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Motorsport Racing In The Land Down Under

DJR Team Penske’s Fabian Coulthard in the Virgin Australia Supercars series. [courtesy Shell V-Power Racing Team @DJRTeamPenske]

Turk’s Tracks
A Few Loose Lug Nuts from Pit Row

by Gene Turk

As I am writing this column, it is now late-December and there is a fresh blanket of snow on the ground, and the temperature is in the single digits with a wind chill of -2. Kinda a bummer! Thus, our racing season as all but come to a screeching halt. But, it is now summer time in Australia and racing is going on in the land down under. So, I decided to do some research to find out if Australian racing is like racing in the U.S.A., or what the differences might be. What I found was some good news, and then some not so good news.

To start, motor sport racing is very popular in Australia with a rich history that dates back to the 1920’s. The oldest race is the Alpine Rally that dates back to 1921. Then closely behind that is the Australian Grand Prix that was first run in 1928.These races are very popular with the Grand Prix being attended by 300,000 spectators. This attendance is right up there to our Indy 500.

The most watched races are the Super cars or V-8 Super cars (supercars.com/). These events take place in all states and the Northern Territory. The average attendance is over 100,000 with the Clipsal 500 having 250,000 fans at the race. What I really found interesting is that these events are broadcast to 137 countries. Boy, that has to be one tall radio tower! These race cars are based on 4 door Saloon cars with a 5 liter, normally aspirated V-8 (Remember the Ford 289/302 engines). These are road going cars that are basically bought of the show room floor, had the sheet metal modified along with a upgrade to the suspension. Popular cars are the Ford Falcon, Holden Commodores, Nissan Altima, M-B E63 and Volvo S60. Somehow I picture Mel Gibson in Mad Max tearing through the country side in a modified Holden.

Another interesting fact is that Australia is a host nation to many International events. Some examples are: FIA Formula One World Championship, Rally Australia, FIA World Rally Championship’ Moto GP Australian Motorcycle Grand Prix, Champ Car, and World Super Bike Championship. I did find another race that was interesting. It is the Australian Safari Off Road Motorsport. It takes place in August (their winter) and covers 5500 kilometers, mostly through the Outback. It is sort of like our Baja 1000, but is only open to cars and cycles, no trucks.

One of the pleasant surprises that I found is that the “shrimp -on-the -barbie” fan is much like the American race fan in that they both like to do in the dirt. World Series Sprint Cars are the riches and best known series in Australia. This series is based on our World of Outlaw (WoO) sprint car series and is open to any and all drivers from around the world. This series is only 12 rounds and runs from December to February. American drivers take part in this series and here are just a few drivers that you may have heard of: Steve Kinser, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson. Donny Schatz, Brad Sweet, and Jason Johnson. As a side note, Tony Stewart was racing in New Zealand in his #14 sprint car at the time of this writing, so he just might zip over to race yet this year in Australia.

There is another Sprint car series in Australia. It is the Lucas Oil Australian Sprint Car Championship. It is for Australian drivers only and has a single championship meeting in late January or early February.

Now for some not so good news. It seems that racing in Australia is very expensive. The article I read made a point that there are fewer competitors compared to other sports. This may have something to do with a rather short racing season as noted in only 12 rounds of the sprint car series. Then there some other facts about Australia that have an effect on its racing future. Australia has a population of just under 24 million. But most of the population lives in five major cities along the South East coast. 88% of the population lives in an urban area with vast areas of the land being sparsely populated or not populated at all. The end results are that there aren’t that many race tracks. My research found only about 80 active race tracks, and that number included drag strips and hill climb tracks. I also found 28 closed/inactive race tracks. But in spite of it all, Australia has a very active and avid racing fan base that should only continue to get stronger.

In closing, who is the most successful Australian driver? That would have to be Jack Brabham in Formula One. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all. Here’s looking forward to a great year of exciting racing in 2018!

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Gene Turk was born with racing in his blood. At age 8 he started racing Quarter Midgets as member of the Great Milwaukee Quarter Midget club. For five years he raced the #7 car that his father built. He then graduated from the Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) with a degree in Industrial Engineering and Internal Combustion Engineering.

While in college he obtained his Private Pilot’s License.

Along the way he has attended numerous Indy car and stock car races at the Milwaukee Mile during the 60s, 70sand 80s along with area Midget car races. He would also frequently fly to the Brickyard to watch the Indy 500 time trials in the 60s and 70s and more recently attended the 2014 Indy 500.

He has also attended numerous sports car and NASCAR races at Elkhart Lake Road America. Finally, Gene has owned many classic cars including his present 1990 Corvette and is a self-described “Gear Head.”