And so, starts, the familiar sound that has echoed through the pine trees, and many different walls that have surrounded this hail grail. The design for the stadium in the early 20s was successful in creating a multipurpose arena, that could host Dirt track racing, Cycling, Track and Field, Football and Special Events. The natural amphitheater that surrounded Western Springs lakeside was the perfect destination for something different in Auckland City.
Western Springs Stadium opened its gates to a sold-out arena on that cool summer’s eve in 1929, the pioneers of the sport, strapped on helmets, raced two wheels, and made history around the infamous mix of cinder and dirt.
15,000 people braved the rain to witness a special event, with riders from Auckland, Wellington, and two from Australia.
It’s reported L Coulthard won the Handicap that night with Mann from Australia finishing a close second.
In 1931 Alf Matson had already claimed his second NZ title at the Springs and was fast becoming the talk of the town.
90 years on Speedway still roars around this dynamic bullring, it’s hosted some of the biggest music stars in history including Bob Marley and breaking the crowd record in the 80’s with David Bowie.
The Empire State Games hosted cycling events for some of the best bike riders on a purpose-built concrete track that followed around the outside of the dirt track, and even Peter Snell broke a record running around this very 1/4 mile. But Speedway is what Western Springs is known for, both here and across the world, champions have travelled near and far from the beginning of its time, some of the bravest and biggest souls to race motorsport have turned left on this oval.
1937 and Midget Car Racing was introduced to the Springs, and the place has never looked back. The international battle between the USA, NZ and Australia started way back then and still today the three countries continue to race in epic battle over the Christmas and New Year Period, to large sold out fans.
The number 99, of Duane Carter won that first race in 1937 and again the number 99 in the 40s dominated with Frank Satan Brewer at the wheel, dazzling audiences with cars that were doing at least ten to fifteen second slower laps than the machines we see today, but with less protection including no roll cages the sport was making stars from brave souls who dared to dirt.
Frank Brewer was New Zealand’s first Midget Car Champion in 1940 and again in 41’ before the war put a halt on things, but only temporally.
The Springs returned bigger, faster and by far the most exciting family summer experience on many family’s calendar. Rowley Crowley became the man to beat mid ‘40s then Snow Morris in the same car renumbered number #3 in 1948.
The 50’s brought in stock car racing, big American looking muscle cars that look very similar to your average road cars, a truly remarkable sight especially for its time in New Zealand, this was also the decade that Johnny Misson introduced the Three Quarter Midget’s ( TQ’S) to New Zealand, the start of our love for the pocket rocket machines we adore today.
The solo bikes still entertained as a major feature in events and the Springs would later be home to multiple world champions. We also got our first taste of the devil racers when Sidecars joined the line-up and it was the first time, we saw not one, but two work a partnership around the track.
Even a Datsun took a lap around the Springs in the 50s, and stunts were performed by people known as the hell drivers (Captain Charles V Miller and Joe Campbell in a Dodge Chrysler-Plymouth.
The swinging 60’s, saw a fast change in production, and the stadium sported its first upgrade since its build, Ian Holden was the one to beat, he also won the first Australasia Championship.
This was also the start of the American invasion when Bob Tattersall arrived, and continued to venture back to the Springs, picking up 22 event wins before his untimely death in 1971.
The 60’s also brought New Zealand’s biggest name to the track when Barry Butterworth arrived on the scene, starting in TQs, Barry B moved onto to become one of our most successful drivers in Midget Cars and Sprintcars, and a legend to both the Springs and the sport.
Butterworth competed very successfully in both Australia and USA, claiming the kiwis first ever USAC feature win, a record that stood strong for nearly 30 years until future legends made their own mark.
Wanless appeared and took on the quarter mile here at the Springs and even Japan had representation when Hiroyuki (HAPPY) Hirano arrived and the fans loved him.
In 1965 a man by the name of Bill Buckley debuted his sidecar and along with Lloyd Drake won the NZ title.
In November 1964 The SprIngs picked up a couple of World Records when Peter Snell ran the 1000 and again the World Mile record running on a track specially prepared by Harley Arthur.
To be continued .