In 1905, James Robert Crooke built the world's first purpose built racing car track inside his pear shaped horse racing track at Aspendale Park, Victoria, Australia.
The first car race meeting at Aspendale Park, was organised by the Automobile Club of Victoria on 29th January 1906, in front of an estimated 1,000 spectators.
A year and a half after Aspendale Park held their first race in January 1906, Brooklands race track in England held their first race meeting on 17th June 1907. The Brooklands Society and the Brooklands Museum claim that Brooklands was "the world's first purpose built racing circuit."
A line up of early Oldsmobiles at a rally at Aspendale 1905.
View looking south across the track towards the grandstand. circa 1906
1891 - FROM HORSES TO CARS
The horse racing track was created by successful racehorse trainer James Robert Crooke. The track opened on the 14 April 1891, on land previously purchased by his father, and continued to host horse race meetings until 1931. For some years after its closure to horse racing it was used as a horse training track. JR Crooke, named the course after Aspen, one of his best horses who had won the Newmarket Handicap twice, in 1880 and 1881. The track is believed to have been one mile and eight furlongs in length.
Crooke built the track at considerable financial cost and risk by taking 130 acres of ti-tree covered, flood prone land, adjacent to the Frankston railway line, and gradually converted it into pleasant parkland relatively free from encroaching flood waters. He implemented a drainage plan and deposited large amounts of filling to reclaim the land. There was a railway line close to the east side of the property, but no railway station. So Crooke built a timber platform on the railway's land at his own expense, as the railway commissioners were not interested in such an enterprise and refused to accept any financial commitment. At first the platform was a flag station where passengers could alight after informing the guard of their desire, or catch a train to Melbourne by waving a flag to indicate their wishes to the train driver. The platform was also used to load and unload the horses.
1904 - CAR RALLY AND FIRST RACES
In January 1904, JR Crooke hosted a car rally at his horse racing track - Aspendale Racecourse - in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Crooke then won the first two race car meetings held in Australia in March and April of that year at Sandown Park and Maribyrnong horse racing tracks respectivily.
The experience prompted him to begin planning the building of a new motor race track at Aspendale Park.
JR rounds the last turn at Sandown Park on the 12 March 1904
to win Australia's first motor race.
The ACV's first car rally at Aspendale on the 31 January 1904.
In this picture, the cars are driving on the horse track.
The white gravel track in the background is the motor cycle track that was laid around circa 1903. The car track was laid over this in late 1905 and opened for racing in January 1906.
1905 TRACK SURFACE 1
The world's first purpose built car racing track.
In late 1905, James began construction the world's first motor racing track inside his pear shaped horse racing track at Aspendale Park, "with a view to promoting racing among motor cars," as The Advertiser newspaper reported. Close to a mile in length, it had slightly banked curves and a gravel surface of crushed cement. The new track was acknowledged as Australia’s “first commercial (race car) track”.
On 28 October 1905, there was a report in the Moorabbin News that "the steam roller was at work on the motor cycle track on Mr Crooke’s prettily situated and popular race course. The path is in excellent condition and the motorists should be able to put [in] some fast [times]." A History of Australian Speedway states that, "(Crooke) laid down a crushed white gravel circuit, a project which reportedly cost a then enormous 1700 pounds" (over 1 million dollars today).
James, an aggressive entrepreneur, had built at his own cost, his own railway station platform on government owned land beside the railway line that ran past his Aspendale property.
The track facilities were extensive and 'state of the art' for the time, with an impressive grandstand and gardens designed by William Guilfoyle, the director of the Botanical Gardens in Melbourne, who has been described as ‘a landscape architect of genius’.
1906 FIRST RACES AT ASPENDALE
Crooke ran the first car race meeting on his track, on behalf of the ACV on 29 January 1906. Various newspapers estimating that between 1,000 to 4,000 spectators attended. (The Sydney Morning Herald)
With a huge prize of 100 Guineas up for grabs for the win, the drivers turn onto the straight, in the "J. R. Crooke Cup" feature race.
The ACV invitation to the January 1906 race meeting,
to be held on the "Special Racing Motor Track at Aspendale".
