The weekend of August 18/19 saw the running of the sixth annual Leyburn Sprints. This event is now firmly entrenched on the Queensland Historic Racing calendar, and never fails to attract a good number of competitors and large spectator crowds. This weekend was no exception, with 174 entries being accepted.
The Darling Downs turned on one of its infamous cold snaps on Friday night, with temperatures plummeting to -5 by the early morning. Those who camped for the weekend were all wishing they hadn't, and the frost had to be scraped off cars before they were prepared for their first runs. With the predominance of old Lucas electrical systems about the paddock, it was no wonder that the most common noises for first hour were the grinding of cold starter motors and the coughs and splutters as the first runners were coaxed into life.
With frost still on the ground in places as the first runs started, the cool track temperatures kept times down and caused a few anxious moments on the first runs. The revised chicanes also concerned many competitors, and were the subject of much discussion and controversy. The chicane in the main straight this year was moved further down the course towards the School corner. Both it and the one in the back straight were formed by tractor tyres which proved to be unforgiving for those who misjudged. The result was quite a few high-speed spins into the nearby fencing and it soon became obvious that the solid chicanes were actually creating an extra hazard. Halfway through Saturday's runs they were lengthened and for Sunday the tyres were replaced by haybales, much to the relief of many competitors.
The locals on the Downs all seem to be V8 fans, and of course the most popular cars on the day are the big noisy ones that smoke the tyres in the staging area and off the line. However, the real action is back in the smaller classes where serious times are set and many battles rage. Steven Johnson had his first run at Leyburn, sharing Darryl Bray's MKII Lotus Cortina with Denis Brown from Queensland Raceway. They put on a great display all weekend two wheeling the Cortina around the streets of Leyburn and swapping the lead with every run. In the end experience paid off and Denis pipped Steven by a mere 0.34 sec with a time of 50.14. Of course, Denis was driving Cortinas, Toranas and the like when Steven was only a twinkle in Dick's eye, so I guess there is hope for us old fellows yet! Meanwhile, Les Mellor was hurling his Cortina around, not quite as spectacularly, but just a tad quicker at 50.09 for a class win.
Fastest times for the weekend were set by Dick Willis in the Cheetah MK6 (42.05) and John Downs on the BMW 1000 motorbike (42.84). As the bikes and sidecars had the advantage of having the chicanes removed for their runs, it would have been interesting to see what Dick could have done given a clear run down the straights. Jon Siddins proved once again that he has one of the fastest road cars in the state by taking his class with an impressive time of 45.48.
Leyburn is one of those great weekends with a terrific atmosphere and country hospitality abounding, and everyone came away at the end with smiles on their faces and looking forward to next year's event.