Progress in saving Wakefield Park
The regional NSW Wakefield Park race circuit closed in September 2022, but there is now a new owner, who plans to re-invigorate the site.
Let’s start with some history. Wakefield Park circuit was the brainchild of veteran racer Paul Samuels and fellow historic racer John Carter, who spotted the need for a small circuit to cater for historic events and club racing in the mid 1990s.
With it looking inevitable that both Amaroo Park and Oran Park would close in future years, the pair thought there would be a gap in the market for another circuit, beside Eastern Creek and Bathurst.
After more than a year’s searching and with the assistance of Goulburn Council and the local MP – then State Premier, John Fahey – land was finally found 10km south of Goulburn, where permission to develop the circuit was granted.
It was initially granted approval to be used on a limited number of days per year, for historic and club racing.
In mid-October 1993 construction began and completion of the course and associated facilities happened less than eight months later. An informal shake-down meeting was held in May 1994, ahead of an official opening by Premier John Fahey, along with Sir Jack Brabham, in November of that year.
Jim Gibson was lucky enough to have known Paul Samuels well. He recons Paul was a gentleman, a member of the Historic Sports Racing Car Association (HSRCA) and a keen participant in historic racing.
“Wakefield Park was the home circuit for our small family race team (Gibson Racing) with a Formula Vee open-wheel racing car, said Jim Gibson. “We raced nationally.
“However, apart from when we participated in club racing events, Paul would let us test the car and run-in the engine whenever the circuit was available to do so.”
In 2000, the circuit changed hands, when Rob Hodkinson and Paul Phillips took ownership and Garry Wilmington was appointed manager. The new owners made several adjustments to the circuit, including re-profiling the Fish-Hook – a very tight corner for larger V8 Supercars – and the final corner, to improve the driving experience.
The following year, Wakefield Park’s status was elevated above merely club-level motorsport, thanks to two major events taking place at the venue. The first of those was the V8 Supercars Development Series.
There was continual investment in the circuit infrastructure, including the addition of permanent garages catering for up to 70 vehicles, alongside the existing car ports. Following the Sydney Olympics, Wakefield Park acquired some of the cabins used to house competing athletes and these were erected overlooking the final turn. They were available for hire and as an unusual way to see the action in complete comfort.
When Paul and John originally applied for authority to use the circuit for racing cars, it was stated that it would be used for historic racing and for car club events, for a limited number of days per year.
However, when the new owners purchased it in 2000, they apparently didn’t upgrade the authority for the number of days of use, or the type of racing that would be run concurrently with the original stated purpose.
This expansion of use would appear to be part of the cause of its closure, together with complaints of excessive noise pollution to the Goulburn Malware Council from city dwellers who purchased small land holdings in the area, expecting to live in a quiet country environment.
In 2007, the circuit was purchased by the Benalla Auto Club and continued to thrive as a facility focused on competitor satisfaction.
However, after the Land and Environment Court ruling that the circuit could not operate for more than four days a month, the Benalla Auto Club came to the conclusion that continued operation under the current conditions was simply not commercially feasible. The Club made the difficult decision to cease all activity at Wakefield Park Raceway from 1st September 2022, until further notice.
in the meantime, the Save Wakefield Park E-petition initiative collected 28,950 signatures and Wass presented to the NSW Government. Prior to the NSW election in March, both major parties promised to act.
Rebirth in 2023
Steve Shelley, who already owns the Pheasant Wood Circuit in Marulan, purchased Wakefield Park Raceway from the Benalla Auto Club in March 2023.
Mr Shelley told a specially convened meeting of the Goulburn Chamber of Commerce that he plans to lodge a development application in the near future.
Wakefield Park is currently 2.2 kilometres long and his plan is to extend it by 1.1 kilometres. He also plans drainage and noise abatement work, using earth barriers, out of respect for nearby residents.
Prposed additions include a new commercial centre for motor industry partners to have retail outlets, in addition to a restaurant.
Newly elected NSW Premier Chris Minns previously committed $1 million towards reopening the track, contributing to noise mitigation work.
Liberal Member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman, who retained her seat in the election, said that the issues around Wakefield Park Raceway were complex and required a long-term fix.
“By working together with the new owner, our community and stakeholders, we have the best chance to shape a Wakefield Park Raceway that creates new jobs and boosts the Goulburn economy.”
Let’s hope so, because the attrition in motor racing facilities in NSW is now almost total, with the only other remaining venue near Sydney now being Eastern Creek. Given the stupid suburban sprawl west of Sydney, we wonder how long Eastern Creek can survive the noise nazis.