FROM RAAF TO RACE: MALLALA’S CHEQUERED HISTORY

The scene at Mallala's Turn 1 in 1965. Pic: Supplied

MALLALA Motorsport Park reaches its 60th anniversary in 2021 as South Australia’s oldest active motorsport circuit.

Not unlike classic English circuits such as Silverstone and Goodwood, Mallala began its life as a Royal Australian Air Force base in 1939.

Once operational in 1941, the Mallala RAAF base was home to a flight school that trained up over 2000 pilots during World War II.

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The facility was decommissioned by the RAAF in 1960, but it didn’t lay idle for long.

An aerial view of the Mallala RAAF base at the peak of its operations. Pic: Supplied / Mallala Motor Sport Park

A group of South Australian racers purchased it from the air force in 1961 and laid out a 3.38-kilometre course that utilised many of the existing paved areas, aircraft taxiways and access roads.

Mallala’s second race meeting was the 1961 Australian Grand Prix won by Lex Davison, while Bob Jane claimed the 1963 Australian Touring Car Championship at the circuit.

Greg McEwin on the startline in his Mini at Mallala in 1966. Pic: Supplied / John Lemm

Shortened to the now-familiar 2.6 kilometre layout in 1964, the circuit continued to host top-line motorsport until 1971 when it was purchased by Keith Williams.

The renowned promoter and developer imposed a court-ordered end to racing at Mallala in favour of his new Adelaide International Raceway circuit.

Brian Foley heads Jim McKeown during the 1971 ATCC round at Mallala, the championship’s last visit to the venue for 18 years. Pic: Supplied / John Lemm

It was used only for car testing purposes by Chrysler and Elfin in the years that followed, until racer and businessman Clem Smith purchased the circuit in 1977.

“The story was they sold it to a farmer and he had it up for sale in ’76,” Smith told Australian Muscle Car Magazine in 2014.

“A very good friend of mine, the late Reg Sparks, suggested we get it going again: people didn’t like AIR very much because it wasn’t a very interesting track; they liked the sharp, hard corners of Mallala as more of a driver’s track.

“It started off very different to what it is today: anything good from Mallala (had been) taken down to AIR (but) they didn’t rip the track up or anything like that.”

However, it took Smith until 1982 to cut through the legal red tape surrounding the block on racing at the facility before Mallala could begin hosting motorsport once more.

Craig Lowndes mathematically secured his first ATCC title at Mallala in 1996. Pics: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

The venue hosted the Australian Touring Car Championship once again from 1989 to 1998, plus a brief coda in 2002 when Mallala hosted a V8 Supercars pre-qualifying session for that year’s Clipsal 500 Adelaide.

The Australian Super Touring Championship also made an annual stop at the South Australian circuit, while GT-P, Nations Cup, the Power Tour and Truck Racing also regularly visited the venue.

Although the ‘main game’ moved on to the Adelaide 500 for 1999, Mallala continued to host V8’s second-tier series – now known as the Super2 Series – and Australian Drivers’ Championship rounds, while the circuit was a staple of the Shannons Nationals series throughout the 2010s.

The circuit was purchased by the Peregrine Corporation following Smith’s passing in 2017, and Mallala continues to host state-level circuit racing as well as hosting drifting, track days and driver training.