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ult

ut the permission of the site owner or unless otherwise specified

*Race reports and sundry articles are written for promotional purposes and to inform Lagler Racing's sponsors, customers, suppliers and other interested parties. It is not for the purpose of informing the superkart community on technical, club-related or administrative issues. Such information should be sought from the applicable club, association or technical sites.

Whilst every effort has been made to be demonstrably factual, creative licence is used and no correspondence will be entered into over any detail as a result

 

 

 

 

 

 



This South Australian circuit, scene of the 1955 Australian Grand Prix, had a history almost as short as it's length of bitumen. It's not widely remembered at all. An even less flattering nickname for it might be "Lobethal's un-loved love child".

However, as Terry Walker, author of the 1994 book "Fast Tracks" points out, as much as it was less known and less loved than it's contemporaries of Albert Park, Longford, Bathurst and others, Port Wakefield deserves it's place in history. It was Australia's first postwar purpose-built full time motor racing circuit.

Technically It would have been the first ever purpose built track, but that honour goes to Aspendale in Victoria, the track owned by the Crooke family. Aspendale was the first ever motorsport track outright, built in 1905 after James Robert Crooke ran the first ever motor race meeting at Sandown the year before. Actually, the two tracks have in common the circumstances leading to their birth. In 1905, Aspendale grew from Government legislation very hostile toward this new invention, the motor car.

Port Wakefield was born out of a similar beauracratic neccessity. Postwar motorsport was becoming more and more popular and the need for regulation was increasing. The much-loved Lobethal circuit's days were numbered as fatalities in the late 1940's put pressure on the SA State Government to ban circuit racing on public roads. So they did, just as the Lobethal Carnival group were trying to resume racing on the great road track in 1951.

(Somewhat ironically this ban lasted until 1985 when the first World Championship Grand Prix was held in the Adelaide city parklands. But that's another story.)


Alec Mildren in his Cooper Climax rounds Stonyfell Corner during an SA Trophy Race. Interesting trivia on Alec Mildren: He had earlier bought Alan Tomlinson's Lobethal AGP winning MG TA, separating the body from the chassis chassis and replacing the 1300cc TA motor with a TC motor. The revamped car rolled out at Gnoo Blas in 1953. It changed hands again and came second in the 1954 AGP at Southport. Alec Mildren was a prominent driver and team owner well into the 1970's.

Lobethal had breathed it's last on New Years Day 1948. Alarmed at the prospect of being unable to host another AGP, The Sporting Car Club and various other South Australian motorsport enthusiasts found some land east of the Port Wakefield township, around 80km north of Adelaide. Rather quickly a 1.3 mile ribbon of bitumen was laid down on this drab, featureless saltbush country. It was a simple layout with five right hand corners and one left hander.

Crews watch from the rudimentary pit canopies. The car in the foreground is a BBM ("Bakewell Bridge Motors") special with a supercharged Holden FC engine.

The plain 1.3 mile design was earmarked for an extension taking it to double it's length, but it never happened.


Stan Jones in his magnificent Maybach Special on a parade lap in the 1959 Gold Star meeting. He sure looks like Alan in this pic.

There were initial problems with the surface, as saltbush and tarmac don't mix. However things got underway in 1953 with South Australian Trophy races. Alan Jones' dad Stan won this event in his Maybach Special open wheeler with Studebaker suspension and a 3.8 litre supercharged Maybach engine (in 1958 it became a 4.3 Litre Corvette engine). Stan competed here many times.

The SA Trophy attracted many names, and the associated sports/ saloon car races was a who's who of 1950's personalities including current Mallala owner, Clem Smith.


The hotted-up FJ Holden of Clem Smith, well known as the current owner of Mallala, hence he ultimately ended up owning some of the infrastructure from Port Wakefield

But what would have put Port Wakefield on the map, if indeed it ever made it onto the map, was the 1955 Australian Grand Prix. The AGP was now working on a rotational system, meaning if it was a state's turn to hold the AGP, they held it, whether they had a suitable venue or not. Coupled with the SA Government's ban on public road racing, this system meant that SA had hastily built a circuit which would date very quickly.


Alec Mildren in a Cooper Climax lines up for a scratch race, 1959 Gold Star

Indeed, Port Wakefield was the shortest track ever to host an AGP until 1980, when the local event was in it's death throes at the woefully small Calder Park track before the World Championship came to Adelaide.

But it happened nonetheless. Jack Brabham piloted the awkwardly unreliable number 6 Cooper T40 Bristol S6 to victory, 3 seconds ahead of Reg Hunt in a Maserati A6 GCM. Some joked that it was the first time the Cooper had actually finished a race. It wasn't quite true. It DNF'd in the British Grand Prix earlier that year, followed by three more consecutive DNF's, then a fourth place at the Redex Trophy at Snetterton, beating home Stirling Moss in the rain. Then it was shipped to Australia.


Sir Jack in the Cooper Bristol, 1955 AGP. Photo courtesy jack-brabham-engines.com

Others in the entry list for that 1955 AGP included the legendary Doug Whiteford (Largo Talbot), Stan Jones in the Maybach, Bill Patterson (Cooper Jap), a couple of Austin Healey 1000's (one piloted by local Clem Smith), Bob Burnett-Read in the evergreen MG K3, and a few home built specials.

