History of Cootamundra Sprints
By Tim Shellshear
Einstein must have known something about this. There is no doubt that as one’s mass increases that time definitely goes faster!
Where has all the time gone since 2007 when Paul Samuels invited me, as then President, down to Bowral to discuss an idea?
This was of course that the Club should have a proper sporting event back on our calendar and there could be nothing better than a quarter mile sprint, like the old days, and what better place than the Berrima Air strip close to Mittagong.
So began the hard work of trying to make this succeed against an ambivalent aero club committee, a hostile local council, an unsupportive Sydney Water Catchment Authority who own the land the airport is on (we might drip oil!), the police and local residents.
We submitted a full development proposal with environmental impact statement and traffic management plan which Council advertised to hundreds of locals in the surrounding area. We never stood a chance!
Shortly after withdrawing from this idea, one of the supportive aero club members told me that they had heard Cootamundra airport had been the location for some motoring press acceleration tests and we should try Cootamundra Council.
I did this and found a surprisingly supportive and enthusiastic Council with basically an unused commercial air strip on their hands and who were willing to give anything a go. They were far from demanding.
Many of the key players in Cootamundra Council were themselves car enthusiasts so we rapidly developed a strong association.
This airport, being commercial grade, was far better than Berrima’s club strip being 1.8km long and 18m wide in dead level new bitumen with an unused terminal and all the conveniences, just begging to be used.
The only difficulty seemed to be that it was around 400km from Sydney. But what a drive - particularly in September through the canola fields and then into the spectacular Cootamundra blossoms.
So the first weekend of September was chosen, which was Father’s Day weekend, but it did at least coincide with the Cootamundra Swap Meet, one of the big events in the local calendar.
Our first event was in 2009
We attracted over 30 mostly pre-1961 cars with a strong showing of proper vintage sports and touring cars. For example it’s the one and only time we have had two 3 litre Bentleys side by side on the track.
The newest car there, and a highlight of the day, was local Keith Berryman who brought the 1967 Matich SR3 along to record what is still the fastest time of just over 10 seconds.
And so we rolled on for the next 10 years so. 2018 was the 10th time I organised the event, now become a well-established fixture in our calendar and increasingly supported by a wider range of locations, people and cars.
We have progressively updated the eligibility requirements from our original pre-1961 cut off so that quite a few modern sports and hot saloon cars now have a run. This has proved essential to the economic wellbeing of the event, and, as we have found, adds a considerable degree of interest to the day.
Although it’s been organised 10 times we have only managed to run it eight times due to the vicissitudes of the weather.
In 2010 it bucketed down all day and although we had a few runs it was impossible to time and so we cancelled. Again in 2016 the rain thundered down all night, and although easing in the morning the cross winds were so strong that there was no way the timing tent and gear could be set up so it was cancelled and so once again off to Temora for the aircraft museum.
2018 was the best turnout so far
With 56 runners our Club as good as broke even on costs.
We have been well supported over most years with catering at the airport by the local Lions Club who make a bit for charity. Generally we have been blessed with fine weather.
Every year we end with a dinner on the Saturday night at the Cootamundra Services Club for around 60-80 persons starting with a free happy hour. These dinners are extremely convivial and have never been less than a great success - and are a great contributing factor to the enjoyment and camaraderie of the weekend.
This is motor sport as it used to be.
And speaking of it as it used to be, those who know their club history, will know that the use of old WWII airfields was very much the playground of the early VSCCA.
Marsden Park and Mt Druitt were both disused war time airfields on the western edge of Sydney and were the location for numerous sprint and race meeting and fun gymkhanas in the 1940’s and 50’s.
Numerous photos are contained in our archives of those happy days. Interestingly enough it wasn’t just for vintage cars either as photos such as the one below from around 1950 at a Marsden Park sprint showing David Pittendreigh lining up in his 3 litre Bentley in company with a veteran, an MG TC and an MGY, both modern cars of the time.