A second race meeting at Aspendale was organised by the Automobile Club of Victoria. This was scheduled for Monday 5 and Wednesday 7 November 1906, but The Argus newspaper wrote that "heavy rains (...) thoroughly soaked the special banked motor track" and so the racing was rescheduled for Wednesday 7 and Friday 9 November. The Wednesday races were a success, but Fridays races were postponed owing to unpropitious weather.
There is no further record of motor 'race' meetings on the gravel course taking place until the end of WW1. However the track underwent 15 years of constant improvements with the banking gradually being built up, through to the early 20's. Many car 'rallies' were held at the track during this period.
The race program from the January 1906 race meeting.
1907 BROOKLANDS UK OPENS
On the 17 June 1907, a year and a half after Aspendale Speedway opened, Brooklands race track in England was opened. Owing to the complications of laying tarmacadam on banking, and the expense of laying asphalt, the track was built in uncoated concrete. The Brooklands Society and the Brooklands Museum claim that Brooklands was "the world's first purpose built racing circuit.
Don't forget - the British also told us for years that James Cook discovered Australia!!. When the first Australian, Ima-Cuma-Phirst, walked down from Asia some 40,000 years ago and sat on the hill overlooking the yet to be named Botany Bay, I doubt very much that he declared, "This looks like a good place to wait for that white fella Cook to discover this land."
Lesson - never let the British write history.
TRACK FOR MELBOURNE - "SPEED KING'S" PLANS.
Motor racing, on lines such as obtain on the Continent and in America, is to be established in Victoria. Some years ago Mr J. R. Crooke held motor speed contests on the Aspendale Park race-course, but that rendezvous was too far from the city to popularise the new form of sport. In the interval much has been learnt from the experience of other countries.
The pioneer In this new movement was Mr Rupert Jeffkins, who is known in America as the "Australian Speed King."
He declared, "It is proposed to conduct a motor racing carnival on the Richmond racecourse early in November. Ultimately a fully equipped speedway will be formed in a favorable locality."
War in Europe was about to end that dream.
The original grandstand at Aspendale Racecourse. Picture circa 1908.
Campsites at Aspendale Park in 1911.
In 1912 fa fire destroyed the campsites.
Aspendale Railway Station 1914.
Looking South - Nepean Hwy on right. Station St on left.
Sign on left of Station St says 'Aspendale Park Race Course'
The beach at Aspendale - early 1900's.
1914 - 1918 WORLD WAR 1
1923 TRACK SURFACE 2
The banked track at Aspendale. AV Turner in his 35hp Floria Itala.
AV Turner at Aspendale, Melbourne, a banked dirt track, on the way to winning the “blue riband 25-miles Australian Championship” from Carlo Massola’s Diatto on April 21, over the Easter 1924 long weekend
This picture was taken in the early 1920's.
Archie Turner driving his 35hp Floria Itala, seen here racing an aeroplane at Aspendale Park in the early 1920's. The race was declared a draw.
Turner’s Itala racing a Farman bi-plane, probably piloted by Major Harry Shaw – a prominent racer himself – at Aspendale circa 1921, it was a dead-heat apparently. Exact date appreciated.
The extended grandstand at Aspendale Racecourse.
The grandstand was 10 bays long. Circa 1920.
Aspendale underwent many changes in the first 15 years, including the track banking being systematically built up, but in 1923 a new banked concrete - bitumen track, a mile in circumference, was built at Aspendale over the old track.
The first race meeting on the new track was held in March 1924.The History of Australian Speedway describes the new banked concrete track as; consisting of two straight runs, each about a quarter of a mile long with a width of 60ft and “banked on the outside to a height of 27 feet” permitting competitors to travel at speeds of more than 100 miles an hour.
The James Flood book of Early Motoring describes it as a bitumen (concrete)-coated track, a few yards short of a mile with a width of 45 feet, designed to permit racing cars to negotiate the banked turns at 90mph.
In 1925 between 4,000 and 5,000 people attended a motor cycle and motor race meeting during which there were no serious accidents when average speeds of 78 m.p.h. were reached.
Sporting Globe (Melbourne, Vic. : 1922 - 1954)
Wed 20 May 1925
According to a stateent
made by the owner of the
ourse (Mr J. R. Crooke) last week,
motor racing has not shown him the
return that was expected, due in a
large measure to the fact that many
Fix this textof the carnivals were marred by wet
eather. The track was opened In
February, 1924, and with lew exceptions
indifferent weather has prevailed.
