Bathurst Circuit celebrates in 80th Birthday.
Not quite on this exact day, but it was Easter weekend in 1938, 80 years ago that the now legendary Bathurst circuit was first used for motor racing.
The circuit is celebrating it's 80th Birthday at this weekends Improved Production 6 hour race.
The Bathurst legend started at Easter in 1938 with a double header race meeting, one for Motorcycles on the Saturday, followed by a car race on Easter Monday.
That first car race also happened to be the 1938 Australian GP.
The Mount Panorama scenic Drive was opened two weeks prior to the race.
The race, which had 30 starters, was held over 40 laps of the six kilometre circuit for a total distance of 241 kilometres. It was still an unsealed dirt durface rather than sealed tarmac in those days. Peter Whitehead won the AGP that year in a 1.5 litre Supercharged ERA.
Peter Whitehead takes the chequered flag at the 1938 AGP at Bathurst.
There was a good crowd there that day..... spectator numbers were unexpected, with more than 20,000 people venturing to the new track. The town of Bathurst was overwhelmed by the crowd and was emptied of food, alcohol and accommodation both during the race period and for a short while afterward.
How it all started:
Construction of the Tourist Road started in late 1936. Most of the land occupied by the Bald Hills belonged to the McPhillamy Family, Walter J McPhillamy having been a previous Mayor of the Bathurst City Council. The McPhillamy Family donated 15 acres at the summit of the Bald Hills to be used as a park. The Park was subsequently named to honour this donation, becoming McPhillamy Park .
In 1935 The Light Car Club of NSW along with a number of members of the public proposed openly for the first time the use of the proposed tourist road as a Motor Racing Circuit. In 1937 the Light Car Club of New South Wales put forward to Mayor Griffin and the rest of the Bathurst City Council at the time the aims they had for the circuit. The Bathurst City Engineer of the time, Hughie Reid redesigned sections of the track to be more suitable for Motor Racing. (Note some of the names are now corner names Reid Park, McPhillamies, and Griffin Bend)
It had to be spectacular so the public would pay to watch
There had to be balanced technical hazards to test every feature of the car, and
As often as possible, the circuit should be a test of the driver’s skills.
(I think they succeeded in their objectives)
The track was officially opened to coincide with the 150th anniversary of white occupation in Australia. Mayor Griffin and Minister Spooner presiding over the ceremony.
From the Mount Panorama website:
Well before it became a gathering place for motor racing enthusiasts, the Mount was an important part of the local Wiradjuri tribe's culture. The Mount was called ‘Waluu', which means ‘to watch over' and it was from the vantage points now known as Skyline & McPhillamy Park that the young Wiradjuri men would watch over their land and the movements of travellers to and from the valley.
Mount Panorama began as a dirt-track/tourist-drive carved out of the bald hills around the bustling city of Bathurst in the mid 1930s. The Council of the time, specifically Mayor Martin Griffin, had a vision for a premier motor racing circuit with the sharp hills, hairpin bends and a fast downhill straight that would inspire awe and demand respect from all who took up the challenge for years to come. Strong support from the New South Wales Light Car Club, Auto Cycle Union and the Federal Government, through a national employment relief scheme, saw this vision become a reality. On 17 March 1938 Mayor Martin Griffin declared the Mount Panorama Scenic Drive open. He always knew that the road was going to be used for motor racing but Depression Era funds weren't easy to come by, so he had to create a ruse. At Easter 1938 the first races were held and except for the war (WWII), have been run ever since.
Mount Panorama is indisputably a Mecca for motor racing fans all over Australia and around the world. On 16 April 1938, Mount Panorama attracted an overwhelming 20,000 spectators to its first race, The Australian Tourist Trophy.
Pictures of the early days of racing on Mount Panorama show the crowd leaning over wire fences, vehicles on dirt tracks, officials in canvas tents, and drivers with gloves, goggles and jacket, but no helmet. The facilities at Mount Panorama were non-existent during this time, with nothing more than dirt and some lines marking out a pit space for each car.