It’S AMAZING WHAT’S STILL OUT THERE … #2
‘Stuff can turn up if you keep your eyes open”, Garry Simkin wrote in a recent Loose Fillings post, and the latest to do so is an amazing cache of fire-damaged Jack Brabham trophies that go right back to his earliest days on Sydney’s speedways.
Jack receives the Australian championship tray at Kilburn Speedway on 25 February 1949.
There is a cup which is clearly Jack’s first major trophy of all – the New South Wales Speedcar Championship 1948. There is a tray which records his win in the Australian 20 Lap Speedcar Championship of 1948-9 – the presentation of that very tray, laden with cut-glass, is recorded by a photograph (above) that is on the jack-brabham-engines.com website. There are even ‘billycart’ and other racing trophies of sons David and Gary.
Another trophy had a marble base and was surmounted by a casting of what might be a Ferrari – for what success we do not know – but only the car survives. There are Indianapolis awards and others that are impossible to identify. There is a much cracked dish of the “Doghouse Club” which was founded in 1962 by a group of driver’s wives and girlfriends – including Betty Brabham – to provide some much needed paddock social activities and facilities. In due course it raised millions for charity and is still going strong.
As is well known, Jack started his motor racing career driving a speedway ‘midget’ or ‘speedcar’ which he then famously entered in a number of hillclimbs, taking the outright Australasian hillclimb title at Rob Roy, north of Melbourne, in 1951.
When Jack retired from racing and his role in Motor Racing Developments at the end of 1970, he returned to Australia and bought a farm north of Melbourne where his first wife Betty hoped that their boys could grow up far away from motorsport. A few years later the Brabhams moved to a much bigger spread – 4300 acres apparently – at Galore, west of Wagga Wagga, New South Wales.
Jacks’ memorabilia was still stored there after the farm was sold but then it was practically all lost in a fire in one of the out-buildings. At some stage remnants were recovered from the farm by people who worked there. There may have been other ‘finds’ – nobody really knows – but this one has been brought to Sydney in search of a safe place of keeping.
Doug Nye, who knew Jack well, and has written extensively about him, has told Loose Fillings, “Blackie was not a bloke to get emotional about the past, or things connected with the past – but he did weaken when he described to me how he had lost a mass of stuff ‘in a fire at the farm’, I think during the late 1980s or early ‘90s.”
This set us wondering where the trophies fitted into Sir Jack’s biography, and in particular just when was Jack’s very first race?
The 1960 Jack Brabham’s Motor Racing Book doesn’t say, but the context puts it after August 1947. In a recording held in the National Library of Australia Jack says ‘late 1947’. In his book with Doug Nye, The Jack Brabham Story, he says of the Johnny Schonberg/Jack Brabham joint-venture to build the now famous JAP-engined midget number 28, ‘Johnny drove for about half our first season but in the second half – into 1948 – his wife persuaded him to stop racing’.
Above: Johnny Schonberg in No.28 obviously when it was new and before it was signwritten and trimmed. The engine is a 996cc 8/80 JAP probably from one of the several Skirrows which came to Australia. Below: Jack poses for the camera on his first night at Cumberland Oval. Photos courtesy Brian Darby’s www.vintagespeedway.com
Searching newspaper records and old programmes confirms that Jack’s first night at the Sydney Showground was 28 February 1948 when he was listed as ‘H. Brabham’, as he was the next Saturday too.
But of his first night at suburban Parramatta’s Cumberland Oval (where he would have had to qualify for the Showground) there seems to be no record that searches of various collections and archives, especially that of that of speedway historian Brian Darby, have been able to find.
The slender newspaper records aren’t a lot of help either but one report in The Sun tells us that No.28 first took to the track at Parramatta on Friday 5 December 1947. However online searches for other spellings such as “Schoneberg” brings us more from a paper called The Biz of Fairfield on 11 December 1947:
“Speedcar drivers appreciated the
change of weather conditions at Parra-
matta Speedway last Friday night, and
“turned on” a great show. The track was
very fast, and Johnny Schoneberg, ace
American driver, equalled the track re-
cord established by the late Jack Skelton.
“The 10-lap scratch race went to champion
S. Payne, who just lasted long
enough to win from Vickery, with Bra-
ham (sic) and E. Groom close up in 3rd and
4th place. We were pleased to welcome
Schoneberg back to the track, driving
his new car No. 28 … “
Although he must have been racing at Cumberland Oval there are no more newspaper reports of Braham/Brabham until he is recorded as graduating to the Sydney Showground in February next year. From then on there is no stopping him. Schoneberg/Schonberg only makes occasional appearances in 1948 – apparently in borrowed cars – so his wife’s pressure to give up speedway can only have been partially successful.
The Sydney Morning Herald of Monday 22 November 1948 records Jack’s win in the New South Wales speedcar championship on the previous Saturday night. The Advertiser (Adelaide) of 26 February 1949 tells us that Jack Brabham won the Australian 20-lap speedcar championship at the Kilburn speedway ‘last night’. History also tells us that he won another Australian championship in Sydney a few weeks later!
So there we have it – Jack Brabham’s first race was at the Cumberland Oval, Parramatta on 5 December 1947. Someone must have a programme but otherwise nothing other than the briefest local newspaper report survives to mark that night.
Taken about 5 years ago this photo shows Ron Tauranac (left), Jack Brabham (right) with No.28 and its owner Don Halliday (centre). Whenever Jack met up with No.28 he always would tell Don that it had “made his day” to see it again. He was clearly proud of the old warrior. Note the Tauranac cast wheel centres and the 1360cc engine that Jack eventually built with the only JAP bits being the rocker boxes.
Trophy photographs courtesy Andrew Halliday