Roar of a quiet achiever

THE roar of high-powered engines and the accompanying crowd has faded for now, but at the Hobart Speedway, just south of New Norfolk, things are still humming.

“The off-season is the only time we can really get stuff done,” says Guy Thompson. “And trust me, there’s as much wear and tear on the track, the parking area and the canteen as there is on the cars themselves.”

Thompson is the general manager and director of this track, along with that in Latrobe.

Speedway season here runs October to April each year, driven largely by weather.

Thompson doesn’t say as much, but a clay racetrack is tricky enough at speed without adding winter rain to the mix.

Covid has taken a bite out of numbers in the past two years, as you’d expect, but an event night’s racing at Hobart will still draw 1500 to 1800 people.

A big event will pull a crowd of 3500.

“The thing about motor sport is that it’s up there in terms of crowd numbers,” Thompson said.
“We don’t get the recognition of, say, the AFL, but there’s a lot of people involved. In some of our 14 divisions, we can attract up to 150 entries.
“These are strong car counts.’’

According to a Motorsport Australia report of 2013, speedway racing generated $23 million in Tasmania alone back in 2013, and $2 billion nationally. Thompson says those numbers have gone up substantially since then.

“When you inject that that kind of money into a community, you make a difference,” he said.
“At Mood Food at Kempton, for instance, they talk about the business generated by the traffic coming to speedway events, people traveling from the North and North-West Coast.
“We know we’re contributing significantly to the economy.”

To grow the sport, speedway administrators across Australia focus on junior programs, getting kids between 10 and 16 into cars, a regime that sees good numbers of cars and drivers moving up into the other, higher-powered categories as they get older and more skilled.

And it’s a sport that attracts a substantial number of women, not just to the track, but into the driver’s seat and the cage of steel bars and the web of high tensile polyester filament yarn that forms the racing harnesses that strap them into place.

There a lot of rules, white and green flags, safety protocols that are drilled into every driver, but at their core, these race cars are about minimum weight and maximum power.

A road-going Ford Falcon V8, for instance, will shed a quarter of its weight once it’s readied for the speedway track.

Make no mistake: these are purpose-built race cars, most typical sedan-style passenger car with rear wheel drive.

You’ll see matchups between Ford and Holden, of course, but there’s also a slew of Nissans and Mazdas, even Mercedes out there testing the metal.

Cars are mostly sorted by cylinder number – fours, sixes and eights – but there’s some rotary engines in the mix too.

Some classes allow substantial modifications, with lightweight fibreglass and aluminium body parts commonplace, putting an actual brand name to the car would take a mechanic’s skill, perhaps that of a magician.

And in Tasmania, we produce some of speedway’s best: Darren Kane stamped his name over the national record books along with a list of Tasmania and national title winners that’s too many to remember.

Jakob and his big brother Corey Jetson are the latest Tasmanian phenoms in the sport at a national level.

They’ve built two of the fastest Modified Sedans for circuits around Australia, where they’re now strutting their stuff.

They got their start at the Hobart Speedway; their father, mother and sister are drivers of some repute too.

For Thompson, the off season is no time to rest, instead get things ready for what’s coming down the track.

In the case of New Norfolk, the toilets have been upgraded.

“They were 35 years old, and it was time,” says the man who bought the Hobart Speedway about 10 years ago.

Next on the agenda is a new canteen and that will happen over this winter. A switch to the superior illumination of LED lighting has already happened at Latrobe Speedway.

Because events generally start around six and run for five hours into the night, good lighting is essential.

Is he inclined to get out there, when there’s nobody else about on the track? “Nooo,” he says thoughtfully.
“I’ve owned a few speedway cars, but I wouldn’t drive them. I’ll stick to my Renault, and on bitumen, not clay, thanks.’’