60th festivities

November 29, 2017

The Benalla Auto Club will celebrate its 60th anniversary, with members at a black-tie ball next month.

The Benalla Auto Club will celebrate its 60th anniversary, with members at a black-tie ball in December.

The Auto Club, which is now based out of Winton Motor Raceway, is as much a part of the town as the Rose Garden and Weary Dunlop.

The Auto Club actually predates Winton with its first meeting held at Walker’s Sports (now Hides Bakery) on Bridge St, October 17, 1957.

The group, which then consisted of only 20 members, organised its first gymkhana in December of that year behind Terrett’s sawmill in Roe St.

The club’s first major event, which raised £195 towards the building of a public hall, was held at Barjarg on May 11, 1958.

Several events would be held at Barjarg before the club began looking for a permanent home.

In June of 1960 planning was announced for a track to be built on the Winton Recreation Reserve.

The first race to be held there took place on November 26, 1961.

Local man Barry Stilo competed in that event and set the first lap record of one minute, 24.2 seconds, in the 56 years since then another 9.9 seconds has been shaved off that time.

Mark Larkham now holds the record, which he set in April 1992.

Bruce Robertson , who was president of the Benalla Auto Club from 1990 to 2013, said that local school teacher Bruce Watt set the club up and arranged its first meeting in 1957.

‘‘There were only 20 members back then, in recent times we have a core membership of up to 700, so the growth has been amazing,’’ Mr Robertson said.

‘‘The highlight for me during my time as president was obtaining a round of the Aussie touring car championships, what has now become the Super cars, with people like Peter Brock and Allan Moffat.

‘‘For years the V8 Super cars has been the biggest racing event outside of Melbourne.’’

However, Winton did not go straight from a 20-person club to V8 super cars.

The first full championship meeting at Winton, the Victorian Formula Juniors, was held on December 9, 1962.

Throughout the years since then Winton has seen its fair share of world-class drivers burning rubber.

In 1978 F1 World Champion James Hunt placed first in the Rose City 10000 hosted by the Benalla Auto Club.

The track also hosted the first race meeting of legendary drivers Allan Moffat, Peter Brock and Alan Jones.

In 1985 Winton hosted its first ever round of the Shell Australia Touring Car Championships.

In 1995 the Benalla Auto Club oversaw a $500 000 upgrade of the track, which included widening some sections and installing a new surface.

Two years later a 1km extension to the track was was added.

In 2000 a fire was started that destroyed the race control tower, the arsonist is still at large.

In recent years pit-lane garages have been added along with a new race-control building, a media centre and a 1000-seat corporate pavilion.

Last year the track underwent another makeover, which included a full resurfacing and re-profiling of turns 10 and 12.

To help celebrate its success the Auto Club is in the process of collecting old photos and memorabilia.

●If you have anything that you think would be interesting to them, phone the Auto Club’s Winton Office on 57607100 or email [email protected][email protected]

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