The Benalla Auto Club Inc is one of Australia’s most popular car clubs, and owns two permanent motor-racing circuits: Winton Motor Raceway and Wakefield Park Raceway, along with the Australian Auto Sport Alliance motorsport sanctioning body.
The BAC has always prided itself on servicing the needs of a wide variety of motorsport competitors and has a rich history of promoting race events ranging from club-level meetings to high-profile national competition.
The Benalla Auto Club was founded on Thursday, 17 October 1957 by local school teacher, Bruce Watt. Its first general meeting was held in Walker’s Sports Store in Bridge Street, Benalla (currently Hide’s Bakery) with an initial membership of 20 people. The Benalla Auto Club conducted its first activity, a gymkhana, on the 1st December, 1957 behind Terrett’s Sawmill in Roe Street, Benalla with the club moving on to conduct several club rallies, then known as trials.
Benalla Auto Club conducted its first motor gymkhana at Barjarg on Sunday 11 May, 1958 to raise funds for the erection of a public hall, making a profit of 195 pounds from the event. The lap record was set by Hoot Gibson, in a Standard.
In August 1958 the club began planning to build a permanent motor racing track.
The club’s first race meeting was conducted on 25 January, 1959 and had over 50 entries with a profit of 325 pounds. In March 1959, CAMS inspected the Barjarg circuit and licensed it for open motor racing.
23 June 1960 saw plans announced for the establishment of a motor racing track on the Winton Recreation Reserve. Development was enthusiastically supported by Winton residents and Benalla traders.
The construction of the 1.3 mile bitumen circuit was completed in just 12 months, with the top layer of blacktop put down just a few days before the inaugural meeting. The total cost of the construction then was 10,000 pounds.
The first race meeting was conducted on 26 November, 1961. The circuit’s first meeting included the entry of local star Barry Stilo, who set the track’s very first outright lap record, a now modest time of 1 minute 24.2 seconds in a Faux Pas.
The first full championship meeting at Winton was held on 9 December, 1962: the Victorian Formula Junior Championship,
In 1978 The Benalla Auto Club hosted the Rose City 10,000 which saw Formula One World Champion, the late James Hunt, race at Winton in a Formula 5000. Hunt’s travelling expenses to the event were paid by the BAC, and he claimed a dominant victory.
Winton Motor Raceway also hosted the first race meetings of legend drivers such as Peter Brock, Alan Jones and Allan Moffat.
In 1985 Winton hosted its first ever round of the Group A Shell Australian Touring Car Championship, which was also the first Touring Car round to be televised by the Seven Network.
Benalla Auto Club’s round of the Shell Australian Touring Car Championship Series was a very popular one on the motorsport calendar. Each year the race drew record crowds to the north east of Victoria.
The club undertook a $500,000 upgrade in 1995 with the widening of some sections of the track and a new surface laid.
In 1997 the Club added a 1 kilometre extension onto the existing circuit and resurfaced the entire circuit at a cost of $1.1 Million. This included a new pitlane without the buildings.
On 5 June 2000, five weeks before the Shell V8 Supercar Championship Round, an arsonist set fire to the race control tower that stood tall and proud over the circuit for many, many years. To date the arsonist has not been found, but the police are still looking.
The building was restored to its former glory in time for the V8 round, once again standing tall and proud in its rightful place, on the start/finish straight on the short circuit.
The circuit celebrated its 40th Anniversary in November 2001, and with recent additions such as construction of pit lane garages, a 1000-seat corporate pavilion, the new three-storey race control building and two-storey media centre.
In January 2007, the Benalla Auto Club purchased the Wakefield Park circuit on the outskirts of Goulburn in the southern tablelands of NSW, and the BAC has successfully operated both circuits ever since.
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Benalla Auto Club Committee
President – Barry Stilo
Vice President – Daryl McHugh
Treasurer – Geoff Calvert
Secretary – Gary Gourlay
Committee members – Murray Edgar, Rob Hoskins, John McBride, Michael Tabe, Bruce Robertson, Willie Van Wersch
Benalla Auto Club Life Members
A number of Benalla Auto Club members have been awarded life membership for outstanding services to the club over a number of years. The current life members are: