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The Withers Family Legacy

28/3/2012 04:46:34

The Withers Family Legacy

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. At first it was an all-motorcycle program until the first motor car racing event on the 17th of May, 1924. The first big carnival attracted over 6,000 people and the meetings continued to be very popular for several years. Then, in April 1925, Penrith Speedway Ltd. was formed.

Born in approximately 1896, Fred Withers, Jason's Great-uncle became somewhat of a local celebrity for his competitive racing on the Penrith Speedway and for winning the Sydney/Newcastle record via the Wiseman's Ferry.

Not content with merely the promotional miles from Sydney to Melbourne, in around 1925 Fred Withers attempted some hair-raising jumps in his Essex racing car for the camera to ensure press coverage. These photos were used as promotional material all through the late 20s.

The Speedway was D shaped, about a mile in length and had a very wide track, which enabled drivers to overtake safely. The track was 1 mile and 80 yards in circumference, and 30 yards wide. Following the 2nd meeting on May 17th 1924 the track size was reduced to 1 mile and widened to between 75 and 100 ft. 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.

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 motorcycles, 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.

Fred Withers was deployed in The Middle East and returned from the war with money with his face printed on it, claiming to be famous amongst the Arab people. After the war he then went on to work for a then-famous British aircraft company.

From 1941 onwards the Commonwealth Defence Department compulsorily acquired the land after the owner the Hon. Sydney Smith died in 1934. Penrith Speedway was obliterated. The last meeting reported was held at the Penrith Speedway in May 1941.

Penrith Speedway was declared as "The World's Greatest Dirt Track" by International competitors who competed there over the years.

Today motor racing continues at the Nepean Raceway in Castlereagh.

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