History Still Lurks
Catalina Park Raceway, Katoomba
Walking a lap of the narrow and undulating circuit, with its splintering wooden walls and rusting Armco railings, provides a glimpse into the halcyon days of motorcycle racing, an almost forgotten era that saw motorcycling legends of the 1960s risk their lives on this dangerous track.
From a motorcycle racing perspective, Catalina Park represented everything that a circuit should not be. The inside of the circuit presented sheer drops to the valley floor, while the outside extremities were lined with old railways sleepers, right to the edge of the bitumen, held in place by vertical posts that protruded above the top rail.
A lap of the circuit commenced on the downhill starting line on what was officially known as KLG Straight, the circuit bottomed out through a gradual right hander leading to the hairpin Dunlop Corner. Then it was quite a climb to another hairpin, Craven A. Next came the most daunting part – the plunge through a left/right kink down towards the pit area and through a very quick right hander at the base of the hill, before disappearing into Energol, or the Tunnel of Love as it was more commonly named. Then it was back up to the KLG Straight to finish the lap. The whole thing was over in a little over one minute.
Catalina’s final fling as a motorcycle venue came at the Katoomba Grand Prix on 7 December 1969. By that stage Sydney had two operating road racing circuits - Oran Park and Amaroo Park - and no-one seemed upset to see Catalina Park laid to rest.
Amazingly car racing at the circuit continued until the late 1990s, although by that stage it was for car club lap sprints only. There was also a time during the 1970s when the track hosted a popular Rally Cross series. Cars used the first half of the circuit before plunging into the gully to tackle a the offroad/rally section. Given he region’s temperamental weather patterns, there was never a shortage of mud to spice things up a bit.
Want to check it out? It’s hidden in plain view in the centre of Katoomba. If you are planning a trip from Sydney you can enjoy the cruisy roads of the Great Western Highway on the way up to the circuit, stop out for a spot of lunch in the well tourist-equipped town, and then head back home through the twisty layout that is the Bells Line of Road which runs through Bilpin back to Western Sydney.
Maybe pack a fold up bicycle or an RC car on the back of your bike and pretend you’re Ray Curtis. Making the sounds of a thumping Manx as you cut laps around this spectacular circuit that heralded the same safe standard as cutting Asbestos without a mask.