Located on the Murray River, about 4 hours drive from Melbourne is the town of Swan Hill; picturesque vistas with activities and a climate perfect for that family getaway.
All true of course. But I want you to turn your attention to a block of land 10kms west of the town know as Chisholm Reserve. This block of land looks very likely to become the next home of a quarter mile drag strip, with the imminent release of a business case study commissioned by the Swan Hill Rural City Council.
Recently I caught up with Lucas Woodburn, Vice President of the Swan Hill Drag Racing Club (SHDRC) to talk about how the project got started, where it’s at and what the future holds.
Dreams of a drag strip
About 5 years ago (2007) the SHDRC was reformed to look into opportunities to build an eighth mile drag strip at Chisholm Reserve, a block of land designated for motorsport activities in the Swan Hill district.
Chisholm Reserve currently accommodates speedway, motor cross, go karts and short track dirt races. A number of years ago they used to run dirt drags on the parcel of land allotted to the drag club but this hasn’t taken place for a number of years.
With a newly formed club and land to build a drags strip on Lucas Woodburn approached ANDRA in 2008 to get the ball rolling. Working closely with Brenton Meyers, ANDRA’s Events and Operations Manager, Lucas and the club prepared a proposal that highlighted the economic benefit that a drag strip would bring to the local community.
Before delivering the proposal to council, one significant change was made to the details. Instead of pitching the idea of an eighth mile track “which was what we thought we could handle at the time” recalls Lucas, the proposal was updated to include a full quarter mile track, once the club learned that the council owned a sizable block of vacant land at the end of the proposed drag strip.
3 months after the initial discussions with ANDRA, the then CEO Tony Thornton and Brenton Myers made the trip to Swan Hill to support the club as they delivered the proposal to the Swan Hill Rural City Council. Also there to lend their considerable support was Phil and Angelo Lamattina of the Lamattina Top Fuel Racing Team.
The outcome? The meeting was very positive and the council was very keen to move forward with the proposal to build a quarter mile drag strip at Chisholm Reserve.
North West Motor Sport Feasibility Study
Just because you have a great idea and the people who can make it happen like the idea, doesn’t make it “feasible”.
So in 2008, the Swan Hill Rural City Council, Mildura Rural City Council and Regional Development Victoria all chipped in to commission the North West Motor Sport Feasibility Study.
The goal of the study was to measure the economic impact and value of motorsport and support industries to the North Western district. In 2010 the feasibility study was delivered, and as expected it recommended the investment in and consolidation of various motorsport facilities.
All good news for the SHDRC and the people of Swan Hill.
Local MP Peter Walsh, who had always supported a drag strip for Swan Hill, took the idea to the leader of the Victorian National Party Peter Ryan MP. After a visit organised by the club to Chisholm Reserve, Peter Ryan made an election promise that they would help fund the project if they came into office.
With a coalition victory at the November 2010 Victorian state election, $2 million was set aside to further develop Chisholm Reserve and build a quarter mile drag strip.
Building a case for a drag strip
Let’s recap where the project’s at...
- A dedicated bunch of club members who are keen to build a drag strip - CHECK
- A local council which is all for the idea and has been very proactive in promoting the project - CHECK
- A completed regional feasibility study that ticks all the boxes – CHECK
- A local MP fully supporting the project – CHECK
- A development fund of $2 million dollars, a portion of which is set aside for the project – CHECK
What else could you possibly need? A business case of course – a document that details how, when and where the money will be spent. So with the finish line in sight there is one more relatively small hurdle to jump over.
Once again the Swan Hill Rural City Council has stepped up and commissioned the business case which consulting firm SGS Economics & Planning was due to complete in June 2012. This date has slipped a little but the consultants want to make sure they cover all the requirements before releasing the final details.
Getting the green light
It’s almost inevitable that the club will get the green light to build a drag strip. While the time-frame has yet to be confirmed, once the club receives word that they’re “go for launch” they’ll use the business study to source additional funding and begin construction.
“The initial aim is to get the basic facilities in place as quickly as possible to generate cash flow and start running smaller events. As a club run, not-for-profit facility it’s important that we ease into the process and make sure everyone is comfortable with the race day procedures before tackling bigger events.” said Lucas.
When the drag strip is up and running fans and racers can look forward to a calendar of events run in the cooler months, for example from March to October, with ample opportunities to experience all that Swan Hill and the local area have to offer.
One of the marketing objectives of the drag strip is to encourage fans to come to Swan Hill for the drag races and stay and enjoy a holiday on the Murray River.
(ED: I can see it now – racing on Saturday followed by a relaxing cruise down the Murray with a beverage or 2 on a sunny Sunday afternoon.)
So many people to thank
“Without the help of many people the project would never have gotten this far” explains Lucas. So in no particular order here are some of the organisations and individuals who have contributed in turning what was once a dream into reality:
- Swan Hill Rural City Council
- ANDRA and in particular Brenton Myers
- Phil Lamattina for his continued support and motivation
- The dedicated club members and committee of the SHDRC
- Mr. Peter Walsh MP – the local member for Swan Hill
- Mr. Peter Ryan MP – Minister for Regional and Rural Development
From a completely selfish point of view, I can’t wait for the day we can turn a tyre in anger at the Swan Hill Drag Strip :-)