The racetrack set amongst the canefields of North Queensland
Why would the world’s best racers travel to a bush town of less than 1500 to compete? Pioneer Park Speedway at Brandon in Queensland’s north was once regarded as the world’s best track. Now it’s coming back.
There is an international speedway revival happening in the cane fields of North Queensland.
The township of Brandon lies about one hours drive south of Townsville and is home to less than 1500 people, the vast majority of them farming families.
But in the 1970s, 80s and 90s the crackling cane fires of Brandon would provide the perfect backdrop to international racing at the Pioneer Park Speedway, high octane, edge of the seat and dangerous racing that brought the best in the world to the community.
Speedway was a popular form of racing across Europe and the United States, with a small but dedicated following in Australia.
Various forms of racing would feature at the Pioneer Park Speedway but it was the motorcycles – solo and sidecar - that everyone came to watch. Lunatics throwing themselves at pace around the loose shale track on machines with just one gear – and no brakes.
"They would come from all over the world, there were Test matches, world champions racing here, from the 1970s right through," Rod Heathcote, who owns the track with his wife Kris, said.
"In 1985 and '86 it hosted the Australian solo titles and anybody who was anybody raced there, Billy Sanders, Phil Crump, Steve Schofield - all the old guys.
"It was renowned as one of the best tracks in the world ... they even copied the race track from Brandon for a course in the UK."
Part of the reason why the locals loved it – and why world champions would venture so deep into rural Queensland – was because of the champions the track produced.
None were revered more than the great Gary Moon.
He was a 20-year veteran of the speedway, a multiple national and Queensland champion and the World Speedway Champion in 2004.
He was the boy from the bush who would beat the big names at their own game, in his own backyard.
Sadly, Moon died doing what he loved, killed in a speedway meet in 2011. He was just 44.
Many felt the death of Moon spelled the end of speedway in North Queensland. The Brandon track had changed ownership a few times over the years, but that year of 2011 was the year it was abandoned completely.
Rod and Kris had originally owned and run the track from 1999 to 2003 and were deeply saddened to see the former crowning glory of racing in North Queensland overgrown to the point that nature nearly reclaimed the complex entirely.
So, they bought it again in 2016 and in 2018 the first meet was held in seven years - The NQSRASC’s 2018 Gary Moon Memorial.
There was plenty of blood, sweat and tears involved in the rebuild – as well as $600,000 out of the Rod and Kris’s pockets.
"It was an absolute mess, basically anything that was worth two cents had been stolen or taken," Rod said.
All permits had lapsed, the electrical mains had been condemned and the water pumps were seized. Wild grass invaded every corner of the once glorious race track.
So, with help from the locals, Rod and Kris returfed the hills, installed a brand-new track and erected new grandstands and a two-story, air-conditioned commentary box including sponsors lounge.
Revolutionary technology has been installed as well, including an air fence called a no-pain barrier to keep the drivers safe.
It has been a long journey and now Rod and Kris are looking to sell the complex to a local club organisation to keep the speedway dream alive.
"Our mission was to rebuild," Rod said.
"Now it is our dream for it to be club owned or owned by locals.
"What we have done, it will last another 50 years."