Monday, July 21, 2008

Sydney's race tracks - bikes, cars - even horses

Generalisations are a funny thing, and here are 4: humans are (a) attracted by and somewhat fond of following tracks and paths; (b) competitive critters who like playing "chasings"; (c) social animals that like to gather in mobs around a focal point; and (d) quite happy to sit in those "mobs" just watching other humans playing chasings, often for hours at a time.

I could also add 2 geeky addenda, that (a) humans like to document what the other humans are doing, even if they don't do it themselves; and (b) humans like lists of stuff.

Do you see where this is heading?

Now I'll miss a few I'm sure, but for the record here's my take on a list of Sydney's race tracks, especially focused on those that hosted documented races of the wheeled variety but also ponies and horses, greyhounds or whatever springs to mind... in no particular order! (Use Ctrl-F to find or just read the lot.)
  1. Sydney Sports ground - pushbikes (ie real bikes) raced here on a large, shallowly banked outdoor velodrome until about WW2; also speedway cars and motorbikes after that date (until noise complaints outnumbered followers of the sport, who moved west to...
  2. Liverpool Speedway - from 1967 to 1989, a banked dolomite surface; pretty much a short dirt oval track for car and motorbike racing, out Casula way
  3. Liverpool 'Collingwood' racecourse - circa 1832 the 'Sydney Turf Club' (not the STC formed in 1943 then!) opened a course near Liverpool, probably the one referred to elsewhere as the Collingwood racecourse, used until 1900
  4. Liverpool Woodlands racecourse - circa 1890s the Liverpool Turf Club had been formed and was holding races at a course near O'Brien Parade off Orange Grove Road. By 1892 this venture was known as the Liverpool Horse and Galloway Racing Club
  5. Centennial Park - a great training Mecca for cyclists, used for road cycle racing on a variety of circuits over the years, it featured also in the 2000 Olympics with both road cycling and the individual road time trial. It was also briefly a landing ground for early aircraft
  6. Parramatta Park, another excellent road course for cycle racing, was also used for car racing in the 1950s, until common sense presumably prevailed. Another park used as a landing ground by early aviators. Was also the place to see preserved steam trams for a while, now you have to go to Valley Heights
  7. Henson Park, Marrickville - an old quarry converted into a large outdoor velodrome around 1930, regularly hosting 30,000 spectators on a Saturday night. Replaced in the early 1970s with a steeply-sided (45 degree, 250m) concrete velodrome at...
  8. Camperdown, built in or around 1970 in an old quarry/tip, now residential, semi-replaced (how could it truly be replaced?) by...
  9. Tempe Velodrome, a 330m concrete track for track racing, built around 1983 in twinship with the Chandler velodrome in Brisbane to replace...
  10. Wiley Park, a decent sort of banked bike track that fell victim to road widening (King George's Rd) in the early 1980s. Remnant banking still exists. But all of these velodromes are overshadowed by the...
  11. Dunc Gray Olympic Indoor Velodrome, Bass Hill, a timber track purpose built for the 2000 Olympics
  12. Complete with a criterium track next door, added post-Olympics. Just a shame it's in Bass Hill (no offence meant, it's just plain hard to get a crowd there)
  13. Not too far away is Hurstville Oval, a well-maintained saucer-type velodrome for track-bike racing that quaintly encircles a cricket pitch
  14. Several criterium tracks also exist in Hurstville, notably one around Oatley Park (used by St George club for many years)
  15. and the purpose-built cycling tracks in Kempt Field
  16. and Olds Park, both used for the sadly-defunct Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic
  17. Not far away from Hurstville is another purpose-built criterium track for bike racing at Waratah Park, Sutherland, used by the Sutherland Cycling Club. Watch out for the big dipper on the long circuit, it's a hairy turn at the bottom
  18. And yet another excellent crit track exists at Lansdowne Park, near Bankstown, a fast and twisty track with a steepish rise to the downhill finish
  19. Merrylands Oval, a slightly-less-picturesque but functional saucer velodrome that was home for the McGee brothers for many years
  20. Lidcombe Oval, even-less-picturesque saucer velodrome with a sharper than expected left turn after the finish. Or was that before the finish? It catches you out, anyway!
  21. Blacktown Oval - a crit course for bicycle racing with a big tree to dodge on the left and a short and hard-braking area immediately after the sprint. If you don't brake hard you end up in the street...
  22. Bondi promenade, yes that Bondi, was used as a bicycle racing venue (from the 1940s, or earlier?) until increasing traffic pushed the racing out to Bunnerong Road in the 1960s, until finally a dedicated circuit was built in the 1970s at...
  23. Heffron Park, Maroubra. An old military base complete with Nissen huts/Bellman hangars and long strips of hardstanding concrete (said to be for tanks), Heffron is spiritual home to the Randwick Botany and Eastern Suburbs Cycling Clubs
  24. There's also an Olympic rowing course at Penrith with an access road that's now used for road cycling and time trials
  25. Penrith's other speedway, Brooklands
  26. And an Olympic Mountain bike course at Fairfield
  27. And Penrith Paceway, harness racing at Penrith Showground 
  28. Moving back east, there's Randwick racecourse - horses, rock bands and more recently the Pope (who obviously doesn't mind the horse racing and betting connection). Noteworthy for the massive multi-platform tram station (now sadly a car park)
  29. Victoria Park, Zetland - ponies, probably cars as well. Then it became a Nuffield (later Leyland) car factory, Naval stores and finally a residential development
  30. Ascot - at Mascot. In the far northeastern corner of today's Sydney Airport it was a pony race track with tram access (a balloon loop). Not much remains to be seen
