Keith – a small country town about 250km southeast of Adelaide – hosted Round 2 of the Australian Formula Jet Sprint Association season on Saturday as part of its Diesel and Dirt Derby.
It was the first time the series has raced in South Australia since the 1990s when events were held at Currency Creek.
People travelled from as far away as Queensland for the event and some even flew arrived in light aircraft from Adelaide.
But it wasn’t just the V8 boats that caused the town’s population to grow from 1200 to almost 12,000 on the day as almost anything with an engine vied for prizes and local bragging rights.
The Keith Diesel and Dirt Derby, which has grown in popularity every year since it began as a fundraiser for the Keith Show in 2012, also includes a header demolition derby, lawnmower races, Centurion tank demonstration, motocross and an air display. The tractor pull event was run as a championship round of the Australian Tractor Pullers Association.
However, it was the jet boat track that had everyone talking between runs where the supercharged boats burned up to 20 litres of fuel in hot laps that lasted less than a minute.
A technically difficult and unfamiliar inland layout led to a number of thrills and spills as teams attempted to master the new track.
Victorian Tremayne Jukes took out the Unlimited Class title in his boat Maniac ahead of four-time Australian Champion Phonsy Mullan while Ben Hathaway won the 400 Class.
Jukes, who also upset Mullan to win the opening round of the championship at Temora on March 4, said it was the biggest crowd he had ever raced in front of in Australia.
“Our first two runs were a nightmare, we had engine trouble and we couldn’t even get a lap down. It didn’t start well but it definitely ended well,” he said.
Jukes said combining the jet boat racing with the other aspects of the derby made for an “awesome event”.
However, he said the challenging layout of the new track meant drivers had to concentrate extra hard to post competitive times.
“The other tracks we race on have been established for quite a while so you can close your eyes and visualise all the corners whereas with this one you are kind of going around blind and it is a very, very technical track – we were working hard out there but if they put another race meet on tomorrow I’d be here again.”
Australian Formula Jet Sprint Association president Grant Bourke said it was a highly successful return to racing in South Australia.
“We’re very happy with the track and what the guys have done in such a short time.
“We haven’t raced in South Australia for 20-odd years – we used to race at Currency Creek and Renmark – and for the guys to go and build this place and have something different is awesome and encouraging for the sport.
“You only had to look at the reaction of the crowd today with the rollovers and some fast times – it was really close at the end.”
Bourke said the association would look to hold two rounds of the championship in Keith next season.
Keith Diesel and Dirt Derby president Glen Simpson said the track would be further improved for next year with the planting of grass on spectator mounds and the possible addition of lights to allow for night racing.
He said this year’s event and the official crowd figure of 10,100 exceeded expectations.
“We wanted 5000-6000 to make our money back and get us back on our feet.” Simpson said.
“So this is really going to put some money in our coffers to tidy up the track a bit and build some more toilets.
“We really gave ourselves a challenge this year, building a jet boat track from scratch in a few months, but we did it and the jet boat association members are absolutely thrilled that we have put together such a good facility – the only one in South Australia”.
“I’m considering an air show over the top at some stage but that’s just an idea.”
Round 3 of the 2017 Australian Formula Jet Sprint Association championship will be held in Griffith, NSW, on Easter Saturday (April 15).