Murray Johnson has spent much of his life working to ensure speedway racing remains alive in the ACT despite a number of hurdles being placed in front of the sport.
Murray’s been involved in motorsport in Canberra for more than 35 years. He first moved to Canberra from Young in the early 1980s to work as a motor mechanic at Lennock Motors when drought made work scarce in NSW country towns. Like many, the only option was a move to the city.
He brought his passion for motorsport; a passion that started as a teenager in Young.
The only time his involvement in the sport lapsed was during his four children’s formative years. But both his boys shared his interest in motorsport and one is still competing.
By its very nature, motorsport has high barriers to entry, but Murray says he has never been swayed to give up on the sport he loves. If anything, he appears to enjoy the challenge.
As the current vice president of the National Capital Motorsports Club, the promoter of ACT Speedway, the greatest challenge facing Murray, former president Steve Johnson, and current president Danny Hodak, has been how to resurrect night speedway racing in Canberra.
For 20 years, speedway events have been conducted during the daytime but the viability of staging races during the day on a clay track came under question because of the amount of water required to keep the track race-worthy. Races running at night require half the amount of water on the track.
There is also the spectacle created by nighttime racing, with the majority of drivers and fans displaying an overwhelming preference for speedway events at night.
The main barrier though has been noise, with complaints from residents at The Ridgeway and Oaks Estate effectively threatening the future of the sport.
In a bid to break the deadlock 11 months ago, the National Capital Motorsports Club ran a trial nighttime meeting. The event was a huge success, but it failed to meet the stringent noise conditions.
Complaints from five residents at Oaks Estate and Ridgeway appeared to send the sport into oblivion.
But Murray and Danny Hodak were not dissuaded. They’ve been relentless in their campaign to get nighttime speedway racing back on the Canberra sporting calendar.
There have been numerous meetings with politicians, the Environment Protection Authority and some residents from The Ridgeway. It appeared they were gaining little traction until a meeting with ACT Greens Leader Shane Rattenbury gave the speedway a second chance.
The EPA has now given the National Capital Motorsports Club the green light to stage three night events during daylight-saving months with a more realistic noise limit. Additionally, Murray says, “We will still do self-management and there will be independent noise testing”.
It’s a major breakthrough for the sport, with night speedway racing now scheduled for 14 December, 15 February and 4 April.
If they can manage noise levels and there are minimal complaints, it should pave the way for permanent night events.
First things first, though. The sport needs to get through next season’s three meetings without drama.
And as speedway racing is close to getting back on its feet, those with a passion for the sport owe a debt of gratitude to the likes of Murray Johnson.