Mr Crooke said that the staging of
motor racing carnivals was a costly
affair, but lie was prepared to take a
"sportinE chance" and arrange tor
carnivals next track seoson. New
Year's Day appeared to be a most
suitable date, but there was no reason
why meetings should not be held before
At a cost ot over £6000 the former
Fix this textnisphalt traok has been removed and
In Its place an up-to-date dirt speedivny
lies been reconstructed qnd ispoclnll.v
prepared to permit ot high speeds.
This track, unlike motor-cycle dirt
incite In Auntralln and England, Is
not loosely constructed. It permits
of spectacular skids and broadsiding,
but is aimed at spoed.
Situated in a sandy bayside suburb of Melbourne, Aspendale Motor Racing Club had a history dating back to the dawn of motoring. James Robert Crooke had a horse racing track built on his father’s land in 1889. The name of the venue played tribute to his champion horse ‘Aspen’, which had won the Newmarket Cup in 1880 and 1881.
Entrepreneurial Crooke had won Australia’s first motor race at Sandown Park in 1904 driving his steam powered Locomobile. By January 1906 they were motor-racing at Aspendale Park on what he claimed to be the world’s first purpose built racing track. After only a few events the track went into hibernation until a new banked concrete/bitumen track was built in 1923. The first event was held on this surface on 1 March 1924.
OPENING NEW RACING TRACK.
There were many interesting events and a few thrilling incidents on Saturday at the first motor-car meeting on the new racing track at Aspendale. Hitherto most of the racing has been on motor-cycles, and always on grass tracks; the new track, composed of concrete and asphalt, is a veritable speedway ; indeed, some of the competitors attained such pace that they could not hold the track.
Among the competitors were two drivers who have taken part in famous European events.
Although the weather was dull and showery, there was an attendance of about 12,000, and the greatest interest was taken in the various events. Members of the Royal Automobile and Victorian Motorcycle clubs acted as officials. The circuit of the course is two chains less than a mile.
Women Motorists To Race at Aspendale - 1924
Another innovation in motor cycle and motor car racing will be introduced at the meeting of the Aspendale Park Motor Racing Club, on the Aspendale track on Monday. Among the events will be a special car race for women competitors. It will be the first of the kind held on the track, and should be a very popular and
The lady drivers who will compete in the event are not likely to spare
Mr George M'Carey, manager of the Aspendale Park track, is confident that the meeting will be a record one.
In view of the many disappointments experienced by motor racing enthusiasts during the past two months, it is expected that devotees of the sport will attend Monday's meeting In force.
John Williams and the DFP at Aspendale
John was a jovial beret-wearing, Gauloise smoking motoring journalist who had a preference for French cars. He was the second owner of a Brescia Bugatti in 1929 and was still driving a Ballot 2LT in post-war years. As Motoring Editor for the Sun News Pictorial and later the Argus, his knowledge of cars was encyclopaedic. He came into our realm through friendship with Lou Molina and attendance at Lou’s Brighton Central Hotel in the 1970s.
John took part in an unusual event at Aspendale on 9 June 1924 – a match-race between the Motor Editors of the Sun and the Herald. Fortunately, photographs survive of this encounter, showing that the drivers were accompanied by their wives. John annotated the back of one photograph, stating that this was the first time that women had travelled as mecaniciennes in a motor race in Australia. John’s wife Pegg is quoted as saying “What a damned row 24,000 people can make!”
1928 TRACK SURFACE 3
In November 1928 the concrete surface was pulled up and replaced with the original crushed white granite surface.
Unfortunately, the timing of the upgrade was not good.
1929 - 1933 THE GREAT DEPRESSION
Two motor vehicles race side by side, Aspendale Park, 1929. Photo Michael Terry.
The grandstand viewed from the front straight. 1929.
The Age (Melbourne, Vic. : 1854 - 1954)
View title info
Mon 17 Mar 1924
Melbourne To Be Centre
Speeds of 90 miles an hour will be
permissible on tho new motor car
racing track which 1h being con-r
structed on tho Aspendulo racecourse
property, owned by Mr J. It. Crookc.
