IN THE BEGINNING . . .
BY DENNIS NEWLYN
November 22, 1969: The day the gates opened for the first time at Lismore Showground Speedway – a landmark occasion in Australian oval track racing history.
The honour roll of Australian Speedway Champions that year featured Blair Shepherd (Speedcars), Jim Winterbottom (Super Modifieds), Jim Airey (Solos) and Graham Young (Sidecars).
This is the way we were way back then and Lismore was set to take a giant leap into the sporting/entertainment industry with the introduction of oval track speedway racing at the Lismore Showground.
The year 1969 rates right up there as one of the most significant in world history – and multiply that a whole lot more the impact the year made in the annals of Australian speedway when the Lismore Showground came of age as a race track.
The only other kind of racing held on the main arena circuit was trotting events conducted years earlier.
But even before 1969 speedway racing had been tried at the Lismore Showground, but the significance of November 22, 1969 was that, unlike in previous decades, speedway this time was here to stay going into the future.
On opening night, these were the expectations and anticipations which in 2018 have been more than fulfilled. Not only is it 50 consecutive seasons in 2018 heralding the Golden Jubilee anniversary, but it's the incredible list of Australian Champions who have been come through the ranks at the Northern Rivers venue.
So many drivers became nationally known names in Australian speedway. The Lismore Roll of Honour is as long as it is impressive.
Too many titleholders to single out as the stand alone all-time best above the others. But if one name typifies what the past 50 years of Lismore Speedway means, it's the late, great Grenville Anderson.
A man who was truly special, truly unique, truly a one-off mould who drove into history as the only man (at this writing) who has won FOUR AUSTRALIAN OPEN (SUPER SEDAN) CHAMPIONSHIPS.
There's every chance his record will not be broken soon – if ever!
It's not only the Australian titleholders who take pride of place, Lismore also has the honour of being the first track that sanctioned the AMCA division after Victorian founder Dale Matthews introduced the category to Australian speedway in the mid-90s.
Lismore did some unique promotions, too, that even could be deemed slightly out of left field, no more fitting than a baseball game held before the speedway meeting on January 1, 1972.
The track also held a charity cricket match in November, 1994. The Lismore team comprised current and former drivers and when it came to special charity events, what about the involvement of singer “Angry” Anderson with Ched Townes in the Blind Celebrity event largely orchestrated by promoter Warren King and announcer Bruce Maxwell? What a night that was!
Who can also remember the sedan teams match races between Maher's Manglers and Pezzutti’s Pushers? Probably not the most imaginative name tags, but it didn't matter.
It captivated the big crowd, that's what really mattered!
What about in 1984 when the 75-lap East Coast GN paid $3000 to win as a headline grabber in the local media and the Hot Rod Final had a purse of $56 to the winner?
Let's also not leave out some of the yesteryear announcers who brought their own flare and personality to the microphone. Men like Nev McMahon, George Jensen, Peter Crawford and Charlie Johnson who were the pioneers before in later years Howard Atkinson, Bruce Maxwell Frank Inmon and current day caller Neil Marks. (See story). In their own, unique way they all added to the colour of the show!
Then there was the Northern and Big Rivers Speedway Action Pictorial – a fine publication for its time that served the sport well in the region.
This was in the promotional era of Dutton Stibbard and Neil Mansell at Lismore Speedway and was published by Raymond Rowe Publications,(with Raymond George Rowe) as the proprietor.
It was printed by Coastline Publications Pty Ltd at Bundall Road, Surfers Paradise.
The newspaper was primarily a joint effort by the Stibbard and Rowe families backed up by Lismore Photographics through David Rayner and Walter Home.
Those responsible for the editorial content were Dutton Stibbard, Alma Bailey, Raymond Rowe, Des Peters and George Jensen.
Marie Stibbard handled the job of compiling race results and the pages were put together through layouts by Deidre Rowe.
These are the reasons why Castrol Edge Lismore Speedway today means so much to so many people. Special events, special moments, special times, special things and a very special place in the lives of many people in the region.
Yes, there was speedway racing before 1969, but it was with a very primitive fence and Showground speedway facilities were nothing like today.
Back in the 50s speedway racing, featuring bikes and speedcars, disappeared as quickly as it came to the Lismore Showground and it was not until the end of the 60s that speedway returned permanently. This is truly Lismore Speedway's legitimate claim to fame as, without doubt, one of the most successful and, in this current day and age, one of the longest running tracks in Australia.
When we talk Lismore Speedway the conversation revolves around cars – drivers rather than bike riders. But bikes – and some of the best competitors in the world – appeared at the Lismore Showground, headlined with America's 1981 and '82 World Speedway Champion Bruce Penhall who raced at Lismore in the 1979-80 season.
