Community & Business

3 November, 2022

Mareeba Speedway celebrates 50 years

This Saturday night the Mareeba Motor Racing Club, better known as the Mareeba Speedway, will hold a gala dinner at the Spring Road venue to commemorate the clubs 50th year

1981 Sprint car driver Leigh Holman
1981 Sprint car driver Leigh Holman

Speedway type car racing originally started at the Tolga Racecourse in the late 1960s but in 1972 because of reported wet conditions, it was decided to look elsewhere for a suitable venue to continue the growing interest in circular oval dirt racing on the Tablelands.

President at the time Max Holden, with the help of many Mareeba townsfolk, negotiated with the Mareeba Rodeo Association to lease some of their land, a quarry, where the present site of the Mareeba Speedway is at Springs Road.

The 490-metre track was originally a very basic dirt oval with no safety fence, just some dirt banking down the main straight but after much hard work by volunteers and subsequent committees, the speedway is now ranked by controlling body Speedway Australia as one the top five speedways in Australia.

Ravenshoe’s Graham Jonsson recalls his fond memories of the early days of the venue.

“I built a Torana in 1978 and raced at Mareeba, it had a 308 Holden motor but very little development as I didn’t really know what I was doing, so the car was no match for the good cars and good drivers coming up from Cairns,” he said.

In 1991 Graham along with his brother Warren, competed in the Tooheys Bathurst 1000 coming a credited 11th driving a Holden VL Commodore.

The early days of racing
The early days of racing

Former North Queensland speed-car Champion Chris Roberts remembers racing his ‘Little Bullet’ grey motor-powered Number 22 at Mareeba in 1973, only a year after the track was built.

“Yeah we had about 10 or more speed-cars with some great racing and I thought I was king of Kerribee until the legend himself, the late Tom Casey, appeared on the scene and I soon lost my crown to him,” he said.

In 1976 a large field of the start-up division now known as Formula 500s started racing at Cairns Speedway, however those in charge of the club were not happy with the motor bike engine powered machines and so would not program them at Cairns Speedway.

Ken Knight remembers the controversy.

“For some reason the Cairns Speedway didn’t think the new open wheeler division would work and so in 1978 we put out expressions of interest and subsequently formed MAD, Mareeba and District Formula 500 Club and we initially had five racecars and raced exclusively at Mareeba for a long time.”

Mareeba's Davis family have been a huge part of the Speedway with today’s president Scott Davis starting his racing career at the venue at the tender age of 15, racing a Formula 500 purchased from Cairns racer Chris Gartner around 1978.

Scott went on to have quite a successful career in the formulas before moving up into the sprint cars.

Mum Carlene Davis recalls when Scott made the fateful jump, sparking his younger sister to get in a car and on the track.

“When Scott moved to the bigger sprint cars around 1995 his sister Deanne, at just fifteen years of age, asked dad whether she could race the number 39 race-car sitting in the shed,” she said.

Dialling in her racing style at Mareeba Speedway young Deanna was one of the first females to race a Formula 500.

“Deanne raced all over Australia and her impressive results soon got her the nickname the princess of speed,” Carlene continued.

1995, 15 year old Deanne Davis one of the first female Formula 500 drivers
1995, 15 year old Deanne Davis one of the first female Formula 500 drivers

Another to recall those heady days of the early years of Mareeba Speedway is veteran racer ‘Lethal’ Leigh Holman.

“Not long after the racing started at Mareeba my brother Terry and I attended a meeting and during the event he turned to me and suggested that if he got a body from the wreckers and we put the V8 out of my Holden panel van in it we could go racing,” he said.

“So, Monday morning he rings me and said he had a HT Holden sedan from the wreckers and over the next few months we put the engine in, and we went racing.

“My first speedway race was at Mareeba in that car number 50, a white HT Holden, and after a heat race the legendary Peter Roggenkamp came over to me and suggested he take my car out in his next heat and he comes back in and suggests I do this to it, do that to it etc. after we made the changes, I went out next heat and I was almost unbeatable.”

Veteran Cairns driver Mike Walsh also has fond memories of racing at the Mareeba track.

“In 1978 I raced a super modified which were the forerunners to the current day sprint cars, there was about a dozen of us and I can remember there was no fence down the back straight and if you went off line you ended up down in the bush,” he said.

“They nicknamed my race car the coffin because of its shape but I also had the top wing mounted in a crazy up would formation, looked silly but it worked.

“My wife Robyn would not travel to the racetrack with me saying she was to embarrassed because of the look of my race car.”

The memories and stories will continue at the 50th Celebration Gala Dinner this Saturday night at the Spring Road complex under a marquee with pre drinks from 5pm and dinner from 6.30pm.

Live band Darryl Chaplain and Kurdaz will entertain the night away.

The event will be attended by Mareeba Mayor Angela Toppin, special quests, life members of MMRC along with a heaps of speedway fans both young and old


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