I used to be a speedway tragic. I grew up getting taken to Claremont Speedway every few Friday nights and as soon as I could drive I was taking myself to the speedway every Friday night either by myself or with friends.
You’ve probably all heard the stories about how much better Claremont was than the Motorplex, etc and I fell into that category for many years, I went once after it moved, it didn’t have the same vibe, the familiar faces weren’t there and as much as I loved the speedway, I just felt out of place there.
Fast forward nearly 20 years later and after moving 20 minutes away from the Motorplex and having cracked the drag racing side of things and getting accreditation, I decided it was time to check out the Motorplex’s speedway track once more. Thousands of people who attend every Friday night must have found something there.
I changed places around the venue a few times during the night to get a bit of a feel for it all. I visited the pits, bumping into the wonderfully wholesome Laura Byrnes who is one of the maniacs behind the wheel of the Late Model Sedans. We had a chat, I wished her well, and off I went to wander some more.
The pit area was so much more polished than Claremont ever was. Cleanly laid out, spacious, far from the often dusty and muddy pits of before.
Some familiar sights, faces and voices were heard, Con Migro (Happy Birthday!) and Karl Langdon’s voices still ringing out. I was still waiting to hear Con’s old catch cry of “Friday Night is Speedway Night”, but of course we were there on a Saturday.
The John Day utes were out doing the rounds, push-starting cars, pushing cars off the track, being generally badass at the back of the pack. However, the “General” passed away in 2016 aged 78. His wife Janet however has taken his place keeping the Day name well and truly alive and well in Speedway.
Gone are the up-close standing positions right next to the barriers in the corners, replaced with seating areas or big signage boards where no spectators are able to sit. All placed to stop incidents such as the unfortunate incident of 1995 where 6-year-old spectator Troy English was killed by debris.
But as the night went on, small snippets of reminders of just how fantastic speedway is came back to mind. Things like watching the kids running up and down the fence line cheering for cars, getting covered in mud pellets flicked off the track and still having huge grins on their faces.
The passionate supporters of their local heroes. Familiar names still either racing themselves, or their family name still racing through sons, daughters, etc.
Kendrick, Priolo, Maiolo, Migro and Krikke were all there in some shape or form.
The thrills and spills were still there, just a little farther away but still able to bring in the gasps as a car rode up the fence wall and flipped over or as two cars battling came together.
The mud pellets were still there, but the heavy dust clouds were not.
Formula 500s, Wingless Sprint Cars, Speedcars, Late Models and the might Sprintcars were all there too.
And as the sprintcars lined up four abreast to salute the crowd with the orange utes at the rear lights flashing and the lead ute popped its fireworks, I was already planning my return visit to the Speedway at the Motorplex with one final word to myself.
“That’ll do grumpy. That’ll do.”