Penrith Speedway is a 1 mile (1.6km) D-shaped paved oval in the Western Sydney Suburb of Penrith. It is most famous for being the training ground of many local racing heroes including the Zimmer family (John, Frank and Ryan) as well as former World Champions Rhys Davies and Daniel Melrose. The track is currently owned by Jack Zimmer, the patriarch of the Zimmer family.
Early History - Pre WWII
The Penrith Speedway had a chequered career, starting with great enthusiasm in 1920, when the Western Suburbs Motor Cycle Club approached their local member of parliament, Mr. Sydney Smith, for the loan of some of his paddocks to hold a race meeting. The first big carnival attracted over 6000 people and the meetings continued to be very popular for several years. Then, in April 1925, Penrith Speedway Ltd. was formed.
Sprinklers were obtained in 1925 to help control the dust nuisance, and in 1926 the track was closed for a while to enable it to be re-conditioned. Racing was conducted by both cars and motor cycles, but it was not long before rumours were appearing in the local press that the Speedway was about to be wound up. This eventually happened in October 1930, because of flooding of the track from the town’s water supply.
Sydney Smith took the local council to court, but proceedings dragged on, and Smith died before the judgement in 1935. As a result of the court case however, the council moved the drains in early 1936 and the track was repaired. The Speedway was then re-opened by Frank Arthur of Empire Speedways, in June 1936, and was in regular use until 1941, when the army took over the land during the war.
The Speedway was D shaped, about a mile in length and had a very wide track, which enabled drivers to overtake safely. There was only one major accident, which saw the death of three onlookers in June 1938. A woman and her two grandchildren were killed outright and ten others were injured, after a driver skidded and lost control of his car. The company was completely exonerated at the inquest that followed the accident, as the spectators had not been behind the safety fence, despite signs advising spectators to do so.
Even before the building of the Penrith Speedway however, Victor Sutherland of Frogmore began the construction of a speedway for cars and motor cycles on the eastern part of his property at what is now known as Werrington Park. He called the track Brooklands after the famous English racing track. This track was already in operation in June 1923, although it had not been completed.
After the War, the army sold the track to Sebastien and Martha van Duudsoonit, who had just recently immigrated to Australia from the Netherlands. Sebastien immediately saw the potential value of the track and had it paved in 1946, becoming the first paved oval track in the Southern Hemisphere, as part of a redevelopment program to return the venue to its former glory. The track hosted many events from this time, including several Australian GPs in the 1960s on a temporary infield layout that utilised the final corner and front stretch of the oval.
In 1977, the track was purchased by Jack Zimmer, who had made some money racing in Europe. His main dream was to build a road course near the site and make the facility one of the best in the world. However, every upgrade he tried to make was blocked by the Penrith City Council, who didn't want the site to grow too big, and the NSW Government, who were more interested in promoting racing at Oran Park. As a result, his dream of a world-class facility was limited to an oval with a temporary infield layout. AUSCAR events were also held during the 1990s as the track was one of only three paved ovals in Australia.
It wasn't until 2000 that he succeeded in gaining support for upgrades, and the track was closed for a year to allow for the upgrades, which included a resurfacing of the oval, the construction of a permanent road course inside the oval that was very similar to GP layout in the 60's, and a brand new pit complex with35 garages on the main pit lane, as well as a second lane added on the back stretch with another 44 garages.
The track increased in popularity, with the oval playing host to Champ Car events in 2003 and 2004, back to back with the Gold Coast Indy, dubbed the "Australia 300". The track also began to host V8 Supercar events, alternating with Eastern Creek Raceway on odd years from 2001 to 2007, before gaining permanent hosting rights from 2009 onwards. It was also famous for hosting celebrations when local F1 champions Rhys Davies and Daniel Melrose returned to Australia after championship years, with Davies being the first driver to lap the infield circuit in 2000, in his winning Williams.
In 2012, Jack got another break, when the NSW government, having demolished Oran Park in 2010, suggested that a purpose built F1-grade circuit be built at the circuit. Zimmer agreed, to a point, and instead decided to rebuild Oran Park. Construction began in late 2012, and was completed in November the next year. The main straight of what was dubbed the "Oran Layout" was shared with the back stretch of the oval, and utilised the garages that had been built there. While the elevation changes of the original circuit were not exactly right, the track is still very accurate, including the figure-8 section, and the completely rebuilt bridge. A tunnel was also built under turn 3 of the oval, which allowed the Oran circuit to meet up with the infield circuit, adding another layout.
2015 saw the construction a new karting facility next to the Oran Circuit, which was opened in December with the first Lawnmower Race, where many RWRS were invited to race lawnmowers on the new circuit.