Lakeside Park (nee Raceway) and I go way back; back to when I was a small boy in short trousers. Literally.
My first lap around that 2.4km of awesome asphalt on a former dairy farm at Kallangur, north of Brisbane, was in the front bench seat of a Ford Falcon XK, sans seat belts.
It was during a lull in Saturday practice at a race meeting about 1963-64, and we snuck in a rogue lap or two.
Book-ended between the shoulders by my future brother-in-law and his mate behind the wheel, I experienced for the first time the addictive rush that is speed and the sensation of body roll, as the Falcon hiked the inside front on every corner while the other three wheels howled their narrow cross-plies in protest.
Dad had never, ever driven like this in the old Prefect or Austin. I loved every second of it. Thus, was set in motion a lifetime of desire and determination to drive/ride a racing circuit. Fast.
In those days, of course, there was little if anything by way of televised motorsport and, living 160km from Lakeside, I relied on monthly magazines such as Racing Car News, Autosportsman and Australian Motor Sport to keep me – what we would now call – ‘infotained’.
In RCN, Lakeside featured prominently by way of scribe Des White’s descriptive and witty race reports, of which I would hang off every word: the annual Tasman Cup round headlined by multi-world champions Jack Brabham, Jim Clark, Jackie Stewart and Graham Hill and best of the locals, Frank Matich, Spencer Martin, Kevin Bartlett among them.
This was also the coming of age of touring cars, and my vivid imagination had me riding shotgun alongside Ian Geoghegan, Norm Beechey, John French and co.
The black-and-white 60s brightened into full-colour 70s and it was so-long school, hello job. With that came money (a little) which meant wheels, freedom and girls – in order.
That’s two wheels, as in motorcycles, and by mid-decade I was cutting laps of Lakeside on a frantic Kawasaki Mach IV 750. Not full-on racing, but what we now call a track day.
A new career in the Air Force led me overseas and interstate from the late-70s to the mid-80s, but by then I was also writing freelance for some of those very same magazines I worshipped in my miss-spent youth. On leaving the military in 1986 and moving back to Queensland, I rejoiced at covering race meetings at Lakeside (and Surfers Paradise) for RCN and REVS Motorcycle News.
Which brought a new and heightened respect for the track. Lakeside could bite – and badly. At one mid-80s’ Australian Motorcycle Road Racing Championship round, no fewer than 12 riders were shuttled off to hospital.
Then, on gaining a fulltime motoring writing role in 2007, I finally got to drive a car around Lakeside. Make that cars plural, road testing two a week. You could call it a mixed grill, anything and everything from a diminutive Smart fortwo to hulking dual-cab utes.
But among the ho-hum snags, there was the odd tasty fillet: the first Audi R8, Jaguar XKR-S, Lotus Elise S and Exige S, Mitsubishi Evo X and Subaru WRXs and Aussie muscle cars from HSV and FPV.
I even drove the first Tesla to come to Australia, back in 2009. Not able to be road registered, it was transported on a tilt-tray tow truck. On seeing this, a TV news cameraman, there to film the occasion, asked: “What! Has it broken down already?”
Lakeside was also the venue for the occasional new model launch and drive experience. One of the best was a Volkswagen ‘R’ drive day for owners and prospective buyers. You never say no to the chance of punting VW’s sporty range around a race track or skidpan, do you?
Another time, we turned up with Peugeot’s new warm hatch, the 208 GTi, and sitting forlornly in the infield was a badly-damaged Mazda MX-5 NB. Story goes that a guy pranged his mate’s wife’s road car at the weekend. Grounds for divorce?
Our road-testing process basically involved acceleration and braking: standing 400m from which determined 0-100km/h time, roll-on 50-80 and 60-100, braking from 80. But, just like at that earlier-mentioned race meeting practice day, way back in the early-60s, I would sometimes also sneak a few laps of the whole circuit.
A test session at Lakeside was never a bad day at the office.
So, what’s it like to fang around Lakeside?
Back in the 1990s, I had a brief, but eventful, fling with a Superkart.
