Mildura Road Races
SPEED events have been keenly appreciated throughout the club’s history. Member Max Robinson built an electronic timing device, which was used occasionally where flying quarter, half and one mile events were held either on the Sturt Highway, out towards Lake Cullulleraine, or on the dry bed of Fletcher’s Lake, north of Dareton.
The Dareton events were used as a fund-raiser for the new Coomealla Memorial Club.
In 1954, after the conduct of the sixth and final Bazaar, there was a passion to conduct a Classic Road Race event. Club members like George Winton, Alan Melville, â€˜Ab’ Pike and Jerry Cornell were experienced road racing campaigners who were regularly travelling to events outside Sunraysia.
The racing would have never gotten off the ground without the â€˜right’ venue and that is where then Mildura Shire Engineer, M.K.N. Johansen, came into his own. He used his great political influence and civic credibility to convince the â€˜powers that be’ to close the Sturt Highway adjacent to Mildura Airport and allow that section of the main Sydney to Adelaide Highway to be blocked off for some days to prepare for and conduct an Australian Road Race Grand Prix.
â€˜Joe’ Johansen became a great friend of the club and was instrumental in setting up, with the assistance of club members, the fastest road circuit in Australia.
It was decided to hold the first TT on Boxing Day, 1954. The Shire Council assisted by putting bitumen down on a section of track that was to become the â€˜hairpin’. A council road foreman named Taylor, thinking that he was improving things, laid the new hairpin corner with a much more gentle radius, effectively making it no hairpin at all. The corner had to be done again and the rebuilt version was officially named â€˜Taylor’s Mistake’.
At the same time, a former air force hut, located within the airport grounds, was used for accommodation for many riders and crews.
A large crowd, enthralled by the speed of the event, ensured the first meeting was a resounding success.
The following year the great Australian rider, Keith Campbell, who went on to become Australia’s first ever 350cc World Champion in 1957, rode a 96.5 mph lap, making Mildura, with its more than one mile main straight, the fastest circuit in the country.
The club extended itself for the final year by bringing the two Moto Guzzi factory riders, 350cc World Champion, Bill Lomas, and Dickie Dale to Mildura for the 1956 event.
The world superstars set up in Ben Hocking’s workshop, with employee, Norm King supervising operations. Club president, Ron Olson, loaned his private car to the two riders so they could familiarise themselves with the circuit prior to practice. It was, afterall, the open highway!
The Italian Moto Guzzi factory allowed only one 350cc and one 500cc machine, each with a spare engine, to come to Australia to contest the Australian summer season.
The two riders proved to be great attractions all over Australia, but certainly helped draw a massive crowd to the final Mildura event.
Later Dickie Dale married Phyllis Graham, a Cardross girl, whom he met whilst racing in Mildura. Unfortunately he was killed a few years later.
To coincide with the 1956 Olympic Games in Melbourne â€“ the first time that the Games had been held in the Southern Hemisphere â€“ the Mildura meeting was allowed to be called the Mildura Olympic TT.
The Melbourne Olympic Committee also, in honour of the Games, allowed the club’s Johnson’s Bend home to be officially called Olympic Park.
The name had been used during the early years, after the Melbourne Olympic Motor Cycle Club, but in 1956 club members, particularly Jerry Cornell, mounted a successful case for the official name.
Meanwhile, after a lull of some years, Bill Cowey took to the road in the 1970s with a 125cc and a 350cc machine. Many club members enjoyed travelling and watching Bill, but none were game to have a go.
In more recent years, another club member, Peter Guest, has competed in road racing. Peter had success riding a Superbike for Ducati in the mid-1990s and later on his and other classic machines, winning some titles along the way.
Peter is best known for filling in during 1995, for the â€˜Isle of Man’- injured Gavin Porteous, by riding Gavin’s sidecar and taking the Australian Sidecar Championship in that year with Gavin’s regular passenger Scott Deslandes still in the chair.
Karl Schmidt has also competed in the Superbike class. Mick Kelly has contested 250cc Production class and is currently competing in the Australian Superbike series.
Another local rider, Josh Waters, has had a massive impact on the sport in the past five years.
- Written by Brendon Gledhill