Brooklands (Fairfax)

John Sherwood’s Lea Francis  won the final of the open class ‘Widgery Cup’ Handicap, the ‘Clyde Battery Cup’ handicap for cars under 850cc final was won by CB Tye’s Austin 748cc and the All Powers Scratch Race final by CO Spurgeon’s Rajo Ford with the Club Handicap for under 2000cc cars won also by Tye’s Austin. In a day of interesting racing a special match race between Captain Hammond’s Gypsy Moth aircraft was won by the plane over J McCutcheon’s Morris Midget by a few lengths, the distance a flying mile, pun intended!

Penrith held the international spotlight for a week during the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, the town is 50Km west of Sydney on the Nepean River, it was the site of the whitewater rafting and rowing competitions. But the hype about the Penrith 1930 World Championship race inclusive of its title were not indicative of the events true local nature.

The competitors were all from New South Wales, a notable absentee was Bill Thompson, three time winner of the Australian Grand Prix and in sparkling form in 1930. Earlier in the year he won his first AGP at Phillip Island and had swept the board in the same AGP winning Bugatti T37A during the Gerringong Beach racing carnival on NSW’s Illawarra Coast in May. Thompson was reported to be entered at Penrith but did not race, his entry was received ‘out of time’ and so was refused. Talk about a promoter putting due process in front of ‘the show’! ‘The Referee’ report noted the ‘the field was unworthy of a world championship. Without entries from Thompson, Drake-Richmond and Terdich, to mention but three of the missing cracks, the field was not even truly representative of Australia’. Both Harold Drake-Richmond and Terdich were Victorian stars, Arthur winner of the 1929 AGP at Phillip Island aboard a Bugatti Type 37A.

Charlie East, all smiles aboard the winning Bugatti T37, Penrith, October 1930 (Sydney Morning Herald)

Not that the quality of the final lacked talent in the context of Australian Motor racing, very much nascent at the time…

The Australian Grand Prix was held for the first time on an oval dirt layout around the showgrounds at Goulburn, New South Wales in 1927. The 1928 AGP, ‘The 100 Miles Road Race’ at Phillip Island, the first proper race in Australia on a road, run on a large, rectangular, gravel course was more indicative than Goulburn of the direction Australian racing would take and was indeed the race which started the tradition of road racing in Australia.

At the time Australian motor racing was largely amateur, a ‘run what you brung’ approach prevailed with most competing cars driven to and from the track. The sport evolved from hillclimbs, sprints and races on horse-tracks, the province of the gentry pre-War, to hillclimbs at Waterfall Gully, Kurrajong, Mount Coot-tha and Belgrave, beach racing at Gerringong and Sellicks to venues such as Aspendale, Maroubra and Penrith Speedways. Racing on Sydney’s banked, concrete  Maroubra Speedway track was very professional. Maroubra was owned by a commercial enterprise, not a car club, there was prize money to be won, the approach of the top competitors was consistent with that- the importation of cars and preparation thereof with a view to commercial success prevailed.

Some brave kids watching a competing car at Kurrajong Hillclimb, 75Km northwest of Sydney in the lower slopes of the Blue Mountains, October 1920, the competitor has the two outside wheels in the dirt on turn in! Hillclimbs were incredibly popular forms of motorsport in Australia at the time either as stand alone events or as part of trials which were events mixing navigation and speed events, usually sprints and hillclimbs. Between 1915 and 1926 there were at least 50! different hillclimb venues used across the country (Michael Terry)

John Medley wrote that ‘it was some time before other groups followed (the Light Car Club of Victoria’s Phillip Island) road racing direction, preferring the simpler expedient of running trials with speed sections included (rather like modern rallies) or contests on simple dirt speedways- both of these being more easily controlled by the organisers and also less accessible to the long arm of the law. One consequence was that their was very much a casual air to the whole occasion, with ‘chop picnics, family gatherings and exuberant overnight parties.’

I have not used the term speedway racing as the ‘forked road’ the sport took in later years had not yet occurred, competitors contested a variety of events as above. In addition solo intercity record-breaking attempts were also important with Graham Howard recording that ‘…intercity records…were the most consistent form of competitive motoring in Australia until the late 1920’s, and produced our first household-name drivers…’

A little snippet in the ‘Nepean Times’ article is a reminder of the important co-existence, with the motorcycle dudes the leaders, of ‘bikes and cars racing at the same meetings. The article notes that the Penrith meeting was ‘the only all car one in New South Wales for about five years’. It is also reported in terms of contemporary competitor numbers (79) that the meeting had ‘a record entry for a car race meeting for any part of Australia’. Also amusing, the ‘Times notes ‘Women are barred, (from entering the championship race) which means that Mrs J.A.S Jones will not be driving her supercharged Alfa Romeo. (6C1750) But it is hoped this fine car will race even with a mere male at the wheel’!!

Stunning image by of WE Hart in his Bristol Boxkite biplane in 1912. A Parramatta dentist, Hart bought the Boxkite (frame number 10) from Joseph Hammond, demonstration pilot of the British & Colonial Aeroplane Co and became Australia’s first qualified pilot on 5 December 1911 (SLNSW)

Penrith Speedway ‘was formerly the first recognised airfield in Australia situated in Belmore Park and is now the village of Thornton’ wrote Peter Finlay, former racer and aviation writer. ‘William Ewart Hart was the first Australian to fly from there in 1911 in his Bristol Boxkite after demonstration flights by JJ Hammond in the Bristol. Hart established a flying school there before moving to Hart Common, now RAAF Richmond. Races between cars and aircraft were held at the speedway. Frank Kleinig Snr was a regular competitor and Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith operated the ‘Southern Cross’ from the field at times. There is a spectacular memorial featuring a stylised Bristol Boxkite at the entrance to the oval’, Peter wrote.

