Simpson's enduring need for speed

JIM Lock remembers a time when the idea of a speedway in the farming district of Simpson was exactly that — an idea.

That a group of humble drivers with few funds to their names and no major town to draw support from could unite to build a track seemed far fetched.

But as drivers and officials prepare to celebrate 40 years of racing at Simpson Speedway, Lock reflects with pride how the dreams of a few became reality.

“It was hard work. We got a club going, we wanted to build a track. But we had a lot of trouble finding suitable land,” he said yesterday.

“Everywhere we thought was all right somebody else thought wasn’t. We had huge help from the local government minister in Cec Burgin.

“He put a huge amount of work in finding the land where we are, which was an old gravel pit. It was hard work in that we had no money.”

The “we” in the story is the inaugural Simpson Car Club committee, which in 1969 included Lock. He remains a committee member today.

Others included Tony Mallon, Gary Mathieson and Errol Donovan, the founding members of the club and the men who drivers and fans are indebted to. Simpson Speedway hosted its first meeting five years later, on March 24, 1974. Street saloons, mini modifieds, sportsman and sprintcars highlighted the action.

“We were determined we were going to open this thing on the date we had. There were a few seven-day working bees over that period,” Lock said.

“Even then we were still trying to earn money by splitting posts, planting trees, fencing. But we also had huge support from all the women. That’s been the case since.”

The early infrastructure was modest at best and probably unacceptable when compared with tracks across Australia today.

The main building was the former sleeping quarters of the Rural Finance and Settlement Commission. The track wall was made of sheets of timber.

Then there’s the unique teardrop-shaped track. Lock recalls those running the first show soaking the surface with water but watching it run off into the gutters.

“We watered the track for a week and by the sixth race we had so much dust you couldn’t see … we didn’t know much about track preparation in those days,” he said.

But the presence of a track meant drivers did not have to travel to Warrnambool or beyond to race. So they persisted with maintaining the facility.

The result of their efforts is the facility which stands on the aptly-named Speedway Road today, one which is capable of hosting national and state titles.

Lock has watched his sons Murray and Phil race at Simpson. Being trackside when Phil won the Victorian 360 sprintcar title in 2010 remains a proud moment.

But his highlight of being involved with the track isn’t a single race, crash or celebration. It’s the enthusiasm the committee has for continual improvements.

“Every cent the club has made has gone back into the club. That’s happened over the 40 years,” Lock said. 

“Every change of president, every change of committee, they’ve always wanted to drive it forward.” The speedway community will mark 40 years of racing at Simpson with a function at the Simpson Hall on Saturday night.

Simpson Car Club president Alan Symons said about 150 current and former officials, drivers and fans would attend, with old photos and memorabilia on display.

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