TODAY - October 25 marks an important anniversary in Speedway racing in Australia. It was on this day 20 years ago that the very first Late Model feature race was held at the Geraldton Speedway in Western Australia. The popular American racing division came "down under" after three well known sedan families - the Nylanders, the Ludlows and the Cardys - decided to run the Late Models after becoming disenchanted with the direction of the Australian Saloon Car Federation and the Super Sedan class. They formed Late Model Racing Australia (Inc) and set about building some machines using the car specifications of the United Dirt Track Racing Association (UDTRA) series in the USA. Saturday October 25, 1997 saw nine of the new Late Models on hand at the Geraldton Speedway. The program saw them line up for three ten lap heats and a feature race, with the distance not specified in the program. All nine cars started the first two heats. Ben Ludlow won the first heat from pole, followed home by John Cardy and Willy Powell. The second event went to Rob MacGregor, also from the pole, over Ben Ludlow and Rob Whittington. Passing was difficult around the small flat Geraldton bowl, so it was decided to split the field for the last heat - and so creating two six lap events. The first of these races went to Alan Nylander from Rob Whittington and Willy Powell, while John Cardy led home Rob MacGregor and Ben Ludlow in the second one. The Late Model Feature was the final event on the night. The distance was announced as being over twenty five laps. The historic race was billed as "THE FIRST EVER OFFICIAL FEATURE RACE FOR LATE MODEL SEDANS IN AUSTRALIA". Ben Ludlow started on the pole, with his son Brad coming out of position nine. Sharing the front row was Rob MacGregor. At the start Ludlow kept low and shot straight to the lead. MacGregor held onto second, with the rest of the field behind them. Both John Cardy and Ryan Halliday spun out, with Brad Ludlow retiring due to engine problems around the half way mark, and Willy Powell eliminated after a crash. Veteran Alan "A.J." Nylander came on strong in the second half of the event, passing Ivor Ladwig and Whittington, and becoming the car to watch. Nylander paced MacGregor for a few laps before slipping by into second, and then he had Ben Ludlow in his sights. With several laps to go, Nylander caught and passed Ludlow to record an historic victory.
AUSTRALIA’S FIRST LATE MODEL FEATURE (Geraldton, WA 25/10/1997) Finish (Start) No. Driver Car 1. (7) #4 Alan Nylander Chev Camaro 2. (1) #9 Ben Ludlow Dodge Avenger 3. (2) #28 Rob MacGregor Chev Camaro 4. (6) #11 Rob Whittington Chev Lumina 5. (5) #12 Ivor Ladwig Pontiac Trans Am DNF (3) #60 John Cardy Chev Camaro (4) #14 Willy Powell Dodge Avenger (8) #99 Ryan Halliday Mazda RX7 (9) #10 Brad Ludlow Dodge Avenger
(Sincere thanks to Grant Woodhams for information for this story).
Seven Late Model events were held on country tracks during that inaugural 1997-98 racing season for the Late Models in Western Australia. As well as Geraldton The Late Models also raced at Kalgoorlie, Margaret River, Esperance and Ellenbrook that summer, plus held a non-points event at the Collie Speedway. The Ellenbrook Speedway finale saw Alan Nylander down John Cardy, Ivor Ladwig and Ryan Halliday. Since then, of course, the division has gone from strength to strength and today the Late Models are raced in every mainland state and have just started up in Tasmania. Results of the first ever Western Australian Late Model Championship (run on a pointscore basis over the season) are listed below.
1997-98 WESTERN AUSTRALIAN LATE MODEL CHAMPIONSHIP (AFTER 7 ROUNDS) 1. Alan Nylander #54 Chev Camaro 452 points 2. John Cardy #60 Chev Camaro 440 3. Ben Ludlow #9 Dodge Avenger 393 4. Rob MacGregor #28 Chev Camaro 371 5. Ivor Ladwig #12 Pontiac 320 6. Rob Whittington #11 Chev Lumina 302 7. Brad Ludlow #10 Dodge Avenger 291 8. Ryan Halliday #99 Mazda RX7 288 9. Willie Powell #14 Dodge Avenger 207 10. Kevin Bell #6 Dodge Avenger 200 11. Luke Halliday #4 Chev Camaro 147 12. Bruce Trenaman #25 Chev Camaro 84 13. Tony Giancola #4 Chev Camaro 42 14. Simon McNabb #6 Dodge Avenger 42 15. Trevor Johnson #4 Chev Camaro 39