20 February 2024

Scrap next stage of light rail to build motorsport facility in honour of Chic Henry, Belco Party says

| James Coleman
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V8 Supercars race

It’s hoped the new facility would be enough to coax V8 Supercars into returning to Canberra. Photo: Supercars Australia.

Alan Tutt lived next door to the late Summernats founder Chic Henry for 12 years. Over that time, many of the conversations held over the fence or by the mailbox centred on one dream: an international motorsports facility in Canberra.

“Chic and I were very close, even near the end,” Mr Tutt says, “and we spoke about this many times.”

The time is right, Mr Tutt reckons, to make it happen. He has joined the fight for the ACT Legislative Assembly as a candidate for the Belco Party, following in Chic’s footsteps, and on the list of election promises is the fruition of Chic’s dream.

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It’s hoped it would be a facility worthy of Supercars and Formula One events, with a drag strip, skid pan, racetrack, grandstand and buildings to house a training centre, eateries and admin offices.

There are two potential locations, one incorporating the old tarmac drag strip off Scherger Drive behind the Canberra Airport and the other not far away in the Majura Valley between the airport and the Sutton Road Training Centre (SRTC).

“Chic was always pretty keen on the old drag strip area – there’s plenty of empty land out there near the airport,” Mr Tutt adds.

“With all the planes, I can’t see noise being an issue with that location either.”

Chic Henry with signs for the Belco Party

Apart from being a local motorsport ambassador, Chic Henry was also a candidate for The Belco Party. Photo: Region.

All up, a motorsport facility “with all the bells and whistles” is expected to cost between $65 million and $100 million. The Belco Party would fund this either by scraping the next stage of light rail or through a government partnership with a private company.

Either way, fellow candidate Jason Taylor says the “billion-dollar industry” of motorsport would pay it off within a few years.

“Given we want a 365-days-a-year facility, there would be a massive return on investment,” he says.

“It’s been something that’s been talked about for decades, and we’ve done a lot of consultation with the car enthusiast community – it’s a very broad church – and they’re all passionate about it. We see it as a priority infrastructure project for the ACT for a multitude of reasons.”

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Among the reasons is road safety.

A spate of accidents in recent years prompted an ACT Legislative Assembly inquiry into dangerous driving last year, and Mr Taylor says the findings made it “abundantly clear we have a massive issue on our roads.

“The approach to dealing with this is extremely complex and multi-faceted, but one thing we need to do and do now is giving people an option to take themselves off public roads and blow off some steam in a controlled and safe environment.”

Kenny Piper from the Canberra Hot Rod Association (CHRA) says they’ve been pushing for mandatory driver training for all high-school and college students in the ACT since 2002 and argues the new track would provide a place where this could be done safely.

“We believe it’s too easy to get your licence these days, and you don’t actually learn the full logistics of a vehicle before obtaining your licence,” he says.

“If there was a facility where drivers could go and learn the fundamentals of driving a vehicle in all conditions, but they were still misbehaving and being silly on our roads, the police could toughen the penalties because they would have no reason to be doing it.”

Canberra drag strip in the 1980s

The old Canberra drag strip in action. Photo: Speedway and Raceway History.

ACT Minister for Sport and Recreation Yvette Berry says the government is open to community feedback from The Belco Party campaign but says funding in this space is usually directed towards existing facilities like the Circuit Mark Webber go-kart track and ACT Speedway.

“I don’t think there is a plan right now … to develop a race track facility beyond what we already fund … but obviously, we’re happy to look at those kinds of considerations in terms of having a dedicated racing facility.”

She isn’t aware of “real evidence” to show such a facility would reduce hooning on ACT’s roads, but says, “the kind of thing that does resolve issues with regards to driving unacceptably on our roads is obviously driver training and making sure our learners have all the experience that they need”.

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If we are going to build a memorial to Chic Henry I will be supporting Peter H’s suggestion below for a shrine on Northbourne Avenue. I suggest a giant replica of Mr Henry straddling both sides of Northbourne Avenue facing north and looking down!

Chic Henry, car enthusiast, self-confessed revhead, part owner at some of Mitchell’s most renowned night-time establishments, Independent candidate at one ACT election and a potential contender for the Liberals at another before Vicki Dunne stepped in and put a stop to that idea. I wonder what the recently departed Chic would be making of all this fuss and slavishness praised upon him after his death!

We now have Alan Tutt back again running in another ACT election keeping the Chic memory alive. Mr Tutt was a candidate in the past two elections and is returning again as a contender for the fringe Belco party. Mr Tutt has a long list of grievances against the government as even a short conversation with him will reveal. Often seen loitering around the assembly and schmoozing up to Mark Parton, he has been loud (with a few tears in between for the media) railing against the government’s ban on greyhound racing, sports funding, rates, taxes and light rail. He is now calling for the government to ban the tram and build an international motorsport racing arena in Chic’s memory.

I can’t wait for the Canberra Liberals get off their indolent and lazy backsides and announce their candidates!

It promises to be a fun election year!!

As an unapologetic rev-head and someone who would absolutely use such a racetrack… what an utterly moronic idea.

By all means, cancel that slow, ridiculous waste of money tram but use the cash to install rapid transit bus lanes and use the rest of the money to buy more electric busses that can be used, not just on a single route and actually maintain the rest of Canberra’s woefully neglected roads.

Does anyone actually believe that Lefty/Greeny central, Canberra will vote for such a racetrack?

ChrisinTurner7:19 pm 20 Feb 24

Once all the vehicles are EVs the noise problem is solved.

Victor Bilow5:50 pm 20 Feb 24

It’s so easy to dismiss this option. 1….It would move the summernats out of the suburbs. 2… All young drivers need better driver training and some older ones. 3… Noise is moved out of the suburbs. 4… Summernats makes money for Canberra and so would the raceway and other uses it would be used for and guess who gets to use the money. “Canberra” If run correctly it would make money and the tram does make very large bills for all the community.

No other sporting or community group in Canberra has ever received that level of funding for anything, but please tell us why motor sports are so special?

Brawny Polecat4:36 pm 20 Feb 24

Motor sports facility in Canberra?
Maybe build it in Yass or Goulburn or Boorowa.

GrumpyGrandpa3:57 pm 20 Feb 24

LR Woden to the City is stupid, but replacing it with a racetrack, is just as weird.
Not many people are going to get to work, going around in a circle!

The Belco party just showed where their main interests lie. Instead of fixing healthcare, schools, and emergency / police services for the benefit of everyone they want to build a motorsports facility.

Belco Party v Greens in a race to the bottom.

So sick of special interest groups dominating politics and funding in the ACT! Scrap light rail and use the money in a way that benefits all Canberrans, not just those of niche groups.

Jenny Graves3:16 pm 20 Feb 24

Absolutely right. Almost all the Summernats supporters are from out of town!

Might be cheaper to just build a shrine to Chic on say, Northbourne? Any suggestions?

But that would be more foolish than electing the Communist Greens into any Government ……Hmmmm!

Silly season starting early – first of many crazy ideas to come… though probably not that crazy on the scale of what we might see.

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