Both Jack Brabham and Reg Hunt tied on the lap record with 1 minute 3 seconds. Over the little 1.3 mile circuit this made an average of 74.28 mph (or 119.5 kph) over 80 laps.


Stan Jones' in his Maserati 250F in an SA Trophy race of 1959, followed by Len Lukey. This driver and car later won the AGP in 1959 at Longford.

Racing continued over the following years with the main event being for the Australian Gold Star. Locally the event was called the SA Trophy. The big names still came and won. Lex Davison in a Ferrari 625 (1957), Len Lukey of Lukey Mufflers fame in the Cooper Coventry (1958), Bill Patterson also in a Cooper (1959), and Bib Stilwell in yet another Cooper Climax in 1960. South Australia's turn to host the AGP was coming around again in 1961, but there was a "small" problem.


The unusual sight of a Morris Major leading a Porsche 1600, Stonyfell Corner during an SA Trophy Race Saloon car event

By 1960 CAMS had decreed that the AGP had to be run over circuits of a minimum size, and 1.3 miles wasn't up to it. The Sporting Car Club of SA did not have the time nor the inclination to extend the track as per original plans. It's also quite possible that CAMS were reluctant to go there for reasons barely different to those you hear from V8 Supercar promoters today; too far from a capital city and not enough fancy hotels and infrastructure.


A Lotus 11 spins exiting Stonyfell

A little closer to Adelaide, the RAAF had just vacated their base at Mallala (my grandfather, Wing Commander James Gooch, being one of the last to leave) so a plan was cobbled together to run the 1961 AGP there. Much of the infrastructure such as grandstands, carports, PA towers and signage was pilfered from Port Wakefield following it's final race meeting in early 1961, and used to hurriedly set up a circuit on the access roads (not the runways as is often believed) between the hangars at Mallala.


Len Lukey in the Cooper Climax rounds Stonyfell corner in the 1959 Gold Star event

A well known 50's and 60's driver, the late David Mackay, was outspoken about this issue: "The truth is that...Mallala wasn't ready for a major race, but under the present ridiculous rotational system.. SA was forced into a premature GP... it was too late to do anything, and so the show went on - as shows have been going on all over Australia for the last decade, on circuits that are always going to be better but never are (Longford being the outstanding exception)..."

So it was pokey, and short, and flat. It didn't have the crests, blind curves, constant high speed and sheer heart-in-mouth effect of Lobethal or Mount Panorama. But it was built from the sheer need for, and the love of, going motor racing. The big names went there, drawing huge crowds, because it was the hub in a state which has always fostered motorport.

And so Port Wakefield was left to die, forgotten.

PORT WAKEFIELD TODAY

It died alone. There was no landfill or residential creep to make it completely disappear, although one large rural block was subdivided from it, splitting the track up and down the middle. Only one house was built, right on the corner where the competitors' entrance used to be. Other than that the track was left to atrophy. Still, I'd heard that it was quite hard to find, not being visible from the road in the ankle-high saltbush.

Heading into Port Wakefield town, it seems like the last place on earth you'd look to find a delapidated race track which once hosted an Australian Grand Prix, and was graced by Sir Jack himself. I ask some locals if they were aware of the site. The younger ones don't know what I'm talking about. The older ones aren't too sure of the site's exact location, but they proudly know about Jack Brabham being here.

There's a mural on a building dedicated to Possum Kipling, a Port Wakefield local and well-known legend in the Redex trials and assorted rallies throughout the 1950's and 60's. Sadly Possum died 3 years ago, but I manage to find his son John. He gives me directions and I set off to what feels like the middle of nowhere.

It's a miracle I found anything walking through the desolate salt-bush ridden and featureless paddock of some property owner (who doesn't care about trespassers, Kipling assures me, and I hope he's right). But lo and behold, there it was, beneath my feet, the crumbling strip of over-50-year-old tarmac, overgrown with saltbush.

Here there was once life, colour, noise, excitement. There were grandstands, pit canopies, colourful advertising hoardings and a sea of spectators. And you'd never know. Now there is as much of nothing as you can get.

If nobody remembered it then, they sure don't remember it now.

 

All historic photos (unless otherwise specified) kindly provided by Kevin Drage at The Nostalgia Forum

Circuit Map from 1950's programme (courtesy of Terry Walker) www.terrywalkersplace.com
Note: in red are the details of the circuit today. The start finish area is inaccessible due to a property boundary cutting the track in half north-south. The map is "upside down", with north downwards. The GoogleEarth image is north up. The numbers in red circles match the location of the following photographs.

 

 


1. Entry to turn 2. Back further closer to the property's western boundary which intersects the circuit, the tarmac is almost non-existant.


2. Turn 2, in direction of traffic. The embedded apex tyres are rotting but visible.


3. Approach to Tyresoles hairpin.


4. Tyresoles corner from driver's left.


5. A closer look at Tyresoles. The tarmac is in remarkably good condition here, and covers a wide area as per the original circuit map.


6. Exiting Tyresoles (facing traffic)


7. Down from Tyresoles, looking into Kallin curve in the direction of traffic. The yellow gridlines from the motorcycle start line are still visible.


8. Looking back on Kallin Curve (against direction of traffic). Apex tyres still remain here, driver's right.

 


9. Thompson Motors Straight- looking back towards Kallin (against traffic)


10. Further down Thompson Motors'- (against traffic). Again, behind here the circuit is intersected by the adjoining property's boundary fence.


 

 

 

 

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