The first car race meeting was held over the April 1924 Easter weekend- the track morphed through lap distances of 1 mile 80 yards to the 1 mile course used in 1930. The track was touted by international competitors who raced there as ‘The Worlds Greatest Dirt Track’ but its life was relatively short-lived. The Commonwealth Defence Department compulsorily acquired the land in 1941 and the circuit was consumed in that process.

RG Potts racing the Mrs JAS Jones owned Lea Francis on Gerringong’s Seven Mile Beach, 50 Mile Handicap on 10 May 1930. You can just see the pole at left which Potts is turning around to head back the other way on this beach near Kiama, 130 kilometres to Sydney’s south. There was no road racing in NSW at the time so racers did ‘the lot’- sprints, the hillclimbs which were often part of the trials conducted by local car clubs, the speedway at Penrith, and here upon Gerringong Beach. Sellicks Beach on Adelaide’s Fleurieu Peninsula was also used by ‘bikes and cars to race (Fairfax)

The six ‘World Championship’ entrants were all experienced New South Wales competitors with Sherwood and Sulman later entrants in Australian Grands’ Prix. Sherwood’s car appears to be a Lea Francis ‘Hyper’, a competition variant of the marque successful in the UK at the time and powered by a supercharged 1496cc 4 cylinder engine.

I can find no details of Sulman’s Salmson and am keen to hear from any of who may know about his car. Tom Sulman is revered in Australia as a doyen of racers who simply never stopped until the sport eventually took his life. I was at Winton a fortnight ago and looked again at the Sulman Singer, the amazing self-constructed dirt car Tom built and raced in England in the 1920’s before his return to Australia. It was a constant in Australian motor racing in both contemporary circuit events, and later from the mid-seventies, in historic racing when driven by Ron Reid. Upon his death not so long ago, his sons continue to race a car which must have done more racing miles than any other on the planet!.

Somewhat bizarre is that the ex-Charlie East Bugatti T37, chassis  ‘37104’ sits in Earl Davey-Milne’s garage in Toorak, Melbourne one kilometre from where I am writing this article right now! Chassis ‘37104’ was the fourth T37 built and shipped to Sydney’s  Russell Taylor, the prosperous owner of the Advanx Tyre company. It was raced for him by Charlie East, a driver whose stature was growing at the time. East was a Maroubra regular, one of its stars having first raced there in 1926 and subsequently lapping at over 96mph and on one occasion his lap was timed at over 116mph. Davey-Milne bought the car in 1943, it remains in the Chev Corvette V8 engined, open chassis form Earl rebuilt it to in the late 1950’s. East didn’t race the car in an AGP but ‘37104’ was raced in the 1933/4/5 events at the ‘Island driven by Cec Warren in 1933 and John McCutcheon in ‘34/5.

It isn’t clear if either or both the East and Aggett Bugatti T37’s were normally aspirated or to T37A, supercharged specifications. I can find no references as to which particular Bugatti Aggett raced and am keen to hear from any Bugatistes who can help with the identity and specification of the car and the drivers background. Similarly, whilst Lord’s Austin 7 is reported to be of blown Brooklands specification I have no details of the Northam Austin 7. All details again gratefully received. These snippets of history are all interesting i think!

In this case the photo which inspired the research and the resultant article popped up on that internet thingy when I was messing around looking for shots of Bill Thompson after reader Rob Bartholomaeus corrected the caption of an article I’d written about Thompson and his Bug T37A. Its funny how one thing can lead to another!…

Intercity record breaking was a popular form of solo road competition in Australia until outlawed in 1935 due to accidents. Here is the 25.5hp Th.Schneider with Arthur Barnes at the wheel and mechanic Bill McCulloch alongside- they have just taken the Broken Hill, NSW to Adelaide, SA record covering the 533 kilometres of unmade roads in 8 hours 3 minutes. The car is parked out front of Booth’s Garage, 411 King William Street in Adelaide’s CBD. 12 August 1925 (WS Smith)

YouTube Footage of Penrith…

Makes clear the speed and danger of the place! I looked at the film enthralled but the danger was readily apparent before discovering other footage of a multiple fatality when a car crashed into spectators in 1938. When ‘shit happens’ at speed, without protective barriers, its all over in the blink of an eye. Racing entry tickets still have the ‘Motor Racing is Dangerous’ message to this day, and so it was for all, spectators included until not so long ago!

Etcetera: WE Hart, Bristol Boxkite, Penrith circa 1912…

(SLNSW)

WE Hart biography in brief; http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hart-william-ewart-bill-6592

Bibliography…

‘Nepean Times’ 27 September 1930, ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ 30 September and 7 October 1930, ‘The Referee’ Sydney 8 October 1930

‘Bathurst: Cradle of Australian Motor Racing’, John Medley, ‘History of The Australian Grand Prix’ Graham Howard and Ors, ‘Historic Racing Cars in Australia’ John Blanden, Peter Finlay

Photo Credits…

Fairfax, Sydney Morning Herald, State Library of South Australia, Sir Hudson Fysh, WS Smith, Michael Terry

Finito…