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. . . puts our North East Victoria and Southern Riverina readers behind the wheel of an eclectic mix of performance and classic cars on some of the world’s greatest roads and racing circuits.

Roll up, roll up, to historic Leyburn

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Story: Barry Green
Photos: Dawn Green | LVMS

AS a 1960s schoolboy, Barry Green spent his hard-earned pocket money on Racing Car News and Sports Car World, monthly enthusiast magazines he would studiously pore over at the expense of any text book. Little wonder then that reading about fast cars and motorsport led to a four decade career (not out) writing about same, initially as freelancer then author and professional writer. His exploits are captured in two recent release books, The Best of Drives 1 and 2, each a first-hand compilation of nearly 80 drives on some of the world’s greatest roads and circuits. This story is but one . . . (Headshot photo - Ernest Litera)

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 when this tiny town 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 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 rerun 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, 27 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 like 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!


Fronting with it very much in the condition it 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 2003-2005, 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 openwheeler 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?


(The 2023 Historic Leyburn Sprints will be on August 20-21 at the town of Leyburn, 72km south-west of Toowoomba, Queensland.

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