FORMER speedway racer Bob Blacklaw pinches himself whenever he enters the shed out back of his home in Sydney’s lower northern suburbs. Although it’s taken him 30 years to acquire and restore the three iconic open-wheelers that dominate the floor space, it still strikes him as being slightly surreal.
These are race cars he once idolised: the ex-Bob Tattersall Cascio Offy Kurtis Kraft midget car; the all-conquering Mooneyes Corvette Super Modified imported and raced by Bill Warner; and the game-changing Johnny Anderson sprintcar, the first sprintcar ever imported into the country.
“I’ve been lucky,” Bob says. “I’ve been in the right spots at the right time and knew what cars I was looking for. This Mooneyes car – I was in love with it when I was young; I used to follow it everywhere it raced. I still can’t quite believe that all these years later, here it is, sitting in my shed.”
Bob’s love of old-time speedway is deeply ingrained. The shed is a veritable shrine to the dirt oval, and so is his house. In his living room he’s got two old speedway bikes parked in front of a wall-to-wall trophy case stacked with awards and memorabilia from his racing days.
On the floor lies a custom-made rug commemorating the two NSW Sprintcar Championships he won back in the 80s.
“I went to Windsor RSL Speedway in 1962. That was my first speedway meeting, and I guess I just fell in love,” he says. “Eventually I started racing myself. The era of speedway that I lived through was the best.”
Since hanging up the helmet, Bob has slowly established himself as one of our foremost vintage speedway restorers – and we do mean slowly. His latest and greatest resto effort – the recently unveiled Johnny Anderson sprintcar – was found over 30 years ago while on a racing trip to Darwin, and sat in the shed for at least 10 years without so much as a spanner being laid on it.
“That’s been a 20-year build,” Bob explains. “Mainly because it wasn’t a full-time project; I did it when I had spare time or when I could get the parts. But basically the Anderson car is the first one I’ve done from scratch myself. I’ve had more time to play with cars lately, whereas during my earlier restorations I was working six days a week and racing on weekends, so I had to farm some things out.”
The oldest car in Bob’s stable is the black #5 Cascio Offy, which he found on the same Darwin trip that yielded the Anderson sprintcar.
Built in 1948 by the famed Kurtis Kraft shop in Glendale, California, the four-pot Offenhauser-powered midget was brought to Australia in 1961 by American star Bob Tattersall, and subsequently passed through many local drivers’ hands before ending up in the Top End in sad shape – some joker had fitted it with a Datsun engine!
“The car had a hard life in Darwin and was very much in need of tender loving care,” recalls Bob, who bought it sans motor and located a replacement original Offenhauser in New Zealand. “I did some of the restoration with a bloke called Steve McEvoy and then the car went to Curly Carroll in Queensland. Curly sadly passed away and so the car came back here and I did a bit more on it, but I had no spare time.
Eventually I got to know a guy in Melbourne called Wayne Pearce, so I sent it to him and he finished it.”
In the meantime, Bob completed work on the orange #26 Mooneyes Corvette, which had originally been imported to Australia from San Jose by local Super Modified racer Bill Warner in 1963. Super Mods were the precursor to modern sprintcars, and this one was more
had punch-ups over it, but in the end everyone had to either upgrade their gear or be left eating dust.
“When the Anderson car came here it sort of made everything – I wouldn’t say obsolete overnight – but people had to work a lot harder,” Bob says. “It had virtually no weight in it, it handled better, and it was just way ahead.
“It turned up with no clutch and that caused a lot of drama. People were against it. Guys had invested a lot of money in their Super Modifieds and I guess they could see the writing on the wall that this car would make their cars obsolete.”
After Johnny Anderson’s successful tour was done, future 10-time Australian champion Garry Rush bought the car, shrugged off the backlash, and started making regular trips to victory lane. Pretty soon everyone else had either bought or built a sprintcar, or at the very least thrown the clutch out of their Super Mods. The golden sprintcar era of the 1970s was ushered in.
How the car wound up in Darwin a decade later, Bob doesn’t know, but it was suffering from neglect when he tracked it down in 1984.
Sitting unsheltered and unloved outside a suburban home with the grass getting taller around it, he offered the owner $300 for it, which was the amount of cash he had in his pocket, and the deal was done.
“I got the bottom half of the chassis, like the main rails, the front axle with a spring, the fibreglass tail, the aluminium fuel tank, the engine plates,” he explains. “Basically the bottom half of the car was there and I had to recreate the top half.
“When I was finished racing in Darwin the car got tied onto the side 085
of my sprintcar and came back to Sydney that way. Then it sat here for over 10 years before I even looked at it.”
Work was done whenever Bob could spare the time, and there was a lot of trial and error involved in getting the dimensions right based on old photos of the car from the early 70s. In some cases it took him years to find certain parts.
“If I’ve got to wait a couple of years to get the original gear, I’d rather do that than compromise,” he says. “Things like fittings, you have to compromise, you can’t get those old fittings anymore. All this old stuff is getting harder to find.
“Doing vintage stuff is very enjoyable but very frustrating.
People don’t realise the hours that go into a vintage car, finding bits and fabricating bits. But in the end it’s worth all the effort.”
The car was finished in January and Bob fired it up for the first time at the 2017 Australian Sprintcar Championship at Sydney’s Valvoline Raceway.
“That was a special day in my life,” he says. “The amount of people that came up and congratulated me or took photos of it, it was mindblowing. I felt very proud.”
Bob has now retired from full-time work and is settling into life with more time to tinker. Next up on his jig are two 1960s midget cars: the Holden-powered red #53 built and driven by Sydney’s Ray Redding, and the blue #3 Myron Caves Offy brought to Australia by Californian Don Meacham.
“Some days I get a bit bored and wish I was back at work!” Bob says. “But then, some people retire and sit down to relax and next thing they’re dead – I’m lucky I’ve got my cars.” s