WHAT began as a fundraiser for a struggling country show is fast becoming one of the biggest annual events in regional South Australia.
The small country town of Keith in the state’s South East will host a round of the 2017 Australian Jet Sprint Championship as part of its booming Diesel and Dirt Derby.
Organisers are sinking a bore and will begin digging a track in the coming weeks ahead of the March 25 jet boat event.
The racing will be part of the town’s fifth annual Diesel and Dirt Derby, which includes country motorsport events such as tractor pulls, buggy racing and a header demolition derby (pictured below).
Diesel and Dirt Derby committee president Glen Simpson said he hoped the jet boat racing would help boost crowd numbers to 10,000, up from 6500 this year.
Simpson said being taunted by mates that he couldn’t do it and a desire to keep building new elements to the successful Diesel and Dirt format was ample motivation to organise the event. The novelty of holding a boat race in a town almost 100km from any major body of water had also helped generate interest, he said.
“It’s got people talking, the community’s embraced it but they’re still wondering how we’re going to do it all,” Simpson said.
The circuit, on the site of a former motorcycle track on the edge of the Keith Showgrounds, will be fed by a 24m deep bore and filled to a depth of between 70cm and a metre.
Once dug, the track will be capped with clay to hold the water in and a three-metre safety fence built around it.
The dirt dug out from the track will be used to build grassed spectator viewing mounds.
Diesel and Dirt Derby committee president Glen Simpson at the site of the jet sprint track.
“As soon as we get the track down they’ll bring a few boats over from Melbourne or Adelaide and test it to make sure it’s all safe,” Simpson said.
With a population of about 1200, Keith is 250km southeast of Adelaide on the main road to Melbourne.
Simpson and other community volunteers became involved almost a decade ago in a bid to turn around the fortunes of the struggling Keith & Tintinara District Show, which is held in October.
“When we got on the committee they had $400 in the bank. It took a couple of years to turn it round but we got some sponsors and increased the gate numbers from hundreds up to thousands,” he said.
“Then we introduced a Diesel and Dirt Derby as a fundraiser for the show and we’re up to about our fifth one. We started off with 500 people the first time and it’s grown.
“We’re hoping to bring people in from out of the area. We’re hoping for about 10,000 in March, we had 6500 this year and we’re trying to take it to the next level.
“But we’re also trying to be mindful that it doesn’t overshadow the show because the show’s a very important part of the community.”
After several tough seasons of below average rainfall and a long struggle to save the local hospital from closure, the farming community has not had a great deal to celebrate in recent years.
Simpson said he wanted to make the Keith leg of the jet sprint championship an annual event and also wanted to run a Red Bull Dinghy demonstrations in the future.
“It’s putting Keith on the map for the right reasons – not a hospital closing or a business going bankrupt – it has given a bit of a morale boost for the area,” he said.
The jet sprint racing is scheduled to be the opening round of the 2017 championship and will be the first time V8 jet boat racing has been held in South Australia since the Currency Creek track was used more than a decade ago.
Standard jet boat courses are about a kilometre long and have about 30 changes of direction in a tight twisting track. Boats race against the clock and can reach speeds of up to 150mk/h.
Australian Formula Jet Sprint Association president Ted Sygidus said 30-40 boats from around Australia were expected to race in Keith in the Sportsman, 400 International and Unlimited classes.
He said he was planning a trip to Keith in the coming weeks to check on the progress of the track.
“The boys are really great, they’ve got a venue and they’ve already got a crowd coming so it will be good for the sport and it will be good for South Australia,” Sygidus said.
“If Keith turns out well, we’ve got the world titles at the end of 2017 and we could possibly hold a world series race there.”