'We’re not hoons, we’re enthusiasts’

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bairnsdale dragway club

“We’re not hoons,” is the first thing one of the drivers says to me. “We’re car enthusiasts.”

Everybody wants you to know this. Sure, they love nothing more than to disappear in clouds of tyre smoke as they rev their hotted-up cars through 360s, tail-spins and extended dance mix burnouts. But they’re definitely not hoons.

In fact, this is ‘skidding’, with the key being that we’re not on the street, where cops would descend and lives would be at risk.

Instead, this is legal and it’s safe and a crowd of more than 1000 people line the concrete barricades separating the spectators from the cars, at a more than legally required distance, screeching and hooting in appreciation.

One driver, in Bairnsdale for the skidding event we attended, vows it should be an Olympic sport and all the town’s hotels, booked out for the weekend, would probably agree.

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Most importantly, the people behind this revhead wonderland say they are saving young lives in Gippsland and other areas of Victoria.

One of the founders, Colin Hayward, used to drive tow trucks and says it was seeing the extremely distressing end result of young drivers coming to grief that convinced him to do something about it, by approaching the problem from the other direction.

He and a bunch of fellow citizens took over the lease of a destroyed drag strip next to Bairnsdale’s airport, reportedly sank more than $760,000 into infrastructure, and established the Bairnsdale Motorsport Complex.

Highway Patrol officer Sergeant Dwayne Morrison has been involved in encouraging legal Bairnsdale skidding since the pad was founded.

bairnsdales-legalised-burnout-sessions

‘Kids are going to want to do burnouts’

“I’m 55 now, and had 20 years in Melbourne Highway Patrol, then here. From a policing perspective, kids are going to want to do burn-outs, so why not facilitate it, with a proper venue, so they can do it legally and safely? We’ve got them in a safe environment where they won’t hurt themselves or anybody else.”

Sergeant Morrison says being a regular at the Motorsport Complex has enabled him to build strong relationships with the local youth, building bridges between the law and potential problem drivers.

“We fly the flag for the Police Car Club, because we’re into cars as well. They are very open with me. We’ll still impound their cars for doing the wrong thing, but the stats for that are pretty low compared with the rest of the state.

“It’s a heavy hit, though. You’re talking $1443 later, and the court costs, and a fee to get it back from the yard. Or $80 to do it legally at the club.”

A streetful of skidders

And this is why on a recent drizzly Saturday night, you could see a super-charged little yellow car called Minion, which had caught fire twice in two days while skidding, now driving along the main street of Bairnsdale next to a police car, without incident; in fact, the main street is full of rumbling burn-out cars ranging from $200,000 masterpieces to budget-buy Holdens and Fords home-tinkered into skidding machines.

The band Donz Party was playing in the rotunda and drivers mixed with locals, all talking about cars. This was Bairnsdale greeting the community of skidders of which many of the young would-be problem-driving youths of the town are law-abiding, paid-up members.

Matty Jonkers, 23, admits to being one of those set straight by skidding. His backroad burnouts had him on the police watch list by the time he was 15. It was only when he was invited out to the Motorsport Complex and realised he could do the same thing with the encouragement and blessing of Highway Patrol police like Dwayne Morrison, that he realised his troubles were over.

“I’ve had more burnout cars than street cars,” Matty says. “It took the police more than a year to realise I had changed my ways. I love the attention (of performing). You get out there and all your nerves just go.

bairnsdale drag club

‘I used to go out every night doing burnouts’

“I used to go out every night doing burnouts, but now I come here every month instead and you get it out of your system for 80 bucks. Highway Patrol is here, smiling.”

Another big brash local skidder, CJ, agrees. “I’ve been competing on the pad since it opened. It’s stopped a lot of the street skidding,” he says.

“It’s fun, and you get your adrenalin up and it’s great stress relief. I use $200 coloured-smoke tyres or I get my tyres from a few people, like scrap metal dealers. They’re happy to donate them because they are no longer street legal.”

Sergeant Morrison grew up around cars and has been a policeman for 31 years.

“I’ve seen a lot of the negative side of injuries and death, the ramifications on family members. None of us wants it to happen but it does. This is a way to have a positive influence and to stop that in some way.

“Being heavy-handed doesn’t always work. Colin and the other founders have done a great job. The benefits are really good and we can teach kids how to drive well out at the track. There are a lot of positive stories out of this.”

Written by Nick Place. Photos by Meredith O'Shea.
February 12, 2018

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WHAT RACV SAYS

RACV acknowledges that irresponsible driving is a real problem for some communities.

The behaviours discussed in this story should only be done in a closed and supervised environment.

RACV manager road user behaviour Melinda Spiteri says: “Skidding and doing burnouts on public roads and in public spaces is illegal, irresponsible and extremely dangerous and can result in drivers, passengers, pedestrians and other road users being seriously injured or killed.”