A bunch of motor racing enthusiasts from around Australia will be dragging their vintage racing cars out on a dusty bush track 30km from Kalgoorlie in the Eastern Goldfields of Western Australia next weekend.
Their destination will be a rock-hard claypan called Lake Perkolilli which is the oldest original motor race track in Australia and one of the oldest in the world.
Most people have never heard of the place. Just like the Goldfields ghost towns such as Kanowna nearby, the World has passed Perkolilli by.
They will unload their vintage race cars (nothing newer than 1940 is eligible to compete) and they will get them covered in fine red dust as they recreate the races held between 1914 and 1939.
It will take them months to get them clean afterwards but they don’t care. They aren’t precious about their paint work or the polished brass or nickel. These are old bangers which are used the way they were intended.
The Lake Perkolilli Centenary of Speed 1914~2014 will celebrate the spirit of the 35 motor racing carnivals which were held on the claypan. There will be 25 vintage race cars and over 30 pre-World War 2 motorcycles, plus a group of enthusiastic bicyclists. Six aircraft will fly in to the event.
Many of the competitors will be camping in the bush fringing the claypan just like the good old days when the mechanics and the drivers would set up pit areas for a week before the big day. Driving or riding during the day, and telling lies around the campfire at night will be the go, just like it was in the halcyon days of claypan racing.
In a few hours, the cars will look like they have been driven cross-country for a week. The dust will seep into everything. Caking onto the sweat around the goggles of the drivers.
The cars aren’t exactly European exotica. There is American iron: Ford Model Ts from 1915, Ford flathead V8s; Dodges, Buicks, Chryslers from the 1920s. There are also some English cars such as Austin Sevens, MGs and a classy Lagonda Rapier from 1935.
Event organiser, or as he likes to call himself “Event Dreamer”, Graeme Cocks said that the event came from an idea that the centenary of Perko shouldn’t pass without someone throwing up some dust.
“We couldn’t let the centenary go by and then think in a few years time that we should have done something about it. Most people have never heard of the place but that doesn’t mean it should be forgotten. This is Aussie motorsport history,” he said.
Graeme Cocks is also producing a centenary history book of Lake Perkolilli: the result of two decades of research.
There will be no million dollar prizes, no champagne corks flying nor any world championship points on offer. Three old trophies, two from long forgotten horse races, have been re-engraved for the occasion. They will be awarded to the person who most exemplifies the spirit of Lake Perkolilli and to two other people for, well, no other reason than just because the organisers think they’ll probably deserve them.
But all the dust will be worth it for the exhilaration of driving on what was described in the 1920s as the finest natural surface race track in the World. It is a wonder of nature that the two mile circuit is so smooth and flat, and regenerates its surface after every shower of rain.
The event is a tribute to the early years when drivers went flat out on the claypan at speeds which seem modest today but were a sensation back in the 1920s and 1930s. The first time a motorcycle was ridden at 100mph in WA was at Lake Perkolilli and there are many other Australasian records which were set on the claypan.
Racing was waning at the Lake before World War 2 when racing was brought to the people in Perth and country towns, rather than the people having to go 600km from the coast to Lake Perkolilli. Racing never returned to Lake Perkolilli after the War and it was slowly forgotten, becoming the stuff of legend.
The locals knew where the claypan race circuit was and it got used occasionally but nature slowly took over the circuit once again. In more recent years, interest in the history of Lake Perkolilli has increased as old racing cars have been restored or replicas of the more famous cars of the more famous cars. At least three cars have been restored especially to be run at the Lake Perkolilli celebrations including one coming from Darwin.
The Lake Perkolilli Centenary of Speed will be the first time in five years that old racing cars have been to the claypan and it will be the biggest motorsport meeting for 75 years.
It is being conducted with the support of the Vintage Sports Car Club of WA, the Vintage Motorcycle Club of WA, the Eastern Goldfields Cycle Club and a range of community groups.
Western Australia’s favorite motorsport son, Daniel Ricciardo, has written an introduction to the Centenary Programme wishing all the drivers good luck. He’ll be on his way from Russia to the new US Grand Prix but he hasn’t forgotten his early experiences in the West and keeps in touch with the local scene.
The Lake Perkolilli Centenary of Speed will be conducted from 16 to 19 October 2014 at Lake Perkolilli near Kalgoorlie. On Saturday evening, a reenactment of the first world 24 hour speed record will be conducted by Peter Briggs driving a 15 Litre Napier land speed record car.
On Thursday 16 October and Friday 17 October drivers and riders will be practising on the claypan. On Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 October, there will be a full program of reenactment events.
Come and have a look. Spectators are welcome and there is no charge for entry. For more info take a peek at www.motoringpast.com.au.
Lake Perkolilli Centenary of Speed
For more information, contact Graeme Cocks 0438 980 859 or email [email protected] He’ll be at the claypan, out of the reaches of the modern world from Tuesday 14 October. His wife, Cathy, will be in town so if you can’t reach him, give her a call on 0419 959 683. She’ll send out a carrier pigeon.