Round three of the Diamond Air Speedcar Super Series next weekend in Sydney is the most prestigious of the tournament as the SSS honours the late, great Australian Speedcar and Sprintcar Champion George Tatnell.
The event (The GT Challenge) pays tribute to a man who was years ahead of his time when it came to corporate sponsorship awareness and a man who was sadly taken from us years before his time was up aged just 68 after he was struck down by pancreatic cancer.
On Sunday, May 13, 2007, speedway lost GT.
Some of the colour and excitement also died with this great entertainer and champion driver.
SSS operator Ken Jenkins wanted to promote GT in his series, as a tribute to his great career, with the running of the George Tatnell Challenge. Jenkins has arranged for the top three drivers to receive specially crafted GT trophies featuring the Midford Offy, the Offy Wedge and the Winfield VW.
Anyhow, it's what George would have expected as a speedway statesman.
“This is a very important round on our schedule honouring George. I will always remember seeing him pulling into the Liverpool pits in a double decker bus, with a small trailer on the back towing the Offy Midget,” Ken said.
If George wasn't throwing a cream pie in the face of legendary Rowley Park Speedway, Adelaide, promoter Kym Bonython, he was entertaining the fans another way after a slashing main event victory with a stirring victory speech that was straight out of Vaudeville.
When the infamous Barry Butterworth near riot erupted at the Sydney Showground in February, 1967, George got caught up in the shenanigans trying to restore law and order.
Super showman, super competitor, super bloke who was a sponsor's delight.
He was a man who was well known in the business world courtesy of his corporate backing from Rothmans of Pall Mall (Winfield), Shell and Midford Shirts. His pit crew were the first to be decked out in colourful garments courtesy of Midford.
His entourage included businessmen and socialites, but it was all for the benefit of the sport as George talked up speedway in the right places and always to the positive.
One time he even called on divine intervention when he had a Carmelite Nun bless his Midford Offy Speedcar.
There was something very much “old school” about GT after he started his career driving bash and crash stock cars in 1962.
He later moved into Hot Rods - Super Modifieds before he took his biggest step to that time in his career in February, 1966 when he purchased the McGee-Shell fuel injected Holden Trackburner Special soon after Johnny Stewart drove the car to Australian Speedcar Championship victory at the Sydney Showground on February 12, 1966.
GT was now in the big time under the bright lights of the Sydney Showground and massive media exposure of Sydney Speedcar racing. Stewart became his teacher and mentor. George, the school student, listened and learned from the master, while he also inherited the backing of Stewart's long time sponsor, Shell.
GT set a career milestone after he became Australian Speedcar Champion, Australian Speedcar Grand Prix titleholder and in1988 National Sprintcar Champion in a distinguished career that found a special place in the Australian Speedway Hall of Fame. In addition to his three Australian Speedcar titles (1973, '74 & '77) he was also a state Speedcar and Sprintcar Champion and winner of the “World Speedcar Championship.”
At the height of his powers in the ex-Tattersall-Cascio Offy, Hedley, Phil and Chris McGee of camshaft and fuel injection fame, were in his corner. Phil, Stewart's right hand man through his great years, worked with George, further continuing GT's “Stewart connection.”
Speaking from California recently Chris McGee has fond memories of the GT years and George’s rivalry with another Sydney Speedcar star, Ronald Mackay.
“After 13 (McGee Tornado) was sold, the ex Cascio Offy, driven by George Tatnell, was our “house car”. George was a natural but was always willing to become better.
“For a while Ronald outran him and earned Championships. George continued to get better and he then began to outrun Ronald.
“The rivalry between the two was big and together with drivers of the calibre of (Barry) Pinchbeck, (Sid) Middlemass and (Howard) Revell out there too, produced some of the greatest racing we have ever witnessed.”