History back on track with MG Special
THERE'S a very special car among the 200 or so taking to the track at Leyburn Sprints this year - a John Nind 1939 MG TB Special which raced in Australia's first ever Grand Prix back in 1949.
The Sprints commemorate the running of that GP on a disused wartime airstrip at Leyburn, so Cambooya owner Col Schiller reckons it's only fitting the Special gets to stretch its legs there again on August 19-20.
He's hoping for a bit better luck this time around though, because the car didn't make it to the finish line back in 1949, retiring with a broken conrod after 20 laps.
"The car hasn't been back since 1949, so it will be good to give it a run," said Col, who only bought it about six months ago and has raced it with youngest daughter Belinda at the Mount Cotton Hill Climb and Queensland Raceway.
In its heyday it raced in five Australian Grand Prix - including Lobethal in South Australia and Albert Park in Melbourne - scoring two seconds, an eighth and two DNFs.
That was well before Col's day, but at 54 he is no newcomer to either racing or vintage cars, previously running a supercharged 1933 MG J2.
But he said he's not expecting anything too much at Leyburn, which he hasn't driven before.
"We're still learning about the car - it has more power than our ability," Col said.
But he's not worried, despite what he admits is a pretty basic level of safety - a five point harness and a small roll bar.
"The brakes aren't that exciting, and there's not the suspension or grip of modern cars. The tyres are skinny and quite tall, so it's quite easy to spin.
"As you go into the corners, that's the most exhilarating point, because you know you have a car with weaknesses and you don't want it to spin out. You have to learn to drive with the tail out about 20 degrees."
The Sprints are a timed event, but Col said you have to be careful as you power down the straight that you don't push the car beyond a self-imposed rev limit (in this case about 6500 revs) or you could find yourself on the sidelines with a blown engine.
Col's love of vintage cars was sparked by accident - literally.
When he wrote off his car as a young man in the 1980s, his grandfather gave him his old Morris Major to drive. He didn't know what he was starting.
Col now has a total of 47 Morris and MG vehicles from 1914-39, the great majority in working order.
It's this sort of enthusiasm which Sprints president Tricia Chant said brings about 15,000 spectators to the Leyburn Sprints each year. That's a huge influx for a town of about 400 residents.
Competitors and spectators travel the country to attend, with a growing number of Grey Nomads including the stop on their travels.
"A lot of people say this is their Bathurst," Tricia said.
"It's not just the racing that's the attraction but the overall experience."
That includes markets, a show and shine, vintage caravans and live entertainment at the pub.
"People also love the fact that they can get right up close to the cars and drivers.
"They may be no Dick Johnson, but people love to talk to the drivers about the cars and their background."
This is Tricia's first year as president, but it's in her blood, with her mum and dad starting the event back in 1986. Mum Ann Collins was president until last year and dad Mike is still race director.
Tickets are available at the gate, with competition from 8am-5pm Saturday and to about 3pm Sunday. Adults are $20 per day or $30 for the weekend.
For more details, go to www.leyburnmotorsprints.com.au.