July 20, 2023
When the 27th Historic Leyburn Sprints hits the streets later this month, it will be thanks to the efforts of local residents to keep their historic little town on the map.
On that map, the Southern Darling Downs town comprises around 350 residents, one post office, two churches, a school, pub, police station, general store and a handful of houses.
Except during the Sprints – this year on 19-20 August - when up to 15,000 historic and classic motorsport fans swarm in to watch two days of round-the-houses competition and enjoy the off-track activites.
But that is only half as many fans as reported to have attended the Australian Grand Prix staged on an ex-wartime airfield circuit just outside town on 18 September 1949. The GP was the inspiration for local farmer and racer the late Mike Collins to found the Sprints in 1996 to rev up Leyburn again.
The Sprints is organised by the locals and community groups earn money by undertaking many roles from catering to emptying rubbish bins. Proceeds from the event are distributed through the Historic Leyburn Sprints Community Benefit Fund.
“Leyburn is a small, out of the way spot on the Southern Downs and not many people might know about it if it didn’t host Queensland’s biggest historic motorsport festival of the year,” said Tricia Chant, President of the organising committee.
“Instead we have competitors and spectators from across Queensland and even from as far away as South Australia – every year.
“The Sprints was Queensland Motor Sport Event of the Year in 2017. Through the efforts of our community, the Sprints brings so much to Leyburn and we’re very proud of it.”
Retired farmer and committee member Ken Oliver said the Sprints inspired him to go racing.
“I came here for the first event in 1996 and that spurred me to get a race car for the first time, a 1969 Monaro. The Sprints are brilliant for local pride. The length of time it’s been running, 27 years, proves its value.”
Sheryle Wieden and fellow members of the Queensland Country Women’s Association’s 99-year-old local branch will be up early on Friday morning making sandwiches for volunteer workers. She will staff the Leyburn Museum inside the RSL Club all weekend to tell visitors about the district’s heritage.
“I’ve never been into cars but the atmosphere gets you in. it’s catching – everybody’s happy. In the last few years there’s been a strong effort to ensure everyone gets a benefit from the sprints,” she says.
Post Office licensee Franky Horton, whose premises date from 1891, agrees the Sprints put Leyburn on the map again after the 1949 grand prix.
“Not a lot of people would have heard about the town if not for the Sprints. There’s a collective pride in the town because of it,” Horton says.
The history of the Australian Grand Prix, secretive American and Australian wartime activities at the airfield and of Leyburn’s goldrush in the 1860s is a bonus for visitors, along with the experience of driving to the town across the majestic Darling Downs, one of Australia’s iconic agricultural regions.
There are more than 20 plaques marking historic locations around the town and at the old circuit, where John Crouch drove his French-made Delahaye car to victory in the 240 kilometre grand prix.
Tricia Chant said some Leyburn locals had become car enthusiasts themselves.
“Quite a few people around town have become imbued with the spirit of the Sprints and got old or interesting cars of their own. A couple actually compete.
“History and cars come together in a town that relishes both. There’s no better recipe for a great weekend.”