  31. Warwick Farm - horses (still) and previously cars (until maybe the late 70s? I did a driver training course there in about 1978 on just a segment of the track - 'Creek Corner' - it was seriously narrow with plenty of trees and the aforementioned creek to miss - or hit!). William Long circa early 1880s bought J.H Stroud's 'Warwick park' grant north and east of Liverpool and by 1884 had also developed his property across the river, building stables and tracks there. He called this estate 'Chipping Norton'. In 1922 the racecourse was sold to the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) and in 1923 it was closed for redevelopment. The new Warwick Farm course opened 2 years later. A spur line off the main rail line led directly to the racecourse, being subsequently electrified in 1929. Used for military purposes in WWII, Hargrave Park airfield was nearby, to the west
  32. Campbellfield estate, Campbelltown, along Bow Bowing Creek; circa 1840s. The Campbelltown Turf Club leased 60 acres (24ha) from a John Keighran for a racecourse
  33. Narellan - a racecourse was built at Studley Park, Narellan and meetings were regularly held there in the 1890s. Accessible by train to Campbelltown and then by steam tram to Narellan (a long closed line, however embankments remain)
  34. Menangle Park - south of Campbelltown, a horse racing track in use since the 1870s. Railway sidings were built to bring people to the track. It was a WWII RAAF dispersal airstrip, too
  35. Rosehill racecourse, near Parramatta - horse racing, interesting for its access via a wharf on the Parramatta River and a steam tram from there to Parramatta itself. The steam trams also ran from Parramatta up to Castle Hill. The first race meeting in Parramatta was held in 1810. In 1885 Rosehill Racecourse itself was built on what had been John Macarthur's estate
  36. Rosebery - just off Gardeners Road,bordered by Florence Ave, a pony training track. Not much left, it became housing in the 1960s. Plenty of sand hills and lakes in this area, and the trams went right past. In fact the tramways used an area nearby to source sand and gravel for track laying
  37. Kensington - right next door to Randwick on High Street, just off Anzac Parade with plentiful tram access; now part of the Uinversity of NSW. At least one old building is still standing and was used to house 'the Old Tote' theatre company for a while, and NIDA
  38. Kogarah - pony track, corner of President Ave and Princes Highway, now a TAFE College; served by steam tram of course
  39. Sydney Sports Arena, Surry Hills - a steeply-sided wooden velodrome in the area of Devonshire Street (a mural exists depicting this, off Elizabeth Street). Moved to Canterbury
  40. Canterbury racecourse - still a horse racing track, the south-eastern corner housed the old indoor timber Sydney Sports Arena velodrome for bike races (which was moved holus-bolus from Surry Hills in the 1950s). Watch the splinters!
  41. Maroubra - the Olympia motor racing oval - in the general area of Mons Ave, served by trams. Site was chosen for its remoteness, in the sandhills overlooking the beach and was sadly quite deadly with the occasional car flung out of the track, launched into mid air...
  42. Belmore Park, Penrith - Circa 1920s Belmore Park was used as the Penrith Speedway, a dirt track, one mile in circumference. Car, motor cycle and aircraft races were held. Belmore Park was also used for aviation circa 1911 onwards
  43. Marsden Park - a disused WWII airstrip put to good if brief use as a car racing facility in the early 50s
  44. Pitt Town, near Windsor - another old WWII airstrip put to limited use for motor racing in the 50s, up to early 70s perhaps later. Also part used as Hardie Ferodo vehicle braking test track 
  45. Schofields, near Blacktown - a disused RAAF aerodrome (3 intersecting runways!) that was used for motor sport from about 1950 until '59, when the airstrip was reactivated as a Naval Air Station. Being so close to Richmond RAAF base was a problem (as a trainee pilot I did touch-and-goes here in the early/mid 70s - it was v. easy to stray into the RAAF prohibited zone and get a verbal caning!). The aerodrome was deactivated once more in the late 1970s with a fence put across the main runway, stranding a DC-3 in situ. Sadly now used for housing... (the land, not the DC-3)
  46. and Mt Druitt - yet another old airstrip converted and connected to access roads to form a makeshift (and potholed) racetrack for cars and motor bikes. Closed in the late 50s, it got more use than other disused airfields - but now gone
  47. Castlereagh - another airstrip converted to Sydney's premier dragstrip and closed with the advent of Eastern Creek
  48. Catalina Park, complete with PBY-5A Catalina Flying boat in a lake, was a car racing circuit at Katoomba, 100km west of Sydney during the 1960s. It got a reprieve via Rallycross in the 70s and continued with occasional car club use (lap dashes mostly) until "final" closure in the 90s due to growing noise complaints and the fact that it is an incompatible use (being in a national park and draining into Sydney's water supply as it does). It still exists however and is mostly complete - but the Catalina itself is long gone
  49. Amaroo Park, Annangrove: a twisty, hilly car racing circuit opened in the 60s, closed in the 90s. Noise problems again. Now housing
  50. Oran Park, Narellan: a combination of 2 tracks (north and south) that could be combined to form a single, scary-fast "GP" circuit. Will close in 2008 and become (yawn) housing
  51. Eastern Creek, a "new" track in western Sydney that comprises a car circuit and a dragstrip. The circuit itself and connecting roads and car parks are also used for bicycle racing
  52. Moving back towards the coast, there are 2 historically interesting venues - firstly Wentworth Park, Ultimo, a multisport park complete with a railway viaduct through the middle. Greyhounds, trotting, pacers - I have no idea really. Something to do with horses and dogs, I believe, with bets placed
  53. And Harold Park at Glebe with much the same mix of animals raced around an oval of sorts nestled up against the old Rozelle Tram depot. There must be a good reason to house seemingly similar venues so close together but I haven't explored why it is so... yet
  54. I'm sure I've missed a few... insert them here!

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