Once the heart of Sydney's motor racing scene, Amaroo Park went from a stuttering start to achieve great popularity, only to be overtaken by larger, better-funded projects.
Short but challenging, the circuit was carved out of a valley with spectators given a view of proceedings something similar to a Roman amphitheatre. Originally set out in bushland, the circuit took its name from an Aboriginal world meaning “beautiful place”.
As the decades passed by Amaroo slowly faded in prominence and the Sydney suburbs began to approach. In a final ignominy, it was sold off to developers to make way for a housing estate for the well-heeled.
The circuit, in the western suburb of Annangrove, around an hour from the Sydney CBD, was the brainchild of wealthy industrialist Oscar Glaser, one of the pioneers of plant hire in Australia in the 1950s. Glaser owned around 250 acres of land in what was then just fairly rugged countryside, Sydney's suburbs then still remaining some distance away. Locally named 'Black Captain's Gulley' after an aboriginal chief, the land formed part of a valley, complete with the Cattai Creek running through its centre.
Grand plans but humble beginnings
Glaser had a vision of converting this rocky outcrop into a world class sports complex, complete with a Grand Prix circuit, Olympic diving pools, tennis courts, bowling greens, a motels, restaurants and conferencing facilities. Alongside the road racing circuit would be other motorsport facilities, including a hillclimb, scrambler course and go-kart facilities, to help cash in on the age's new-found fascination with speed.
Amaroo Park Pty was formed to build the complex and first up was a bike scrambles course, which was fashioned out of a rocky area on the fringe of the valley floor. Ready for inspection in February 1962, it would take another six months for the necessary licence to be granted. An open scramble meeting took place on August 26, marking the first event at Amaroo Park and combining with an official opening ceremony.
The course was extremely challenging, with numerous spills and mechanical difficulties encountered making it unpopular with riders. It proved short-lived too, with just one further open meeting in October, two more in 1963 and the final nail in the coffin coming in February 1964 when only 27 entrants turned up for what turned out to be its finale event.
Despite this unpromising start to motor racing activities, plans for the rest of the complex continued. Day-to-day operations were leased to the Amaroo Country Sporting Club in 1963, offering the public 250 membership opportunities at £25 per head, estimated to raise around a third of the cost of a luxurious clubroom that was envisaged.
The second circuit, an oiled dirt Short Circuit, opened in December 1963, which proved much more of a success with both bikes and cars. Spectators enjoyed it too, thanks to high sandstone bank providing a natural grandstand and offering good views of the whole circuit. Soon it was hosting a meeting every month as Short Circuit racing underwent a popular boom.
Elsewhere, a hillclimb course opened on the far northern corner of the site, as did a kart circuit. However, plans for 2.5 mile Grand Prix circuit had gone quiet, as all involved grappled with the likely costs involved. Instead plans now focused on creating a much smaller course, carved out of the valley and next to the Cattai Creek.
The road racing circuit is born
The 1.2 mile course began on the valley floor before climbing steeply up the hillside, through a fast kink, before looping back on itself and plunging back down the valley, round a lake and back to the pits and paddock. There were only basic facilities however; no power or shelter in the paddock, few toilets and no seating of any kind for spectators, just rocky outcrops. It reflected the rather straightened finances of the Country Club, whose debenture issue had failed to raise anything like the funds anticipated. Needless to say, this was a far cry from the luxurious surroundings that had been promised.
The opening event at the new circuit came on February 26, 1967, with a motorcycle meeting organised on behalf of the Amaroo Motor Cycle Committee. The headline event, a 40 lap race for production bikes, was nearly washed out, when the fine sunshine of qualifying turned to unrelenting rain on race day. In the end, a reduced-length 30 lap event was won by Larry Simons on a BSA Lightning, though top racer at the meeting was Len Atlee, thanks to wins in the Junior and Unlimited Feature races.
The first car meeting did not take place until March 12, 1967 and was a relatively low-key closed affair for Country Club members, with around 1,000 spectators watching club races featuring entrants from the Australian Racing Drivers Club, Australian Automobile Racing Club and the New South Wales Road Racing Club. The first public car race took place the following month a series of other events on two and four wheels were run through the remainder of 1967 and into early 1968.
Financial troubles force closure
By now however, the Sporting Club was in serious financial trouble. No doubt hindered by the poor amenities, crowd figures had proved lower than expected, especially for the car races. Drainage had also proved an issue, with the circuit subject to frequent flooding, particularly at its lowest reaches. With no funds to improve, it was the perfect storm and the circuit fell quiet in early 1968, with the only activity on site being a reduced schedule of events on the Short Circuit.
Eventually, after two years of being effectively mothballed, Glaser did a deal with the Australian Racing Drivers Club to take over the running at Amaroo. The ARDC was in the process of moving away from Catalina Park and soon had big plans for its new home. A programme of upgrades were carried out around the track, including the construction of a new race control and commentary tower at the end of the pit lane. In fact, it straddled the pit exit, requiring traffic to pass under it to get out onto the circuit, in a sort of 1970s-style precursor to Jerez's famous 'spaceship' (though on a considerably more modest scale and budget!). Much improved spectator areas were also gradually introduced, making it a much more attractive proposition to racing fans.
