Leyburn the real deal — just ask Dick

You can visit Leyburn anytime, 365 days a year. But if motor sport is your bent, then make it the weekend in mid/late August.

That’s when this tiny town 2.5 hours’ drive south-west of Brisbane opens its brawny arms and big heart to some 15,000 townies and bushies alike. 

The occasion is, of course, the annual Historic Leyburn Sprints. 

It was 1996 when the Historic Racing Car Club of Queensland got together with the local community to organise what was intended to be a yearly event, culminating in the 1999 running to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1949 Australian Grand Prix. 

The latter was played out on the bitumen/bonded gravel runways and link roads of the old World War II aerodrome just out of town.

Configured into a roughly-triangular layout comprising three long and one short straights, a trio of 90-degree corners and a sweeping bend, the 4.3-mile (nearly 7km) circuit ran anti-clockwise.

The event drew an astounding crowd of some 30,000 (unofficially), who saw John Crouch in his French-made Delahaye Type 135 take the win after 150 (242km) gruelling miles.

Racing continued at the circuit until 1955. 

When the decision to return to Leyburn was made four decades later, a re-run on the old circuit proved out of the question, what with the surface having decomposed and the land long broken up and fenced into grazing blocks.

Still, a sprint through the town streets seemed like a good idea at the time, and so it proved.

So much so that although the 50th celebration came and went, the Leyburn Sprints live on — 28 years later. 

Popular with competitors and spectators alike, each year is pretty much over-subscribed with an eclectic mix of anything up to 200 entries.

It’s a great place to race, attacking a narrow street course tricked out with chicanes through which you thread the needle in search of that elusive tenth of a second. 

I speak from experience, having fronted up with the second-oldest car at the inaugural sprints, a stripped-down, 1928 Austin 7 very much similar to Peter Brock’s first car which he used to paddock bash around the family property back in his early teens.

No roll bar, no seat belts, no bodywork – just like the Brockmobile! 

With it very much in the condition last raced locally many moons past, the Spider (as it was only known) certainly caused a stir.

We wheezed our way around Leyburn’s block-long streets until it stripped a keyway on the rear axle, something that seemingly troubled only me. 

But I reckon if Brocky had been there, he might well have shared my disappointment.

Then, from 2003-05, I ran my weekend driver, a 1977 Lancia Beta Coupe, in the first year being lucky enough to take third in class behind a Targa-prepped Alfa.

Decanting the vintage past is very much what the Sprints’ spirit is about. 

Bevan Batham and John Devitt, who back in the 1960s used to tow their Repco Centaur GT and Elfin Mallala to Lowood and Lakeside to race, reckon Leyburn is the real deal. 

Such is the pull that they never miss a year, bringing along either their pair of Centaurs (Waggott GT and Clubman), the ‘Mal’ and ex-Glynn Scott Holden Special open-wheeler and setting up camp beside a four-strand, barbed wire fence in a pit paddock that is just that – a paddock. 

There’s plenty to set it apart from just about any other motor sport venue.

Such as?

Well, where else does the dummy grid form up outside the local (and only) pub?

Where else do you get to take home a first/second/third-place trophy made from locally-quarried rock?

And where else would you see Dick Johnson handing over a $10 note to buy a clutch of Freddo frogs in aid of a community fundraiser? 

Where else but Leyburn?

(Keep an eye out for the date of the 2024 Historic Leyburn Sprints on www.leyburnmotorsprints.com).


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  1. Time has flown since Barry Green first wrote this story and now the Historic Leyburn Sprints is gearing up for its 28th annual event and the 75th anniversary of the 1949 Australian Grand Prix, to be staged on 17-18 August 2024. A big celebration is planned, alongside the usual 220 Sprints competitors, Show ‘n’ Shine, Vintage Caravan Show and other attractions. It’s now Queensland’s biggest annual motorsport event after Supercars and the grassroots atmosphere is always fantastic. Follow the news on http://www.historicleyburnsprints.com.au or find the event on Facebook.

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