March 10th is a very significant date in the history of the North Eastern Car Club, because on this date 65 years ago the wheels of forming a car club in the district were set in motion.
This achievement is all the more meritorious when you take into consideration that there are very few other car clubs anywhere in Australia who can claim to be older than the North Eastern Car Club, including motor sport’s governing body, CAMS, which it preceded by several months.
Thanks to two local motorsport enthusiasts, Bill Higgins and John Josephs, the idea of forming a sporting car club in the area quickly aroused interest, so Higgins, the Wangaratta Chronicle’s proprietor, and Josephs, a garage owner, began serious discussions with local authorities.
Their aim was to form a car club to promote motor racing in the district. There was sufficient interest at that meeting on March 10, 1953 to persuade Higgins and Josephs to form a committee for that purpose.
With that momentous decision behind them (to form a club to cater for the needs of the motoring public) a committee was elected and a constitution drawn up. While motor racing was the fledgling club’s main aim, other forms of motorsport, such as car trials, gymkhanas and family activities, were encouraged as well.
Keen to get car racing happening, the club went hunting for a suitable site to build a track and found what they believed to be an ideal location, the old aerodrome site in Greta Road, where Merriwa Industries now stands.
It had nearly everything the club needed – a wide open space, close proximity to the centre of Wangaratta and a large, level area that suited most forms of car and motorcycle racing.
But the new car club had few members and, consequently, no funds to put toward track construction, so the Borough Council was called upon to loan their heavy equipment to form a track. Being very supportive of the new venture, council donated a large quantity of material that were used to construct a simple track.
All this took time and the club were more than anxious to have the track ready for their first race meeting, so it was all hands on deck to make the track useable as quickly as possible.
The first meeting was held on June 2nd, 1953, just three months after the club began. That milestone coincided with the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth 2nd on that day, and special celebration races were conducted for a large entry of sedans, sports cars and “specials”, as well as motorcycles.
It was appropriate that club founder, Bill Higgins, won a four-lap handicap race in his Jaguar SS100 that day and voted the day a “huge success”.
Other races drew the applause of the large crowd, novelty races included “The Great Navarro”, who leapt his car through burning hoops and performed all sorts of tricks throughout the day.
But it was all a bit much for the track, which quickly broke up, particularly on the corners. As well as that, the airstrip had no proper drainage so storm water laid in huge pools, rendering the track unusable for many months of the year.
After four successful years of racing, the club decided that it was time to look for more suitable land and to build a truly all-weather track – that new track would be constructed at Tarrawingee.
Pleasingly this week, 65 years after its inception, the North Eastern Car Club is as strong as ever, boasting close to 300 members, purely because of the foresight of Higgins and Josephs and the dedication of its hard-working committee and members.
It will be some celebration for the club.
- Jeff Whitten