celebrating 40+ years of motorcycling

Chapter 20 – Racing on the streets. Part 3

With the outsanding success of the Inaugural Road Closure behind us, the immediate question was, “Do we want to do it again?” At first the resounding answer was, “NO!!”. Those of us at the “coal face” had burned ourselves out organising the last one and the thought of backing up for another dose was the furthest thing from our minds.

It was significant that the calls for another meeting seemed to mostly come from people who hadn’t been actively involved in the organisation of the last one!

But, as the memory of all the hassles and heartache that are the behind-the-scenes “normality” of organising a race meeting faded, it became obvious that the club simply couldn’t leave it alone. We HAD to do it again.

So, it was back to the grindstone again, this time to organise a NSW Open Meeting. The ACU officials who had attended in 1978 were mightily impressed with our efforts and we got a great  report card from them.

In November 1979 we ran the second Road Closure. Some minor changes were made to the track configuration, moving the Start/Finish line up the hill onto Jackie Howe Crescent straight opposite the main spectator stand and settling on the main straight spectator area as the ONLY area where people could watch the races. That, and a few other “tweaks” made the 2nd meeting a little easier to administer.

But, we ran into a LOT of trouble with the ACU and it was only resolved by a bit of creative thinking.

You see, in motorcycle road racing, the competitors PAY to provide the entertainment. Yes, they pay to enter a meeting and the promoter uses that money to fund the running of the meeting. As a road racing club that was set up wholly and solely to assist our local riders to go racing, we though that this was inequitable and wrong so, when we approached the ACU and told them that we had raised enough sponsorship money to fully cover our costs and that we wanted the riders to be able to race FOR FREE, the ACU chucked a “wobbly”

“You aren’t allowed to do that.” was the answer.

“Why?” was our reply.

“Because you’re just not, that’s all.”

Now non-one in the ACU administration could actually point out the chapter and verse in the General Competition Rules where this was stated. The subtext here was that no other promoter had dared to take this step, and that, if we were to do it, we would be creating a dangerous precedent. “Well, you maye have raised enough sponsorship to cover your costs, but what about another club who hasn’t? If they do the same thing, AND not charge the riders, they could go broke running a meeting.”

When we pointed out that that really wasn’t our problem and that other promoters had just as much ability to go out and raise sponsorship as we had, this perfectly logical reasoning fell on a colective set of VERY deaf ears. Now I have to say that some of the people involved in this process are still alive and still active in the sport and my criticism here is by no means intended as a slur against them. The fact is that they were hidebound by a “That’s the way we’ve always done it and how dare this novice club come along and rock the boat.” mindset.

So, we solved the problem by charging the riders the set entry fee for entering the meeting, kept those monies in the envelopes in which they had been sent, and then, at the conclusion of the meeting, we gave it back to the respective riders!! Win-win.

1979 saw the racing dominated for the 2nd year running by the pure racing bikes. Wayne Gardner, on the Karl Praml Yamaha TZ350 won the Unlimited A Grade and the first leg of the Unlimited Feature. The Junior B Grade was won by aother young rising star from Wollongong, John McDonald and Steve Fisher, from Sydney won the meeting overall.

Again it was a successful show. Again the carnival atmosphere meant that it was more than just a race meeting. As with the 1978 meeting, we had hired a rock band to entertain on the Saturday night and put on a free barbeque for the competitors and their friends. The local bistros and night clubs also got in on the act with complimentary tickets and drinks for the duration of the weekend.

And again the competitors just lapped it up. The major “plus” was that the riders were delighted to have somewhere different to race, a track where nobody got to practice till race day (well, we didn’t tell them how much “practice” WE used to get in every afternoon after work and every weekend…) and a meeting that was run with the primary agenda being to look after the RIDERS instead of lining the promoter’s pockets.

One final sidelight to the meeting. Because the race was run in the ACT, we were not subject to the provisions of the NSW Speedways Act which said, (and still says) amongst other stupid things, that hay bales are not allowed to be used to provide safety barriers around fixed trackside objects. So were free to pad the stone wall at the top of the circuit, the little drains in the guttering, the little concrete markers that indicated the presence of fire hydrant pick-up points and any other trackside hazard, with hay bales, and we did.

We had investigated the cost of buying/hiring them in 1978 and it had cost us a lot of money. So, when one of our members said that he knew a farmer at Yass who would lend us a semi-load for free as long as we returned them and replaced any that got damaged, we jumped at the idea. Several of us went out to Yass with a semi, loaded them up, brought them back and placed them around the circuit.

On Monday morning we returned to the track with the semi to pick up the bales and return them to the farmer. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM WAS GONE. All that was left were the broken ones. Some low-life had come with a truck on Sunday night after the meeting was over and we’d all gone home and STOLEN THEM ALL.

Panic!! We sheepishly rang the farmer and explained and asked how much we owed him. “Ah, don’t worry about it, mate,” was the reply, “I’ve got plenty.”

A perfect end to what had been an almost perfect meeting. Almost? Yes, almost. You see, on the 3rd lap of the Junior A Grade race with a furious battle going on between Wayne Gardner and our own Murray Ogilvie, 4 kangaroos somehow slipped through our wire fences and bounded out onto the track right in front of the pack!! Retelling all of ensuing drama sounds funny now, but it wasn’t really funny then. The race was red-flagged and members of the Motorcycle Club of Canberra who were present on their trail/trials bikes, patrolling the fence lines and maintaining spectator safety, chased the errant  ‘roos away into the bush and the race was restared.

The only casualty was Warren Weldon, one of the travelling marshalls who, in doing a quick “U” turn to get to the scene of the drama, dropped Bennet Honda’s brand spanking new Honda 750 demonstrator bike and broke his elbow in the process. It took a long time for “Flange” to live that one down.

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