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June 12, 2013

 

 

 

 

Origins of Off Road Racing

National Off Road Scene

Off Road racing is a product of the United States kicking off in the late 50's and early 60's with the first off road race cars being the versatile Volkswagen Beetle.  With a few modifications which included chopping the mud guards and widening of wheel rims, the rear engine VW was a perfect choice to go off road racing.
After a few years it ventured "down under" to Australia    At first there were many clubs throughout
the country running various low key events within their state.   The first national off road race the
"BP Sunraysia 250 Desert Race" was held on the Easter weekend in 1971 at Hattah, about 50 kms
north east of Mildura and was organised by the Light Car Club of Australia (Bendigo branch) and a number of Mildura service clubs   During the early years of off road racing the events were not sanctioned by CAMS and were open to everyone.   The first years of off road racing included motorbikes as well as cars with motorbikes outnumbering cars by about five-to-one.


The "BP Sunraysia 250 Desert Race" was the only event of it's kind for two years (1971-1972).   In 1973 we saw the emergence of the "Tasmanian Sand Enduro", held at St. Helens and the "West Australian Beach Buggy Association Championships",  held at Lancelin, both designed for buggies and four wheel drives only.   It was nothing to see 150 cars and up to three times as many motorbikes at the "Sunraysia" event.   The next major national event to hit the scene was the Frank Coad directed "Mallee Desert Rally" on the Queen's birthday weekend in 1973 which was held at Sea Lake in Victoria and is still being held on the same weekend to this day.

In 1974 CAMS advised that the events would have to be sanctioned by CAMS, clubs would have to be affiliated and the entry fee which was around $14 would increase to $49.   It was then decided to form another association which was called Federation of Off-Road Motor Sport (FORMS).   So within three years of national competition the sport was split into two different groups with two events being held within 30 or so kms of each other on the same weekend at Mildura.   FORMS eventually disappeared.   In 1975 the "Portland Sand Enduro" was born, this event of 280 kms was held entirely within the sand dunes of Portland .  

The Sea Lake event for that year had been the biggest event ever with 200 cars and 250 motorbikes.   1977 was also the year we saw the televised short course series held at the specially constructed 1.8 km track within the motorcross circuit at  Broadford in Victoria .   The event had a purse of $10,000 plus several holiday
vouchers.

The first "BP 400" was held on the "Kindon" property approximately 60 kms from  Goodiwindi in 1977.  It was to be the first national event to include a night lap    The following year the event was to start amid a lot of confusion with competitors getting lost in the dust added to this was the missing arrows, which appeared to be knocked over by the first competitors away.   Several competitors were just driving around in circles trying to locate missing arrows, the event was eventually stopped and a full restart was implemented.   It was to eventually be cancelled after a disastrous year in 1982 when 6 inches of rain fell in half an hour.   The event which was to have a night lap followed by 3 laps on Sunday was reduced to 70 kms on the Sunday only.   Only a small number of cars finished the event taking several hours to complete the 70 km course   Numerous incidences of competitors being treated for hypothermia as well as  having to have their eyes rinsed were ongoing throughout the day.


During the mid to late 1970's the off road scene took on a professional look with the introduction of several sponsored teams including the "Old Man Emu Team" of John Chapman and the "Team Off-Road Racers" of the Baker brothers.   Other events were added to the national calendar like the event at Tara in Queensland .   .   Another event was added to the national calendar in 1978, the "Sunset Enduro" which was also held near Mildura, it to like many other events over the years have disappeared from the scene.


The "BF Goodrich All Terrain 400" at the Puckapunyal army base was the next event added to the calendar, it was to be run by the ORCA (Off Road Competitors Association).   Torrential rain caused a delay to the start with organisers eventually reducing the event to a single lap of 100 km.   The event was marred by a  great deal of confusion with competitors getting lost and stuck in the mud.   Unfortunately it was a once of event, although in later years it was resurrected by VORRA  and ran as a round of the AORC.     The "BP Mallee Rally" just continued to steam roll on always attracting large entry fields with 1979 seeing 240 cars enter.    In 1981 the first Australian Off Road Championship series was formed and consisted of Griffith , Sea Lake , Waikerie and Goondiwindi. Other events have come and gone including  the "Dubbo 500" (a once only), " Inglewood ", "Kooralbyn", "Toowoomba" and the " Springfield 250".   "Goondiwindi" and "Ipswich" have been and gone and come back again, whilst the  " Griffith 500" took a short break with 2002 seeing it's resurrection with a slightly different format.   The "Kempsey 1000" now the "Kempsey 500" has been the trend setter for the Australian scene.   Traditionally the hardest race of it's kind in Australia at times with only 9 cars actually completing the whole distance.   In recent years the race has been shortened to 500 kms allowing more cars to complete the event.   In the early years it boasted the biggest prizemoney payout of all the events with class winners taking home a minimum of $1000.   Sand events included the "Portland Sand Enduro" and the "Tassie Sand Enduro".   The sand events had the added advantage of being able to stage a mass start. Numerous other events have come and gone over the years but the "Mallee Rally" and the "Finke Desert Race" (although the "Finke" in the early years  was a motorbike only event has since  have included cars), are still the only events that have been running for over 20 years.  The Competitors The first national event winner was Melbourne driver David Cuthbert in a Hillman Hunter which had won the London to Sydney Marathon in 1970.   David was the winner of the four wheel section of the 1971 Sunraysia Desert Rally.   The Baker brothers Gary and Mick were to dominate in the 70's.    Keith Poole was  to snatch some of the glory from the Baker boys by taking out the Sea Lake event in the mid 70's and he was also to create an interesting duel throughout the 7-'s between himself and the Baker boys.   Ivan Albins went on to win the final running of the Hattah event. 1979.    Others to come on the scene were Neville Boyes, Bob "Fat Albert" Stansfield, Les Brown, Owen Anderson, Bob Strawbridge, Keith Owers, Charlie Albins, Glen Ingram and Reg Owen. The 1980's was dominated by Craig Martin, Craig was a phenomenon who was able to do anything in a racecar.  The 1990's has seen another Victorian dominate in Mark Burrows.

THE VEHICLES

Until 1974 the vehicles were of the floor pan and roll cage variety and were very primitive by today's standards.   They were mostly copied from American off road vehicles in magazines.   It was quoted that Peter Brock who took part in the Hattah and Sea Lake events had commented that the vehicles looked like Channel 7 camera stands on wheels.

In the early years there were no classes for 4WD's and  VW Baja's and they had to compete against the buggies.  The "BP Desert Rally" at Hattah was run over two different loops in 1975,   The cars did 2 laps of one loop in the morning, whilst the motorbikes did two laps of the other loop with the afternoon section being reversed.  Goondiwindi in Queensland was to be added in 1977.  During this time we saw the emergence of a number of Australian designed and built buggies which included the "Rivmasta", "Cheetah", Verco "Hustler", "Southern Cross" the "Baker Enduro" and the "Manx Tow'd", the "Southern Cross" is still being produced to this day. The Baker brothers along with Peter Byrne introduced the first American designed but locally assembled Sandmaster buggies into the Australian off road scene.   The trio went on to take 1st, 2nd and 3rd at Hattah followed up by a 1st and 2nd by the Baker boys at the Sea Lake event.