WHEN ORAN PARK RACED IN THE WRONG DIRECTION!

Mark Skaife leads a field of Ford Lasers in a race in the reverse direction at Oran Park in 1986.

NO, the above pic isn’t Photoshopped. Those cars really are racing around Oran Park in the wrong direction!

The much-missed Sydney venue ran for 48 years near Narellan in Sydney’s south west, starting out with a one-mile (1.61-kilometre) layout in 1962 that later became known as the South Circuit once the Grand Prix Circuit extension – containing the circuit’s signature overpass – was completed in 1974.

The creativity of promoters like Allan Horsley and Jim Ferguson resulted in a lot of innovative ideas for race meetings to draw punters through the gates – for example, Oran Park hosted twilight and night racing at various times during the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties.

Another of Ferguson’s brainwaves were running meetings on the South Circuit in reverse direction.

Surprisingly little physical work was needed to allow the circuit to run in reverse – three flag points were modified to increase safety for marshals, while the pit entry (which was usually the pit exit) had to be adjusted as well – with the bulk of the work coming on the planning and political fronts to gain a circuit licence from CAMS.

“What I was endeavouring to achieve was to provide a different racing circuit for competitors and entertainment for the spectators,” Ferguson told Australian Muscle Car Magazine.

“The majority of spectators would sit on the grass around (the final) corner, and the thought of watching cars coming at you, weaving under brakes … appealed to my challenge of trying to do things differently.”

The first reverse races were held at Oran Park’s June 8 meeting in 1986, although two different layouts were used depending on the category: Sports Sedans, production cars, Clubmans, Appendix J touring cars and runners from Queensland’s Gemini Series ran the South Circuit in reverse, while the Formula 2 and Formula Ford open wheelers ran the Grand Prix circuit in the normal direction!

Brad Jones leads the production car field towards Suttons, having just passed over the Dog Leg. Pic: autopics.com.au

Notable names from that inaugural meeting were future Supercars champion Mark Skaife – who won the two Ford Laser Series races – and his future touring car sparring partner Brad Jones, who lost the production car feature race when his Mitsubishi Starion’s turbo pipe blew off with 400 metres left to run of the final lap, the late drama handing Leo Geoghegan the win in a race that also featured cricketer Tony Greig in one of his early circuit races.

The very first winner of a reverse direction race – a five-lap Sports Sedan preliminary – was Steve Reed, soon to become a popular touring car privateer with teammate Trevor Ashby and their Lansvale Smash Repairs outfit.

“The reverse direction really was a bit of a buzz,” he told V8 Sleuth.

“Coming up the straight (the reverse way), if you got it wrong you had a concrete wall in front of you.

“That part was maybe a little bit daunting, but apart from that, coming down through that right hander then up the hill and up over the Dog Leg backwards with very little vision as to what was on the other side, it was quite good.

“It was like going to a new circuit … I actually preferred to race it that way than the (normal) way in some respects! It was really, really good.”

Mike Griffin leads Bill Attard and Steve Reed down pit straight early in Oran Park’s first race in the reverse direction. Pic: autopics.com.au

Ferguson had planned another reverse-direction meeting for the end of August, one that was supposed to feature two 25-lap races for Group A touring cars, but a lack of entries saw it canned.

The next and, as far as we could find, last reverse direction race was held at Oran Park’s final meeting of 1986, a twilight meeting on November 8 that was headlined by the Pepsi 250 touring car endurance race – although that race was held on the Grand Prix Circuit in the traditional direction of travel!

In fact, the bulk of the program consisted of races in Oran Park’s usual anti-clockwise direction, with the sole clockwise race being the finale of the Motorcraft Laser Series of Queensland and Victoria won by Todd Wanless from Richard Gartner and Skaife.

Will Dale is V8 Sleuth's Head of Content - Digital. He began his media career as a breakfast radio newsreader before joining SPEED TV Australia and FOX SPORTS Australia in 2012 as its Digital Editorial Lead - Motorsport, covering all forms of motorsport both in Australia and internationally. He became part of the V8 Sleuth team in 2018.