It’s time to bring back motorsport in Canberra

James Coleman 27 April 2021 45
Motorsport in Canberra

And across the line they go. Photo: James Coleman.

The green flag drops. The cars that have been ambling around the track roar into life like they’ve been stuck in the bottom with a cattle prodder. Damp clay is spat into the air. Cheering erupts from the side-lines. They’re away.

You often see this sort of thing on TV, but here I am, in a grandstand, watching it live in our own city of Canberra. Making it happen isn’t without its struggles, however, and quite simply, that isn’t fair.

The other week, I met Rob Ogilvie. Last year, Rob and his wife founded Ion DNA in Fyshwick – it’s Australia’s first electric transport dealership. But as a boy, Rob could be found on a dirt track in the bush cleaning up rally cars. He went on to strap himself in and drive for the Australian Rally Championship.

All of this here in the ACT. So where are motorsports hiding now?

I’ll tell you where – at the Fairbairn Park Motorsports Complex, just off Pialligo Avenue near Queanbeyan.

This is made up of a hill climb circuit, go-kart track, motorcycle club and the ACT Speedway. Overseeing the whole thing is the National Capital Motorsports Club (NCMC).

Formula 500 cars

Formula 500 cars racing off into the sunset. Photo: Supplied.

For 25 years and despite frequent pleas to ACT Government officials, action was strictly limited to daylight hours.

The ACT Speedway, in particular, is a 500-metre dirt oval track and the only one like it in Australia not to see races after sunset.

To understand why this is a problem, we’ll go to Brad Rawlings.

Brad was “born and bred” in Canberra and is following in the tyre tracks of his father, uncle and grandfather as a ‘Compact Speedcar’ driver.

READ ALSO: The best places to buy electric cars in Canberra

He describes his car as a purebred racing chassis clothed in fibreglass or aluminium panels, which is then married to a 1000-cc motorcycle engine.

“They don’t really like turning right – it’s a purpose-built race car designed for going in circles fast on clay,” Brad said.

But in order do this, the clay has to have a certain level of moisture in it and it can’t have that if the sun is overhead, constantly hoovering it away.

Murray Johnson is the vice-president of the NCMC, and says simply: “You can’t race on dirt in the day.”

Bushfires struck, followed by COVID-19. Sponsors help, but for a club that covers the bulk of its overheads with the sale of event tickets, this combination was a twist of the knife.

At long last, Murray found an unlikely ally in local Greens leader Shane Rattenbury who basically said “I’m allowed to do what I want to do by walking and cycling, so you should be allowed to do what you want to do?”

In November last year, the ACT Speedway held a race between 6:00 and 10:30 pm. These events continued throughout the daylight-saving months, with Saturday, 6 March marking the season finale, as well as a grab for the title of ‘ACT Compact Speedcar’.

Evening races will only become a permanent part of the future if the ACT Environment Protection Agency (EPA) is satisfied the Speedway has met noise restrictions, but Murray is confident they’ll have passed this trial period with flying colours.

“Since we went racing in the night time, the crowds have probably increased by tenfold,” Murray adds.

Victory then. All is well.


Holden and Ford

The age-old skirmish between Holden and Ford is here too. Photo: Supplied.

Prior to this, the NCMC received a grant from the ACT Government to supply the venue with electricity – but they were left to plug in the lights. There is a toilet block and a canteen on site – everything else from the fencing to the lighting for the car park has to be hired.

And this is provided you can even get near it. Buried among the positive feedback about the new time slot, there were a lot of comments on the dirt access road.

“It is a joke – a bit of rain and it’s impassable,” Murray said.

The NCMC looks after their bit but half of the road is on government land – not the club’s responsibility but definitely their problem.

Murray is extremely grateful for the help they’ve received so far but he argues that they deserve more.

“The government at the moment likes to get people back after COVID and get tourism going – and we bring a lot of people in and a lot of people stay in town.

“I just feel that motorsport isn’t really recognised for what we bring in and what we do,” Murray said.

Mitch Saunderson Formula 500 car

The very young Mitch Saunderson in his Formula 500 car. Photo: Supplied.

For too long, motorsports has been a dirty word. And if you think that statement is just a journalist being melodramatic, look at what happens every time Summernats comes around.

That said, the future isn’t all doom and gloom.

According to Brad, Compact Speedcars will soon have their own Australian class after more than 30 years’ absence – and at the ACT Speedway’s last event, second place for the Junior Formula 500 class went to Mitch Saunderson, who entered the world of speedway at the ripe old age of 12.

What I can say now is that it’s exhilarating to watch. More of you should try it sometime.

What's Your Opinion?

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45 Responses to It’s time to bring back motorsport in Canberra
fatjack fatjack 11:14 pm 29 Apr 21

Build it and they will come! Speedway is a sport that has been around for a significant period. Many of us have grown up with speedway as a spectator, participant, or support crew. It’s regulated and great entertainment for all ages.

The facilities in Canberra serve us well, but would be better if supported and further upgraded. This would bring both interstate, national, and international competitors as well as spectators to this city. These people don’t just drive in and drive out, they spend money in the local community including accommodation, dining, automotive industry, etc.

Build it and they will come ?