Just scant centimetres off the ground, a Superkart has a low, low centre of gravity and no up-down suspension travel, making for absolute cornering capability.
Coupled with ultra-light weight, cat-like agility, direct steering, high-performance two-stroke motor, strong brakes, gumball racing rubber and sleek, minimalist bodywork, they stop, go and handle as well as, if not better than, a pukka open-wheeler costing thousands more.
I speak from personal experience having bought a Gladiator-Yamaha (albeit well-used) which qualified fourth-fastest for the 1992 Australian championships round at Lakeside, for a measly $1700. And that included spare bodywork, unused wet tyres, spare wheels, parts and work stand.
When I picked up the whole kit and caboodle, the seller’s father advised with the wisdom of a senior generation, “Don’t drive it with those old tyres on. They’ve had it.”
I nodded, and made a mental note to buy replacements. Of course, despite best intentions, that never happened.
The first drive I had, mid-week at Lakeside Raceway with the track soaked after a downpour was on those same hard, aged slicks. Here’s how it panned out . . .
Pushed away, the diminutive racer splutters into life and trickles from the pits onto the main straight. Running tall gearing to meet the challenge of Lakeside’s high-speed twin straights and serpentine series of all-but-one right-handers calls for some deft slipping of the clutch and throttle blipping to get the rubber donut rears rotating without stalling.
After a sighting lap to warm up tyres (a fail), brakes and engine, it’s quickly down to business, heading flat-strap in top along the straight, hammering through the dog-leg without lifting and arriving full-tilt at the Karussel. Hard on the brakes at the absolute last second, then bang, bang the column-mounted hand-shifter down to 4th in the 6-speed sequential gearbox and power on through this double-apexed right-hander and ascend Fourex Hill.
At the top, upshift to 5th and squirt it into a manic left/right downhill slalom, skipping over a succession of bumps right on race line, engine scream reverberating off the safety fence lining both sides of the track, all the while being oh-so-careful to keep this hyperactive, little bugger ‘on the island’ and not smote that very same Armco to the chorus of a whop bop a lu a whop bam boo.
It’s into top gear just before the overhead Dunlop Bridge, holding pedal to the metal on the run into the aptly-named Hungry Corner, a voracious off-camber which has devoured some of the biggest names in motorsport going back decades. If your set-up is spot-on and appendage big enough, Hungry can be taken flat in 5th.
Then it’s into climbing the constricting Eastern Loop, back a gear and power on, tyres squirming under mild oversteer around the two tight right-handers that make up the Loop and plunge downhill towards a third, more open right-hander leading back on to the main straight, plucking 5th on the way.
It’s crucial here to get the entry right, for a drop-off of even 100 or so rpm will cost precious fractions of a second on the long run in top gear past the start/finish line. Laid back in the unlined, rib-wrapping glass-fibre seat, meaty little steering wheel tingling in my palms as if alive, I’m driving this son-of-a-gun by the seat of my pants.
For something quick enough to zip around Lakeside nearly three seconds under the Formula Vee lap record, some might find it incredulous that its engine is just 80cc. That’s right, no bigger in internal size than a backyard Whipper Snipper!
Key to such pocket rocket performance is the barrel, expertly tricked out by master tuner Gary Treadwell to extract an amazing 20-22kW @ 14,500rpm from the tiny motocross bike-derived buzz-box.
I’m embarrassed to say that my first two race meetings were contested with those dire, old black hoops still on the rims. Despite that, the results weren’t too shabby – in my very first race, I went from last on the grid of about eight or nine to third behind the current and previous Australian champions, inside half a lap.
Then, at a subsequent meeting, flat in 5th exiting Hungry, a loud bang and cloud of steam – the engine had lunched itself. I was shattered but, in effect, that blow-up probably saved me from myself.
The cold, hard realisation was, Superkart racing competitively at State-level stretched beyond my non-existent budget. I sold the kart in ‘as is’ condition to its constructor, eventual multi-times national champion Chryss Jamieson, bought another dirt track kart and retreated to my roots.
It worked out for the better. The considerably cheaper running and travelling costs soothed my hip pocket nerve and, the same year, I co-won the local dirt track series.