The work Is well in hand, and the
speedway will probably bo completed
In January. Mr Crooko hopes to con
duct the first series of races on Janu
ary 28 (Foundation Day holiday). Ho
said today that several cars designed
for racing had. been orderod by Mel
bourne enthusiasts In anticipation of
the sport becoming popular, Races
for stock model cars would be en
couraged, and motorists desirous of
"fully extending" their cars would be
afforded opportunities of doing so.
The track will be a shade under a
mile In circumference, and 40 feet
wide. It will bo surfaced with bitu
men and banked at the corners.
Mr G. M. M'Carcy, of Bportlng Cars
Ltd., Spring street, has been men
tioned as tho probable manager of the
It Is the aim of tho management
to mako Aspcndale tho groatest sport-
ing centre in the Commonwealth, and
great interest surrounds Mr Crooke's J
enterprise. The. site of tho venture is
not without a history, for in 1905 one,
of the first car races in Australia wasj
hold over the circuit, which Is now i
being brought up to date.
An Aspendae Project
Mr J. Il^Croolie, the owner
of Aspendale racecourse, was
present-at the Victorian Motor
Cycle Club's speed -carnival
on Monday last, and uas so
impressed with the sport and
Its possibilities tbat lie promised
to give tlie flub a
trophy, valued at £25, lor
li was stated by Mr CrooVe
that he had bad the course
surveyed with the object of
making arrangements for the
laying down of a properly
hanked track for motor car
Fix this textnnd motor cycle racing, on the
site of the old speed truck,
. which was put down 10 or IS
years aco. but which was
never used to any extent. The
new track will be designed to
carry,Biiecds of up to 150 miles
With this project, and that
which Sir Rupert JefTkins has
in hand for. tlie establishment
of u speedway next to the
Amateur Sports tiround on
Batman avenue, Melbourne
Villi be well supplied with
facilities for motor racing.
The Argus Turf Guide Friday 8 July 1938
Aspendale Speedway Opening
After several years of inactivity the Aspendale speedway, on the Aspendale racecourse, will be reopened on October 1, when events will be conducted by the Light Car Club of Australia. Portions of the track have been re-graded, and a water sprinkling system has been installed.
Peter Whitehead wining the feature event at Aspendale Speedway, Melbourne, Victoria in October 1938. ERA R10B. He also set the lap record. (EH Price)
‘The Argus’ reported ‘The success of Peter Whitehead, the English racing car driver was a feature of the motor races conducted at the Aspendale Speedway on Saturday by the Light Car Club of Australia. Driving his special ERA car which is the fastest car in Australia, Whitehead contested big handicaps to the other competitors to win three races,
Whitehead displayed the amazing acceleration and power of the car on the straights, especially the back stretch where he attained about 100 miles an hour. In the invitation race of 10 laps he completed 1 lap in 43.45 seconds at 82.79 mph. This established a lap record for the track.’
Whitehead won the feature from R Curlewis, MG and P Chain, Frazer Nash.
Midget racing cars at Aspendale, Vic. 1939...Ted Gray and Colin Best on the last lap of a Speedcar event, driving at speeds of 80 + MPH
Aspendale Speedway. This is probably a promotional ‘race’ to extol the virtues of the ‘Males Producer Gas’- immediately before or perhaps just after the start of WW2.
1939 - 1945 WORLD WAR 2
Car and motorcycle racing continued on the motor racing circuit until the late 1940s. The horse racing track closed for racing in 1931, but was still used for horse training through to early 1951, when Aspendale was finally closed to make way for residential housing. The track had survived WW1, the Great Depression and WW2.
Brooklands Speedway in the UK closed at the out-break of WW2 in 1939. Aspendale Park Speedway, having shown Brooklands the way, out-lived it's old nemesis by 10 years.
CLICK ON IMAGE TO OPEN IN POP-UP WINDOW
Aerial photos (1945 and 2015) of Aspendale Park.
Aspendale, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
The racing car track was built inside the horse race track in 1905, almost 2 years before Brooklands was built in the UK. The horse track was closed in 1931, but motor racing continued into the late 1940's.