The late great legend out of New Zealand, six times World Individual Speedway Champion Ivan Mauger brought his travelling troupe of world stars to Lismore.
It was truly an international line-up comprising Roman Povazhny (Russia), Sergie Darkin (Russia), Ales Dryml Junior (Czech Republic), Lukas Dryml (Czech Republic), Aleksandr Lyatosinsky (Ukraine) and Oliver Allen (England). The 2000 series also attracted the interest of Keis Royn Haia (Norway) who raced the long track series in Australia three years earlier and David Hull (England). Ales Dryml Junior won the Lismore round of the Ivan Mauger series, while the ultimate winner of the 1999-2000 season tournament was Krzysztof Cegielski (Poland). His story is one of tragedy as a few years later he was sadly paralysed in a Polish track crash.
Sidecars also have raced at Lismore Speedway so it's not just car racing that takes its place in history as bikes are a further example why the history of this Lismore venue is so diversified and so significant. The race followers have been entertained by world rated stars, be it two, three or four wheels.
But when it comes to overseas competitors, the Americans stand alone.
There have been so many fabulous Yank names going right back almost to day one.
Current promoter David Lander has maintained the tradition, particularly through the promotion of the World Midget Championship rounds with the likes of super stars Chris Bell, Zach Daum, Darren Hagen, Rico Abreu, and, of course, we cannot forget the late Bryan Clauson who was killed in America during the final laps of the 2016 Belleville Midget Nationals.
He left a lasting impression not only in his home country and especially with the United States Auto Club (USAC) but also here in Lismore after his complete dominance of the 2015 World Midget Championship rounds.
It's also sedan racing here that has tracked some great Americans.
So many folk who have been either quoted in this publication or who have written articles, immediately relate to the Yanks and the sedan tests against an Australian team comprising the Lismore icons, such as Max Maher, Neville Pezzutti and in later years Grenville Anderson, John Leslight and Paul O'Neill to name but a few.
Americans such as Charlie Swartz, Ed Wilbur, Jack Hewitt, Scott Bloomquist, Johnny Pearson, Gene Welch, John Soares and Steve Frances were headliners and showmen.
All were charismatic characters, colourful, chauvinistic.
All boasted to the fans the virtues and superior driving talents of the American team over the locals, which was a box office bonanza. It provided some of the greatest entertainment on and off the track as well as truly memorable moments – and the biggest crowds – in Lismore Speedway history.
The Yanks also have left an indelible mark in Lismore V8 Dirt Modified racing.
Kenny Brightbill, 'barefoot' Bob McCreadie, Tim Fuller, Jimmy Phelps and Gary Tomkins stand tall as the fabulous five who brought not only terrific racing entertainment to the circular Lismore track, but also made a lasting impression in the further development of the local V8 Dirt Modified racing product with improved racecar technology.
Sydney car owner and driver Paul Rowlands also played a role as both Brightbill and Fuller drove his cars. With the presence of the Americans, V8 Dirt Modified racing in the Northern Rivers region came of age and is a legacy of what we have today.
It is a half century in 'real time' but the progress the sport has made here is better measured in light years.
It's doubtful if anyone could see way back on November 22, 1969 on that memorable Lismore night, where the sport in the Northern Rivers area would be in 2018. I guess there were even some doubters if asked the question during the opening meeting if fifty continuous years of speedway racing could be achieved at the Showground.
But it has been accomplished – we did it, and we're still going strong!
At this rate, speedway in this town may well be operating in another 50 years. What type of race equipment we'd see in 2068 is just too much to even comprehend or speculate right now!
That's just looking much too far ahead.
Instead, let's just savour the moment we have in 2018 and feel so proud of Castrol Edge Lismore Speedway and what the venue HAS achieved in 50 years.
November 22, 1969 dawned overcast and there actually was the threat of rain. After so much build up, the first real lesson of promoting speedway – and the school of hard knocks that goes with it – may well have been learned the hard way, but fortunately the celebrated night went ahead.
The Northern Star newspaper, November 22, 1969 edition carried as one of its lead stories the opening of Lismore Speedway.
The article in part stated:
“Speedway racing commences at Lismore tonight with a star-studded field of Queensland drivers.
“Thirty Queensland cars and drivers are coming to Lismore for the opening of speedway racing at Lismore Showground.
“The official opening will be performed by the Member for Lismore Mr R.B. Duncan, MLA.
“One of the Queensland stars will be former Lismore driver John Shipway.
“Shipway has emerged as one of the best Junior Speedcar drivers in Queensland.
“Shipway is just breaking into Saloon car racing but experts predict a big future for him.”
Promoter Dutton Stibbard also was quoted in the story as saying the Lismore circuit will be a fast track and quicker lap times than Queensland's Kingaroy are expected.
