Who would have thought when a group of car racing enthusiasts came up with the idea of a two-night speedway event that 51 years later it would have become a big deal? A seriously big deal.
The volunteer-run Premier Speedway Club hosts its 50th Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic this weekend at its Allansford track that has been developed without handouts from governments.
The classic was born from an experience of hosting the two-night Australian title. People flocked through the gates and club chiefs hoped they could reproduce an event like it annually.
The classic today is a far cry from 1973 when hobby drivers raced. This weekend 118 drivers, among them many professional or semi-professionals, are vying for a share of the prizemoney including the coveted $50,000 first prize. More than 20,000 people will watch three nights of racing. With 10 American drivers hitting the track, the classic is bigger than the national title, which only allows Aussies to compete.
The classic is arguably Warrnambool's biggest international sporting event. It used to run a clear second behind the city's other famous horse-powered event, the three-day May Racing Carnival. But the American presence makes it a genuine international race with more overseas exposure.
The classic is the biggest race outside the United States, it rivals the Knoxville Nationals for competitor numbers. Those numbers have swelled in the past decade, pushing organisers to extend the event into a three-night show.
South-west residents not familiar with speedway or fans of the sport have come to understand the classic's place on our calendar. They know it drives tourism, hospitality, goodwill and boosts the area's profile. The region needs the classic and speedway needs the Warrnambool classic as many out-of-towners refer to it.
But is the classic about to become a victim of its success? This weekend fans who want to be trackside won't be with the venue at capacity and accommodation in the region booked out.
It's hard to justify expensive renovations to a circuit for one weekend of the year. The city's racing club had the same dilemma for its carnival and with support from the sport's governing body and state and federal governments it funded grandstand and corporate facilities. Is it time Premier Speedway makes as much noise as 20 cars roaring into the classic's first corner for financial assistance?
The club might have to explore a four-night classic soon too if entries grow even further. But the club can't solve the accommodation situation.
As one well-travelled fan told us this week, Warrnambool has a reputation problem - it is considered an anti-camping city. Fans will ignore local laws that prevent camping in the car park at the track putting pressure on the city council, which had previously argued hotels, motels and caravan park owners who paid rates should not be disadvantaged.
But times have changed. Caravan and campervan ownership is at an unprecedented high. Combined with a lack of beds especially after three motels closed in 2022, should the city become more camping friendly? The fans make a happy crowd, the classic is a happy event, the last thing the region needs is people who race to support us leaving with a bad taste in their mouth because they had no where to stay. The classic is no flash in the pan. It is here to stay and so too the accommodation issue which needs urgent solutions.
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