GEOFF “Cobb” Owen says he could never have dreamt the Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic would become the event it is today.
Mr Owen was president of Premier Speedway Club when the first Classic was held on January 27 and 28, 1973 on the back of a successful Australian Sprintcar Title the year before.
The 78-year-old said the Australian title was a huge success for the club which had only moved to its Allansford site two years earlier.
“It was very successful for a country club and really put us on the map speedway-wise,” he said.
“After the Australian title we sat down as a committee and said, ‘why don’t we continue with this and have an annual two-night event?’.”
From that conversation the Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic was born, borrowing its name from Warrnambool’s other great event, horse racing’s Grand Annual Steeplechase.
The first Classic received more than 40 entries and had prizemoney of $2500 for the two nights, with the Classic winner receiving $350.
This year 118 cars have entered with prizemoney and an attractive package totalling $250,000 over the three nights. A win in the Classic will net the lucky driver $30,000.
Mr Owen said the first Classic was a very different event from what it is now.
“When we had the first one we had pretty ordinary facilities and it was dust. We had a different surface on the track back then,” he said.
“As time has gone on the facilities have improved, equipment improved and maintenance improved. I had a look at the track and I must say it’s looking magnificent. David Mills and his crew have done a magnificent job.
“It’s one of the top speedways in the world. I’ve been to most of them.”
Mr Owen said the first Classic was won by his good friend Zeke Agars, who is coming across from South Australia for this weekend’s Classic.
“Zeke still holds the record of being the only guy to win it in a six-cylinder, and he likes to let you know that too,” he joked.
Mr Owen said he had only missed one Classic final.
“I’d gone on the Saturday, but got a bit crook on the Sunday and missed it. It’s the only one I’ve missed,” he said.
“The best Classic I saw was any year Max (Dumesny) won — I’m a Max fan. I drove his race truck with Ian Vale for three or four years all over Australia and had a ball. They are the best ones.
“I had a fortnight in hospital just before Christmas and I’m still on the mend. I’m having trouble with stairs but I’ll make a big effort on Sunday night no matter what. If I can get up there I don’t care how I’ll get down.
“I love it. There’s nothing better than the sound of a V8 roaring around.”
Mr Owen’s house is just a stone’s throw from the Allansford track and his home is littered with memorabilia from a long association with speedway racing.
He is a life member of the Warrnambool Hot Rod Club and the Premier Speedway Club.
Mr Owen said he could never have imagined the Classic becoming an international event.
“It’s the biggest race in Australia and there wouldn’t be too many bigger in America either. It’s exceeded everything we could have thought,” he said. “I put a lot of the success down to David Mills. He’s been a good manager and I hope he’s around for a long time to come.
“Having so many American drivers is good value for the spectators. They are seeing a world class event — those guys don’t come out here for nothing. They’re out here to win.
“Over the past 10 years a lot of young blokes coming through have caught up with the Americans in terms of equipment and a lot of the younger blokes go over to America and race there which makes them more competitive, and you can see that in the results of what’s going to happen this weekend.”
Mr Owen said despite all the changes, there will be one thing that stays the same. “The end result will still be classic, no matter what,” he said.