Rebirth and renaissance
The first meeting of the revived track was, in keeping with past tradition, an event for motorcycles in May 1970, won by Victorian Peter Jones onboard a Suzuki TR500. The ARDC ran bike events in co-operation with Willoughby District Motor Club, which would prove to be very innovative. After a second bike meeting in August, the next major event was the new Castrol 1000 for production machines. This would go on to become one of the circuit's signature events, attracting top riders and major sponsorship money. Another innovation came with the Willoughby club's introduction of Superbike racing, years before the name caught on worldwide.
With Amaroo Park now firmly on the map and with the backing of the ARDC giving it proper promotion, soon the top categories of four-wheeled racing would come calling. After holding its own touring car series from 1971 to 1993 (initially as the Sun-7 Chesterfield Series and then under various names, including AMSCAR), in 1974 the top-tier Australian Touring Car Championship arrived. Peter Brock won in a Holden Torana and the track would go on to host 15 rounds of the championship between 1974 and its last ATCC round in 1994.
Ironically, it was often the AMSCAR events which drew the greatest attention locally, contested mainly by Sydney privateers with a smattering of star names. Key to the success were the live race broadcasts on Channel 7 and the fact that many of the participants rarely had the funds to race out of state and were familiar from the Bathurst 1000 race. By 1979, the series had become so successful it had a bigger prize purse than the national championship! Declining grids into the 1990s and a reluctance of the big teams to race outside of the ATCC would eventually force the end of AMSCAR, but it had certainly helped to cement Amaroo Park's position nationally.
Other car events included the Amaroo Park 300 endurance race, contested between 1980 and 1987 (though as a round of the Australian Endurance Series only from 1983), while the circuit also played host to the major single seat and sports sedan categories through to the 1990s.
Tragedies prompt changes
Two tragedies in the mid-1980s highlighted the increasing safety worries at the circuit, which had little space to implement run-off areas or alternatives to unyielding barriers. At the opening motorcycle meeting of 1984, 27-year-old rider Jayne Litterick was killed at the final turn when she was high-sided from her machine and struck by two following riders. The whole sad scene was captured by national television crew which happened to making a documentary at the meeting, elevating further the question marks about safety. It prompted the New South Wales ACU to suspend the track's licence for two wheel racing.
The ACU decreed that changes would have to be made to provide some sort of run-off at Wunderlich Corner but the ARDC, mindful that to do so would require a re-alignment of the pit lane and severely reduce space in the already cramped paddock, refused. A compromise of a dog-leg chicane was installed on the inside of the corner, regaining the track it's licence, but it was deemed unsuitable for use by the Willoughby Club, who switched the Castrol 1000 to Oran Park. It would never return.
Further disaster came in 1986, this time during a Formula Mondiale race at the August meeting. The cars of Peter Hopwood and Graham Watson touched wheels as they headed up Bitupave Hill on the first lap, with Hopwood's Ralt veering onto a 10-foot embankment and then catapulting a distance of 30 feet over the heads of onlookers before landing upside down in a group of spectators. Hopwood miraculously escaped injury, but sadly a woman in the crowd was killed and nine other people were injured. Enhanced debris fencing was fitted thereafter, thankfully without a further need to be tested in the same circumstances.
A new threat emerges
Into the 1990s, the New South Wales government began its quest for a world-level motorsport event and was prepared to fund the construction of a new circuit in Sydney. Legislation was duly passed and Eastern Creek sprang up to host the World 500cc Motorcycle Championships, prising them away from Victoria's Philip Island. This would have fatal consequences for Amaroo Park, since the ARDC was offered the opportunity of the lease and management of the new venue, which proved an offer too good to refuse.
Various parties enquired about taking over where the ARDC left off, though all came to nought in the end. One of the barriers the incessant creep of the Sydney suburbs, with any break in motorsport promotion, however small, likely to play into the hands of noise abatement campaigners, likely requiring a protracted legal battle if racing was to continue.
In the end Amaroo Park was probably doomed, with rising land values and the reality that it would be unlikely to continue to be able to brought up to contemporary safety standards to allow anything other than club level racing.
The last race meeting thus take place on August 23, 1998, with a meeting billed as the 'Goodbye to Amaroo State Open Meeting'. A mix of classes from sports sedans to historic touring cars enjoyed a final hurrah. Ray Lintott in a Porsche 911 Turbo entered the history books as the victor of the very last race. Arthur Hayes, ARDC member number one, waved the chequered flag to bring to a close 31 years of continuous racing activity at one of Australia's most popular circuits.
Thereafter the gates were locked and the venue fell silent. Eventually, property developers acquired the land for $4 million and began tearing down the infrastructure. In the circuit's place came a new access road leading to a small number of expensive executive homes, similar to others that had sprung up across the Annangrove suburb. The rest of the land was left to grass, but all traces of the circuit itself are now long gone.
This is a historic circuit which is no longer in operation.
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Amaroo Park was located in Annangrove, on the outskirts of Sydney, in New South Wales, Australia.
Today, little remains of the circuit, though the large Amaroo Park signs remain at the former circuit entrance, though most people today would imagine that it describes the small business park beyond, rather than a racing circuit. The restaurant and club house that was built by the Amaroo Country Sporting Club still remains, though these days is a roadside Indian restaurant.