Marina Maz Assogna Marina Maz Assogna 7:23 am 29 Apr 21

Chris Italiano Assogna

Robyn Knight Hourigan Robyn Knight Hourigan 10:52 pm 28 Apr 21

Bloody oath

April Ferrier April Ferrier 7:56 pm 28 Apr 21

Prilsy’s Grand Prix coming up Jess Luppino

Bob Watson Bob Watson 3:33 pm 28 Apr 21

Wouldn’t that be great if the lefty tea sippers would allow it.

Jessica Cotton Jessica Cotton 1:24 pm 28 Apr 21

Would be good to get something back into ACT. Boats and cars...if we have them we have to travel to use them! It's ridiculous

    Patrick Keogh Patrick Keogh 5:03 pm 29 Apr 21

    Jessica Cotton not to mention surf boards!

Steven Miller Steven Miller 8:14 am 28 Apr 21

I’m all for a Motorsport park but I don’t think it will stop the idiots from tearing up the suburbs. They’re two seperate issues. One’s about getting idiots off the road and one’s about building a Motorsport complex that legitimate enthusiasts will pay to use and spectators will pay to visit. There’s no way it will ever go ahead if it doesn’t pay for itself, it’s too much money.

Also, you probably want a change of local government if it’s to be anything other than electric or pedal power.

David Aked David Aked 6:45 pm 27 Apr 21

I don't race cars. Not interested in cars beyond "A to B" transport.

But we need a dragway. We need places for racing that can be done in a safe way.

The shutting of the dragway out near the airport is one of the worst things to happen in road-safety for ACT.

Give people a safe place to do their drags and racing. Take em off our streets and make it safe.

Neil Brown Neil Brown 4:06 pm 27 Apr 21

Good luck!! Too many whingers living there now!! How many times have we had “vote for a dragway” stickers


Brian Windsor Brian Windsor 12:31 pm 27 Apr 21

Need a track that can take sprintcars.

    Tharren Kingston-Lee Tharren Kingston-Lee 1:23 pm 29 Apr 21

    Brian Windsor agree. With a little More investment this track can. It was always the goal of the club. But the thing that will kill that dream is the noise and the complainers up on the ridge.

Jacquie Mehkek Jacquie Mehkek 9:22 am 27 Apr 21

Trallee?? We used to go every weekend as kids.

Mark Hemmingsen Mark Hemmingsen 7:53 am 27 Apr 21

Hill climb at Black Mountain.....

Electric of course!😎

Ilise Girvan Ilise Girvan 6:53 am 27 Apr 21

If it gets idiots off Cotter Road and Horsepark drive

Melanie Graddon Melanie Graddon 10:40 pm 26 Apr 21

Any advice All Electric Formula E Racing for Adelaide ?

Lynn Gill Lynn Gill 9:27 pm 26 Apr 21

Just visit Hindmarsh Drive, Cotter Road, Streeton Drive, Namatjira Drive any night of the week to get your motorsport fix - particularly if it involves burning rubber, excessive noise, dangerous driving, hoons, yobbos and socially unacceptable behaviour.

    Jason Oneill Jason Oneill 10:11 pm 26 Apr 21

    Lynn Gill horse park drive, Gungahlin drive extension and majura northside

    Leigh Stephenson Leigh Stephenson 5:41 am 27 Apr 21

    Lynn Gill That all sounds like main roads to me.. better than in 50-60km an hour suburban roads right next to houses... If only there was a piece of road or track even, that these people could attend and perform these sort of activities at🤔 what else can people do when winter hits? Can't all just drink alcohol and watch t.v, it's too cold for most outdoor activities and not everyone wants to sit around inside playing chess or drink themselves drunk out of sheer boredom. It's way better on wider 80km roads further from houses until a solution is found

    Ilise Girvan Ilise Girvan 6:56 am 27 Apr 21

    Lynn Gill 💯 agree with Cotter Road

    Ilise Girvan Ilise Girvan 6:56 am 27 Apr 21

    Leigh Stephenson if you lived on Cotter road you'd change your mind

    Steven Farmer Steven Farmer 8:18 am 27 Apr 21

    Leigh Stephenson motorkhana and skidpan at the sutton driver training complex (see MG Car Club Canberra, Fifth Gear Driver Training or DARTT for details), the hillclimb track run by SDMA. Have a bit of fun on dirt tracks with the Light Car Club of Canberra. These are all running now, and all inexpensive forms of motorsport the average person with a car and a helmet can participate in without leaving Canberra.

    Leigh Stephenson Leigh Stephenson 5:58 am 28 Apr 21

    Steven Farmer Cheers mate. I am very aware of Sutton, skid pan is fun - I do wish there was a bigger track out there apart from the hill climb. Unfortunately they're not "open" to public on say a Friday night - for some Terry to get out there in his AU falcon and cut sick... which is where I believe the main problem stems from

James Ordish James Ordish 6:34 pm 26 Apr 21

Bob Harnas

Tahn Eather

Brett Staples

Night racing... 🤔

Michelle Ford Michelle Ford 5:40 pm 26 Apr 21

Loved Tralee back in the day.

Tim Batten Tim Batten 5:33 pm 26 Apr 21

Rob are sooooooo famous!!!!!! 😂

Mel Casao Mel Casao 5:33 pm 26 Apr 21

Jason Walker your mates

Tim Batten Tim Batten 5:31 pm 26 Apr 21

Kirsty Saunderson.....

Nice shot of Mitch....

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