When Sedans Were King
Liverpool's First 100
'Big Bad' Rick Hunter wins in a borrowed car.

Text Copyright Graham Mison

One hundred laps. A long way to fight a heavy, bucking and sliding speedway sedan, throw another 35 cars onto the same track and there's every reason to believe you would have some wild action. The promotor of south western Sydney's Liverpool Raceway, Frank Oliveri, was counting on the growing appeal of Production Sedans when he signed up Phillip Morris Limited through their Marlboro brand as sponsor of a 100 lap race for the later half of the 1970 - '71 season. To add heightened prestige to the event the title 'Grand National' was added. It's doubtful that Oliveri or any of the spectators, competitors or officials present would have foreseen the influence future runnings of this event would have on top level speedway sedan racing, in the future winning the 'Marlboro Grand National' would be seen by many drivers as equivalent to a national title.

The Liverpool of the time was pushing to the top of the local scene, it ran most of the popular racing divisions of the era and had enjoyed success since opening on May 14,1967. Bikes, Midgets and Super Modifieds were popular attractions with Production Sedans gaining a keen following.

The site was in the semi-rural area of Green Valley with a dirt surface of 400m forming a D shaped track with a wooden fence viewed by sloping spectator mounds. This was no part time racetrack as the Showground speedways were but a purpose built track. The NSW Production Car Club was the organisation for sedans at Liverpool and amongst the drivers of the times were some names that would stand out - Bruce Maxwell, Peter Crick, Rick Hunter and Ken Barlow to name just a few.

Production Sedans, or 'Prodies', were originally a cheap way of getting into speedway. Cheaper than a Midget or Super Modified and more acceptable to the authorities than the 'barge and charge' Stockcars had ended up. They looked like a standard road car with the glass and upholstery removed and internal roll bars added. Modifications were at first quite limited but drivers looking for an advantage soon began pushing the rule book limits. Most cars started their careers fairly straight but the rough and tumble of regular racing soon had them looking very second hand. Muscle cars, such as GT Falcons and GTS Monaros, were becoming the weapon of choice although over a distance of 100 laps staying power and reliability would come into play.

The 100 lapper was given good promotion on radio and in print and a large crowd made their way down either Wilson or South Liverpool Rds to leave their cars in the spacious car park and stake their claim to a good viewing spot.

The Grand National was to have a field of 36 starters, a big field for a short track, 3 drivers were guaranteed a start. American Midget drivers Jonny Anderson and Bob Tattersall and New Zealander Willie Kay. Anderson was to drive the Falcon of Al Barnes, Tattersall would fill the drivers seat of the Falcon of Ken Barlow and Kay took over the GTS Monaro of Garry Willer. The rest had to qualify.

The promise of the Marlboro money enticed interstate drivers from Queensland, Tasmania and Victoria and the variety of Makes and Models lined up for the MGN looked just like the car park, every thing from early six pack Holdens through Minis to V8 powered muscle in the form of Monaros and Falcons. A Pit area was setup on the infield so that repairs could be made to cars during the race but even a short length of time spent off the track would see a driver fall several laps down.

When the greens went on for the start it was the Monaro of George Lodge that jumped to the lead. Behind him? You can just imagine the chaos as cars were running 3 wide and bouncing off each other, pre-race plans of taking it easy went out the window as the red mist descended onto most drivers. The race lasted 12 laps before the first of many stoppages, local charger Peter Crick and Paul Hartup came together in a big hit. Tattersall retired early with engine problems.

Lodge enjoyed the front running untill the 42nd lap when he struck the wall in turn 1 and retired from the race. At just under half distance it was Anderson out front with Rick Hunter, in Alan Butchers #52 HG Holden, second. The two were having a stand out battle lap after lap. Hunter put a successful move on the American just as Bruce Maxwell hit the timber in pit corner with his GT Falcon. Anderson was put back to the number one spot for the re-start and held Hunter back untill the 60th lap. Once passed the American Hunter began to build a small lead with Anderson also passed by Terry Richardson. Fourth placed man Olsen started to work on getting past Anderson. Eventually the pressure took its toll when Anderson's car blew a tyre. He limped to his pit crew and made it back onto the track to finish 10th some 13 laps down. Olsen had good speed but could not make an impression on the two infront of him.

Hunter continued in the lead to the end but confusion with lap scoring resulted in Kevin Dalton being given third in front of Olsen. The final results were held up until this was looked at and after some time Olsen was awarded third with Dalton fourth. And so the first of many Marlboros had been run and won. Hunter collected a cool $2,000 for the win, the biggest sedan prize in Australia at that time. There was much about this race that future races would follow - a big field made up of the best local and interstate drivers with a few internationals as well, many stoppages would ensure a marathon event and always the drama would be played out in front of a packed house.

1971 Marlboro Grand National, Liverpool City Raceway, 100 laps, Dirt surface: 1st Rick Hunter (HG Holden V8), 2nd Terry Richardson (Ford Falcon GT V8), 3rd Eric Olson (Ford Cortina).


For those Revisionists who believe that all reference to Tobbaco sponsorship should be removed from sporting history I make no apology for refering to the part played by Marlboro in this event. This was the first of what speedway fans will always refer to as the "Marlboro Grand National". It's history and it should not be sanitised.

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