The Gnoo Blas Classic Car Club Inc is keeping alive the history of the old Gnoo Blas road racing circuit at Orange in central NSW.
The old circuit is an important part of motor sport history, built as a community project in 1953 by Orange City Council and Canobolas Shire Council. Now a busy main road, half of it is mostly the same as it was all those years ago.
Most of Australia’s best drivers competed there. Jack Brabham started his road racing career at Gnoo Blas and held the lap record of more than 102mph up to the last meeting in 1961. Jon Leighton and John Youl in their Cooper Climaxes both broke Jack’s lap record of 2m 12s with Leighton getting a 2m 7.4s, just over 105mph (168kmh), and Youl a 2m 8s. Both recorded 157.8mph (252kmh) through the flying quarter mile.
Other drivers who raced on Gnoo Blas included Bob Jane (Maserati), Stan Jones (Maybach), Reg Hunt, Prince Bira of Siam (Maserati), internationals Peter Whitehead and Tony Gaze (Ferraris), New Zealanders Fred Zambucca (Maserati) and John McMillan (Alfa Romeo), Alex Mildren (Cooper Climax), Ted Gray (Tornado), Doug Whiteford (Maserati), Tom Sulman (Aston Martin), Leo and Ian Geoghegan (Holdens and Jaguars), Des West, Arnold Glass, Paul Samuels, Max Stewart, Jack Myers, Len Lukey, Frank Matich, Bill Buckle, Bob Cutler, Doug Chivas, Charlie Smith, Brian Foley, Bob Holden, Peter Williamson, and ‘Gelignite’ Jack Murray.
Zambucca and McMillan set the first 100mph lap (2m 15s) in Australia at Gnoo Blas at the 1954 Easter meeting.
This excerpt supplied by Phil Murray, ‘Gelignite’ Jack Murray’s younger son:
LAP RECORD AT THE NEW GNOO BLAS On Anniversary Day, 26 January 1953, a new race circuit was opened for business: Gnoo Blas at Orange. Anniversary Day was a term that had been previously used for Australia Day. The Anniversary Weekend Races were organised by the ASCC. This was the first meeting on a new triangle-shaped, 3.8 miles (6.1 km) circuit, 177 miles (285 km) from Sydney. Even so, 15,000 spectators were attracted and 39 competitors. Australian Motor Sports, February 1953 declared: The official lap record was set by Jack Murray (Day Special) in 2 mins 32 secs for the 3.75 miles (approximately 90 mph or 145 km/h). In the Canobolas Handicap of ten laps, J. Murray (Day Special) retired with universal differential (i.e. mechanical) problems. Australian Motor Sports, February 1953, reported on a very amusing and slapstick Ophir Handicap over eight laps: What a strange and comical race. The event was really meant for the slower cars but due to running troubles both Murray (Day Special) and Oxenford (Alvis-Mercury) found themselves in the field. They were wolves amongst sheep. In this race, Jack obtained fastest lap of the day, the lap record and then the world’s slowest wheel change as a casual conversation in the pits between Jack, who had a blown tyre, and Peter Lowe led to Lowe’s wheel being transferred to the Day Special. After this very casual changing of wheels Jack was off again – about four laps behind the field. The spectacular Jack Murray was dogged by tyre and radiator problems throughout the day. The Edward Hargreaves Handicap of five laps was a general scramble of the day’s fastest cars. In a field of eleven, no less than five cars crashed or went off the road, Jack being one of them. He ended his race amidst straw bales, down a ditch at Mrs Mutton’s Corner, having tried to correct a slide by giving full power to the Day Special. No damage was done and no one was hurt. Of the fastest quarter times recorded at Orange, Jack clocked 114.03 mph (183 km/h).
Gnoo Blas in 1960 was the venue for the inaugural Australian Touring Car Championship, now the V8 series, which attracted a field of 50 drivers and a dozen different makes of cars. David McKay (Jaguar), Bill Pitt (Jaguar) and Ron Hodgson (Jaguar) were the place-getters.
The Gnoo Blas club has more than 420 members and has monthly runs on the third Sunday of the month. It meets at Orange Ex-Services Club on the third Monday.
The club holds its annual Gnoo Blas Classic every year on the third weekend in February in Jack Brabham Park in the centre of the old track.
The name ‘Gnoo Blas’ is Aboriginal meaning ‘twin shoulders’ and described the nearby Mt Canobolas and Pinnacle, appearing on one of Major Thomas Mitchell’s early maps. Later it evolved into Canobolas.