celebrating 40+ years of motorcycling

Chapter 22 – Racing on the streets. The Finale

“The Macarthur Park Finale” almost didn’t happen at all. Were it not for an eagle-eyed club member, we might have missed the boat altogether.

Browsing through some papers that were crossing his desk, the club member was horrified to see that the land at Macarthur was due to be released for housing in February 1982.

A quick phone call to the relevant authorities confirmed that the memo wasn’t just a proposal, but was, in fact, a confirmed decision. So, a panic phone call to Ian Martin resulted in a chain of calls as the message was passed around. We had always known that the land WOULD be released eventually, but we were all a bit surprised that it was going to happen so soon.

A Road Race Committee meeting was called and we had to decide. Did we go for the last hurrah and, if we did decide to do so, could we back up so soon after the March meting and organise another full meeting less than 12 months after the last one (this was April). The decison was made almost straight away that we would, and that we needed to apply to the ACU for a date asp.

Since the 1981 calendar had been set back in 1980, the possibility of finding a vacant date well into 1981 was not good, but we found that the 1st of November was available. What a shock this was. We had less than 7 months to organise a meeting that had traditionally taken nearly a year to put together. Could we do it?

The other issue we had to face was that there had been a concerted push, from Day 1 to have sidecars racing at our meetings. The ACU had consistently refused to consider it on safety grounds, stating that the track was too narrow. In fact, it was only too narrow in one place, an intersection which had a triangular traffic island in the middle of it. “What would you say if we removed the island?” we asked. “If you do that, we’ll send someone down to inspect the track again and consider it.” was the answer.

We made enquiries with the DCT and found that it would cost us $300 to have the island removed and another $300 to have it put back afterwards. We immediately asked them to remove the island. Subsequently an ACU Road Race Committee team came down and inspected the track again and gave it the “All Clear” for sidecar racing.

Now here’s the funny bit. We never received an account from the DCT for $300 to cover the cost of removing the island and it was NEVER REPLACED. I was there in January 2007 and that intersection still had a triangular mark on the road where the island used to be, but no island!!

So it was full steam ahead to organise the very last meeting at Macarthur Park. Fortunately, the Committee remained pretty much intact and the expertise was all still there, and fresh in peoples’ minds. As well as that, when the local motorcycle fraternity and dealers found out that this would be the last meeting, help came out of the woodwork from all directions. What should have been an almost impossible task was accomplished, in the end, with an almost ridiculous ease.

Unfortunately, the meeting failed to live up the the expectations of everyone who were hoping for a champagne show. What they got, instead, was a horrible crash-fest. Many riders, knowing that this was going to be their last time on the Park, tried way too hard and did themselves, and others a great deal of damage in the process. Many riders were now Macarthur Park “veterans” and, I believe, they took the track too lightly. In any event, while the entry was by far and away the best of any of the Road Closures, when the flag dropped on the last race on Sunday, it was with a sense of relief, rather than of triumph. In my mind, the riders let themselves down but, worse still,  they let us down very badly.

REVS’s report was Headlined, “Accidents dampen Finale” and that pretty much summed it up. The big winner on the day was Victorian Robbie Phillis on the Mick Hone Suzuki GSX1100, the very same bike that he is still campaigning in Post-Classic racing in 2008! He should have been challenged by fellow Victorians Andrew “AJ” Johnson on the “works” Honda CB1100R and Craig Trinder on the Hunter Suzuki RG500, but a ridiculous accident that was totally AJ’s fault put both riders out in the first race of the day and sent Trinder to Woden Valley Hospital with a badly broken leg. It sort of set the tone for the rest of the day.

Sydneyside racer and part-time blue water yachtsman, John Biddlecombe arrived at the meeting with an ingenious superbike, a GSX1100 engine in a custom made chassis that was constructed of honeycomb-fibred aluminium. It was fast as, but John was totally out of his depth at Macarthur and threw the bike into the trees at the start of Coyne Street and suffered multiple fractures as well as severe internal injuries. To my knowledge, he never raced again.

The gloom was partially relieved, however, by the Improved Production race. It was the best race of the 1981 Finale, and, in my opinion, the best race EVER at Macarthur Park. Roger Heyes, dual Castrol Six Hour winner, and undoubtedly one of the best production racers of his era, started on Pole. But, when the flag dropped, the field disappeared into the distance and Roger was still sitting there. He had failed to turn the ignition on. Then, once he did, it still wouldn’t start and he realised that someone had bumped the kill switch as well while wheeling the bike to its grid position. That sorted, Roger stormed off into the first corner, more than a third of the lap down on a field that included the cream of Australia’s production racing riders.

What followed was one of the best examples of controlled agression that I’ve ever been privileged to watch. After the race, Roger said that he was SO furious with himself that he felt like he was racing in a different world. And, in a different world he was. Lap after lap for the 8 laps of the race, Heyes systematically caught the pack and then picked off rider after rider in a display of total domination of the bike. By the end of the race, he had passed everyone and was easing down to take the win. The crowd stood to a man and screamed their approval and, instead of returning to the pits, Heyes did a slow-down lap as the crowd continued to yell their appreciation.

(I might say here, too, that the commentator didn’t do his voice a lot of good that day either…)

I count it one of the more privileged moments of my life to have been there that day and seen that race.

Other results were as follows. Robbie Phillis won the Unlimited “A” Grade from Glenn Taylor (Honda) and Bill McCulloch (Suzuki). As noted above, Roger Heyes won the Unlimited and 750cc Production from South Australia’s Rick Blackmore, also on a Honda with CRRC’s Mike Howard 3rd on a GSX1100 Suzuki. The 350cc “A” Grade was ewon by Stephen Hardwick, from John Wood and Gary Gleeson, all on TZ350 Yamahas.

The 250cc “A” Grade was won by Paul Lewis ahead of CRRC’s Rob Donnelly and Peter Hinton, all on TZ250 Yamahas. Lewis also win the 125cc race on his MBA ahead of Terry Chaplin and the late Duncan “Rat” Reid. Victoria’s Geoff Taylor and Barry Frazer in their immaculate black and gold sidecar outfit won both the sidecar races, as expected, with Martin and Symons finishing 2nd and now Post-Classic campaigner Gavin Porteous and his passenger 3rd.  

And so the curtain came down on a glorious 4 years, in the which a fledgling motorcycle club had taken on the world and won, so to speak. In 4 years we ran 4 huge meetings, all without making a loss and all remembered with affection by all the people who either attended or competed. We had also run a couple of smaller “C” Grade meetings only and the totally forgettable (except by me) “Gallon Gallop” about which I will regale you another day.

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