Forty years ago a bunch of go-fast car fanatics cut a hole in the forest near Moruya on Australia's southeast coast and started speedway racing. Through the '50s, '60s, and '70s many small towns had their own speedway. On any Sunday, the local motor heads could be found testing or racing their latest speed car on the local track, while their kids played on makeshift rope swings and ate homemade hot dogs. Years later, many of the originals (some now in their 70s) still spend their weekends racing on the network of bush speedway tracks that have somehow survived the insurance, environmental, and other corporate pressures that have caused the closure of most Australian drag strips in recent years. This may be because the corporate world is traveling too fast to notice the hand-painted roadside signs that say "Speedway this Sunday".
It was such a sign that brought me to Moruya's Surfair Speedway. After driving down a one-lane winding forest track, I came upon a clearing full of families, cars, trailers, and the unmuffled sound of screaming race motors. I paid the $5 entry fee and bought a homemade hot dog, and the locals made me welcome. The spirit of Aussie speedway lives on in guys like Chief Steward Arthur Flower, who explained that racing often stops when a kangaroo or a red belly black snake finds its way out of the surrounding forest and onto the track.
On the afternoon I was there, Surfair competitors contested 66 events on the half-mile oval speedway. There are three groups of classic speedway cars. Midgets are powered by 500cc motorcycle engines; Vintage Speed cars are powered by 3L, four-cylinder purpose-built race motors; and Super-Modifieds are powered by small-blocks. The racing is tight, tactical, and over in just six or seven nail-biting laps. To me, the vintage speed cars like Gordon Berry's 3L Sesco Chevrolet (which came from Milwaukee in the '60s) have the right mix of color, speed, and classic engineering. It is powered by the right bank of a 327 Chevy running through a direct drive to a quick-change differential that allows the 60-something Gordon to select the right ratio for each of the many tracks he tows his car to on most Sundays.
Fortunately, Gordon, Arthur, and their vintage mates aren't the last of the speedway breed. A full program of modified sedans driven by young men and women takes up most of the afternoon. Local mechanic Steve Rawlings drives a GM-built Holden Torana in the Modified class. Steve says dirt speedway racing is about the only affordable form of motor racing left. The car has a rollcage, a 200ci six, and a fresh coat of blue house paint for every meet-Aussie speedway is full body contact. In this class, it's quite common to see a small-block Chevy shoehorned into a Datsun or Toyota, mainly because the rules are pretty straightforward-it must have four wheels, doors, and a rollcage, and the racing starts at 10 a.m.