“I think Lismore will prove faster than Kingaroy and we would see some excellent times,” he said.
The Northern Star coverage of opening night also stated:
“Local drivers will be having their first run on the circuit and some may be a little 'green'
“However, local interest could settle on Lismore driver Max Maher and Casino driver Barry Arentz.
“Maher will enter three cars tonight, his main chances possibly lying with his Zephyr.
“Maher 'saved' the car from a wrecking yard and has completely rebuilt the engine.
“He spent $140 alone on the head.
“Earlier this week Maher made an exhibition run for RTN Channel 8 and had trouble with the car boiling.
“Provided he has overcome this problem, the Zephyr could provide some of the Queensland cars with a big shock.
“Several women have entered the women's feature race and more are expected to nominate tonight.
“Officials from Toowoomba Speedway will fly to Lismore tonight after an afternoon meeting of their own.
“They will conduct the Lismore meeting and also start coaching Lismore Automobile Club members.
“Ace Queensland caller Neville McMahon will call the action.”
These were exciting times as speedway drew closer to becoming a reality in Lismore.
A few days before opening night, the Northern Star newspaper reported “The green light is virtually on for speedway racing to commence in Lismore.
“The opening meeting has been set down for next Saturday night.
“Several minor faults were detected by Police in the safety fence and these were rectified yesterday.
“Police inspected the track again last night.
“Promoters, Messrs Dutton Stibbard and Neil Mansell have been virtually 'run off their feet' in the past few days completing details.
“Now they are hoping the licence for the track comes through in time and the wet weather holds off.”
The article also provided a clear example of the intensity – and desire – to get speedway started at the Lismore Showground and to overcome any potential obstacles in securing the licence.
“If any delay occurs in Sydney with issue of the licence, show society president Mr Spencer Spinaze will fly there.
“The introduction of speedway racing to Lismore is an example of enthusiasm and co-operation.
“The morning after this year's North Coast National Exhibition finished, volunteer workers from the Lismore Automobile Club and the show society started pulling down down the old fence to make way for the new one.
“Since then workers have been at the track day and night and at weekends.
“They have erected a new safety fence by voluntary labour as well as carrying out other improvements.”
The story then goes on to explain how Dutton has been inundated with interest from Queensland drivers and how he described the “co-operation and help by local people as 'fantastic'”.
The official opening was conducted by Mr RB Duncan MLA, on behalf of Minister for Lands, Mr T Lewis. Introduction Speaker was Mr Spencer Spinaze, President A and I society.
The track officials on opening night were:
- Organisers and Clerks of the Course: Dutton Stibbard and Neil Mansell
- Chief Steward: Don Ford
- Assistant Steward: Charlie Austin
- Machinery Examiner: Doug Little
- Assistant Examiner: Morrie Carterer from Grevillia
- Pit Marshall: Val Grams
- Assistant: Richard Mott
- Chief Lap Caller: Bill Little
- Penciller: Judy Bishop
- Pits, P.A. and Gates: Dough Little and Barry Granatelli
- Light Operators, Flag Marshalls and Pit Stewards: Toowoomba and Lismore Club Members.
- Announcer: Nev McMahon
- P.A. Installations by Arthur Baines
The first Photographer at the Lismore track was Ken Sackley.
Initially the Race Divisions were A Grade, B Grade and C Grade. Grades were allocated by driver ability, when drivers had won a specific number of races they moved up to the next Grade.
It's also interesting to note the very first ladies race was on this night, with three ladies competing: Yvonne Austin, Marie Maher and Elet Worling.
Dutton Stibbard was the front man and largely recognised as THE first promoter of the venue. However, Neil Mansell and Dutton Stibbard, were the initial partners in the business before Dutton later promoted without Neil involved.
Neil, who had a trucking business in Toowoomba, moved back to concentrate on his trucks.
Dutton Stibbard was a promoter up until the late seventies.
Stibbard exited the Lismore scene around the 1976-77 era and next man in the chair was Peter Croke. After several years as promoter, then came the consortium of Col Bennett, Kevin Dalton, George Knott, Lou Usher, Bert Usher. Knott later relinquished his share of the operation. Around the mid 80s period the track was under the group promotional control of Steve Robinson, Nev Pezzutti, Lou Usher, Bert Usher. The latter (Bert Usher) later sold his share to the others. It was in this time of Lismore history Larry Nelson then held down the role of promoter as next in line.
In later years it was Warren King who took over the mantle before Greg Coombes promoted for a number of seasons. The 2007-2008 season marked the entry of current promoter David Lander.
So here's to 50 golden years of Castrol Edge Lismore Speedway. It's been a wonderful ride!