The Benalla Auto Club was founded Thursday 17 October 1957 by local school teacher, Bruce Watt. It’s first General Meeting was held in Walker’s Sports Store in Bridge Street, Benalla (currently Hide’s Bakery) with an initial membership of 20 persons. The Benalla Auto Club conducted it’s first activity, a Gymkhana, on the 1st December, 1957 behind Terrett’s Sawmill, Roe Street, Benalla with the Club moving on to conduct several club rallies, then known as Trials.
Benalla Auto Club conducted it’s first motor gymkhana at Barjarg on Sunday 11 May, 1958 to raise funds for the erection of a public hall, making a profit of 195 pounds from the event. The Lap Record was set by Hoot Gibson, in a Standard.
In August 1958 the Club began planning to build a permanent motor racing track.
The Club’s first ever full on race meeting was conducted on the 25 January, 1959 and had over 50 entries with a profit of 325 pounds. In March 1959 CAMS inspected the Barjarg circuit and licensed it for open motor racing.
23 June 1960 saw plans announced for the establishment of a motor racing track on the Winton Recreation Reserve. Development was enthusiastically supported by Winton residents and Benalla traders.
The construction of the 1.3 mile bitumen circuit was completed in just 12 months, with the top layer of blacktop put down just a few days before the inaugural meeting. The total cost of the construction then was 10,000 pounds
The first race meeting was conducted on 26 November, 1961. The circuit’s first meeting included the entry of local star Barry Stilo, who set the track’s very first Outright Lap Record, a now modest time of 1 minute 24.2 seconds in a Faux Pas (today’s lap record for the short circuit is 52.9900s – set by Mark Larkham in April, 1992 in a Reynard 90D).
The first Championship meeting on 9 December, 1962 (Victorian Formula Junior Championship)
In 1978 The Benalla Auto Club hosted the Rose City 10,000 which saw Formula One World Champion, the late James Hunt, race at Winton, where he dominated the event.
Winton Motor Raceway also hosted the first race meetings of legend drivers such as Peter Brock, Alan Jones and Allan Moffat.
In 1985 Winton hosted it’s first ever round of the Group A Shell Australian Touring Car Championship, which was also the first Touring Car round to be televised by the Seven Network.
Benalla Auto Club’s round of the Shell Australian Touring Car Championship Series was a very popular one on the Motorsport Calendar. Each year the race drew record crowds to the North East of Victoria. The touring cars took over as the main event on the calendar from the Rose City 10,000
The Club undertook a $500,000 upgrade in 1995 with the widening of some sections of the track and a new surface laid.
In 1997 the Club added a 1 Kilometre extension onto the existing circuit and resurfaced the entire circuit at a cost of $1.1 Million. This included a new pitlane without the buildings.
On June 5th 2000, 5 weeks before the biggest event on the Winton Motor Racing Calendar, the Shell V8 Supercar Championship Round, an arsonist set fire to the Race Control Tower that stood tall and proud over the circuit for many, many years. To date the arsonist has not been found, but the police are still looking.
The building was restored to its former glory in time for the V8 round, once again standing tall and proud in its rightful place, on the Start/Finish straight on the short circuit.
The circuit celebrated its 40th Anniversary in November 2001, and with recent additions such as construction of Pit Lane garages, a 1000 seat Corporate Pavilion, the new three-storey Race Control building and a “State of the Art” Media Centre, Winton Raceway has grown to become one of the best facilitated race tracks in Australia.
Winton has the unique characteristic where the public can see all of the racing from almost any part of the facility.
On the 28th February 2002 The Winton Motorcycle Club was formed to add representation for the two wheel enthusiast that frequented the Winton Facility. The Club conduct ride and social days and are undertaking the task of building a motocross circuit on the adjacent property to Winton Motor Raceway. The Circuit had its first meeting a flat track practice day in November 2004.
BARJARG RACETRACK (1958 – 1961)
In 1958, The Benalla Auto Club seeing the success of the North-Eastern Car Club’s earlier Wangaratta Aerodrome Racetrack and their new “Tarrawingee Racetrack” along with numerous other racetracks that littered North East Victoria and southern NSW decided to build a racetrack at Barjarg, just south of Lake Nillahcootie, in the undulating hills at the base of the Strathbogie Ranges, between Benalla and Mansfeild. Located approximately 1km from the “Barjarg store”, 16km from Mansfeild, and around 50km from Benalla, the racetrack was fairly isolated, but still attracted numerous entries for most of its race meetings, and attracted reasonable crowds at the time due to the Benalla Auto Club’s great promotion, advertising and organisation at the races. The undulating hillside around the track also made parking and viewing easily accessible for all spectators, which was an added attraction, as many other racetracks offered very poor facilities for both driver and spectators.
On Sunday the 1st of May 1958 the Benalla Auto Club conducted a “Gymkhana” at their new racetrack at Barjarg, in North East Victoria. Proceeds from the event were invested in the development of the Barjarg Circuit.
On the 25th January 1959, the Barjarg Circuit had its “Grand Opening Race Meeting”, with over 50 entries, the Benalla Auto Club made a profit of some 325 pounds, after conducting over 20 short races through out the day.
The racetrack at Barjarg was approximately 0.9km long, and was an Oil-Bonded Dirt Racetrack, which despite its relative success during operation, was never fully developed. Apparently along the main straight and some where in the middle of the track was a huge Boulder or Rocky outcrop, which was an added obstacle for the race drivers at the time. During the years the racetrack was in operation, from 1958 – 1961, apparently this “Rock”, which the Benalla Auto Club attempted to remove, but just could not budge or move the rock due to its size. The “rock” started to become multicoloured due to cars and their panels scrapping the side of the “Rock”, a number of cars came to grief on the “Rock” which was soon named the “Barjarg Rock”. Even a number of cars hitting
the “Barjarg Rock” at high speed could not shift it from where it lay with the cars always coming off second best.
The last planned meeting at the Barjarg circuit was conducted during December 1960, as the new “Winton Raceway Circuit” was well under construction with its “Grand Opening” planed for April 9th 1961.
The last race meeting at the Barjarg circuit was held on the 9th April 1961 as a memorial for Mr Ormand Allision, the former President of the Benalla Auto Club who had been killed accidentally during the construction of the Benalla Kart circuit. The Benalla Auto Club had planned the 9th April 1961 as the Winton Grand opening meeting but the track was unfortunately not ready and was moved back to Barjarg. The proceeds from the meeting went to the Allison Family. Today nothing remains of the “Barjarg Race Circuit” except for a cutting in the side of one of the hills at its original location.