WARRNAMBOOL’S 2014 Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic will be run over three nights as organisers look to cement the event as the biggest of its kind in the world.
Record crowds last night and Saturday, unprecedented entries and booming interest in the sport drove the decision by Premier Speedway Club officials.
The move is likely to inject considerable tourism dollars into the city’s economy with the Classic already generating as much as $3.5 million a year with about 80 per cent of patrons coming from outside the south-west.
The timing couldn’t have been better after a bumper Saturday night crowd, estimated by officials at 8500 people, packed the Allansford circuit to watch a record 17 Americans take on Australia’s best drivers, causing canteens to run out of hot food. An even bigger crowd, put at close to 10,000, returned for last night’s final.
Premier Speedway general manager David Mills said the event had outgrown its two-day format with a record 102 entries (98 cars time-trialled) this year and the club decided to trial a three-night show in 2014 and 2015.
It will be held from Friday, January 24 to Sunday, January 26 next year.
The decision has reportedly upset Mount Gambier’s Borderline Speedway, which loses its traditional Friday night King’s Challenge date, shifting the event to the Thursday.
Mr Mills said the continued growth and success of the Classic had dictated the move to three nights.
“We’ve just run time trials, 16 heats and finished at midnight after starting at 4.30pm. Is that where we want to be taking the sport?” Mr Mills said on Saturday night.
“We were going to kill our own event through our own success.”
He said the Classic had become a purists’ show with back-to-back sprintcar races and no room for “showbiz” glamour to add to the experience.
“We are looking at splitting the field (on the first two nights) and giving us a lot more flexibility, starting a bit later and not in the blazing sun and finishing a bit earlier and getting the showbiz side of it back.
“We are determined to get the entertainment side of it back.”
Mr Mills said officials had to be smart when it came to pricing.
“The one thing we are very mindful of is nutting out what the tickets will be,” he said. “We understand we can’t charge the blue-chip premimum three nights in a row because people are struggling out there and without them we are nothing.” Mr Mills said the club believed a three-night show was the best way forward for the Classic, which has attracted more than 80 cars for the past three years.
“It’s not something we take lightly,” he said.
“We are fully aware for the next 12 months Mount Gambier are going to be a little bit disappointed in our decision-making.”
Mr Mills said this year was a record-breaking Classic in terms of crowds, cars and American drivers. He said the club’s inaugural kickball charity fund-raiser at Warrnambool’s hockey fields had raised a record $53,200 for the Jeff Gordon Foundation, which is donating the funds to the Royal Children’s Hospital.