23 February 2024

Scrap next stage of light rail to build motorsport facility in honour of Chic Henry, Belco Party says

| James Coleman
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V8 Supercars race

It’s hoped the new facility would be enough to coax V8 Supercars into returning to Canberra. Photo: Supercars Australia.

Alan Tutt lived next door to the late Summernats founder Chic Henry for 12 years. Over that time, many of the conversations held over the fence or by the mailbox centred on one dream: an international motorsports facility in Canberra.

“Chic and I were very close, even near the end,” Mr Tutt says, “and we spoke about this many times.”

The time is right, Mr Tutt reckons, to make it happen. He has joined the fight for the ACT Legislative Assembly as a candidate for the Belco Party, following in Chic’s footsteps, and on the list of election promises is the fruition of Chic’s dream.

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It’s hoped it would be a facility worthy of Supercars and Formula One events, with a drag strip, skid pan, racetrack, grandstand and buildings to house a training centre, eateries and admin offices.

There are two potential locations, one incorporating the old tarmac drag strip off Scherger Drive behind the Canberra Airport and the other not far away in the Majura Valley between the airport and the Sutton Road Training Centre (SRTC).

“Chic was always pretty keen on the old drag strip area – there’s plenty of empty land out there near the airport,” Mr Tutt adds.

“With all the planes, I can’t see noise being an issue with that location either.”

Chic Henry with signs for the Belco Party

Apart from being a local motorsport ambassador, Chic Henry was also a candidate for The Belco Party. Photo: Region.

All up, a motorsport facility “with all the bells and whistles” is expected to cost between $65 million and $100 million. The Belco Party would fund this either by scraping the next stage of light rail or through a government partnership with a private company.

Either way, fellow candidate Jason Taylor says the “billion-dollar industry” of motorsport would pay it off within a few years.

“Given we want a 365-days-a-year facility, there would be a massive return on investment,” he says.

“It’s been something that’s been talked about for decades, and we’ve done a lot of consultation with the car enthusiast community – it’s a very broad church – and they’re all passionate about it. We see it as a priority infrastructure project for the ACT for a multitude of reasons.”

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Among the reasons is road safety.

A spate of accidents in recent years prompted an ACT Legislative Assembly inquiry into dangerous driving last year, and Mr Taylor says the findings made it “abundantly clear we have a massive issue on our roads.

“The approach to dealing with this is extremely complex and multi-faceted, but one thing we need to do and do now is giving people an option to take themselves off public roads and blow off some steam in a controlled and safe environment.”

Kenny Piper from the Canberra Hot Rod Association (CHRA) says they’ve been pushing for mandatory driver training for all high-school and college students in the ACT since 2002 and argues the new track would provide a place where this could be done safely.

“We believe it’s too easy to get your licence these days, and you don’t actually learn the full logistics of a vehicle before obtaining your licence,” he says.

“If there was a facility where drivers could go and learn the fundamentals of driving a vehicle in all conditions, but they were still misbehaving and being silly on our roads, the police could toughen the penalties because they would have no reason to be doing it.”

Canberra drag strip in the 1980s

The old Canberra drag strip in action. Photo: Speedway and Raceway History.

ACT Minister for Sport and Recreation Yvette Berry says the government is open to community feedback from The Belco Party campaign but says funding in this space is usually directed towards existing facilities like the Circuit Mark Webber go-kart track and ACT Speedway.

“I don’t think there is a plan right now … to develop a race track facility beyond what we already fund … but obviously, we’re happy to look at those kinds of considerations in terms of having a dedicated racing facility.”

She isn’t aware of “real evidence” to show such a facility would reduce hooning on ACT’s roads, but says, “the kind of thing that does resolve issues with regards to driving unacceptably on our roads is obviously driver training and making sure our learners have all the experience that they need”.

Original Article published by James Coleman on Riotact.

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