No physical evidence of the track remains. The track location is now defined by Yackatoon Ave to the south and Albany Cres to the north and east. Neapean Hwy and Station St are to the west of the front straight.
The track and the railway station were built by JR Crooke.
The entry to the track was via Robertson Pde.
The botanic garden in the north west corner of the property is now the CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research Department.
ASPENDALE SPEEDWAY TODAY
Looking north - west up Albany Cres in 2015 - Aspendale Park's back straight.
• Australian Guinness Book of Records
• James Flood book of Early Motoring Vol 2.
• A History of Australian Speedway by Jim Shepherd.
• The Crown of the Road. The Story of the RACV. Susan Priestley
• Motor-Car Races and Trials - Donald Thompson
• City of Kingston Historical Website.
The race program from the January 1906 race meeting.
Aspendale Park Racecours
Racing and Death at Aspendale
James Robert Crooke
The father of Australian Motorsport
Bushranger, master marksman, champion jockey, successful horse breeder and trainer, race promotor and track owner and racing driver.
Born in 1847, JR Crooke was an adventurous young man, who in his late teens and early 20's, rode with the infamous bushranger, Captain Moonlight and was involved in some very dubious adventures and some very close calls with the law. Someone has to hold the horses while the Captain robs the bank!
By his late 20's and with Moonlight hanging at the end of a rope, JR had seen the error of his ways and had devoted himself to legitimate horse trading and training. He had become a champion jockey and one of Australia's premier horse breeders, trainers and promotors. By 1891 he had built a horse racing track - Aspendale Racecourse - in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
James Robert Crooke (1847 - 1932) Picture 1915
First race car winner
Australia's first car race winner, James Robert Crooke, staged and then won, Australia's first motor race on 12 March 1904, on the horse racing track at Sandown Park, Melbourne,Victoria, Australia.
The first race of the day was a voiturette race (for cars with engines of 6hp or less) and the Australian Motorist magazine reported that "Crooke tied down the pressure valve of his steam car and obtained about 1,000,000lbs (!!) of pressure to start with and made hacks of the other cars, travelling nearly 30mph.
JR rounds the last turn at Sandown Park
on the 12 March 1904
to win Australia's first motor race.
Australia's first racing car,
a 1902 Locomobile 4.5hp steam car with a tiller steering.
JR dropped the roof down for racing.
7 weeks later, on the 30 April 1904, the second motor race meeting for cars in Australia was held at the Maribyrnong Racecourse, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. This time the race meeting was organised by the ACV. JR was again on form, winning the voiturette race, the feature race of the day.
JR's winning ribbon from the April 1904 ACV Maribyrnong race.
The ACV would become the RACV in 1916.
FOOTNOTE: AUSTRALIA CENTRIC TOPIC
Henry James and Peter Brock
In recent years, some journalists have promoted a notable speedway rider, Henry James, as the 'Father' of Australian motor car racing. This had no basis in historic reality, but was due mainly to the fact that he was the great great uncle of the late Peter Brock, a famous Australian racing driver. The offending journalists that ran with the story and the Brock connection, obviously believed that you shouldn't ruin a good story with the truth.
The facts are that Henry James, a pioneering motorcyclist, can possibly lay claim to being the 'Father' of Australian Motorcycle Racing, but played only a very small part in the first race car meetings.
JR Crooke, a founding member of the ACV, conceived, promoted and organised both the the first ACV event in January 1904, a car rally on his horse track at Aspendale for the ACV, and the first motor race in Australia, the February 1904 Sandown race for the Commercial Traveller's Association of Victoria. He then won the first motor race in Australia at the Sandown meeting and went on to build the world's first motor racing track at his Aspendale venue.
Henry participated in the 1904 events, but not as promotor and organizer. JR invited his friend Henry, a sales executive for Dunlop at the time and a founding member of the ACV, to organize an ACV rally to drive down to Aspendale and Sandown to participate in JR's events and, with many other club members, help out with the ACV's side of things. However, Henry was a fast learner and in 1905, the ACV put him in charge of organising the Sydney to Melbourne reliability trial.
As for 'Father' of Australian motor car racing? ...... JR had already ticked that box.
This web page is managed by Jon Crooke, the great grandson of JR Crooke. Jon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org