FOR TWENTY years the Superloop Adelaide 500 has remained a shining beacon for what is possible for domestic motor sport in this part of the world.
WORDS: Richard Craill IMAGES: Richard Craill, Mark Walker
Of all the varied and successful events on the domestic Motorsport calendar, only the Bathurst 1000 can claim to match the level of scale on show when the Supercars circus comes to Adelaide every February or March.
Forget the sexy four-day attendance figures, too: When in 2015 the event set it’s Sunday attendance record and the gates were shut with a shade over 93,000 people crammed into the precinct, more than five per cent of the entire state of South Australia were within the few city blocks of parklands that contain the event in the city’s East End.
Even more remarkably, the event has proved remarkable immune to the market, the economy and even daft decisions by the event organisers themselves.
When in 2017 no Sunday night concert was scheduled (because, we were told, of other events happening in the city), attendance dipped by nearly 11,000 people. Yet when normalcy returned the following year up it sprung again, to 90,000 when they jagged Robbie Williams to play.
This year, the massive get that is the Red Hot Chilli Peppers has seen Sunday’s General Admission tickets sold out and big numbers predicted.
And if you’re planning to spark up on social media about the fact that concerts shouldn’t dictate attendance, I’ll stop you right there: The ‘500 isn’t just a motor race it’s an Event, a sum of several components to make a massive whole in the same way they get Meatloaf to play at the AFL grand final and loud music at Big Bash games.
Few critique the Indianapolis 500 for adding 40,000 to their attendance by cramming a rave party in the infield during the famous race in May. It’s called the Snake Pit – look it up.
The ‘500 – and other events of its nature – must be considered as a whole and not just about the motor sport component. But even if a small percentage of those who go for the concerts only become racing fans by virtue of seeing it live – which, as we know, is the best way to watch it – then the sport is all the better.
Having said all that, the buildup to the 2019 event has been a strange one.
From a sporting perspective, of course there’s lots to like. The debut of the Mustang, the return of Ford as an official supporter of the sport, the commencement of Scott McLaughlins’ reign as champion, Davey Reynolds’ rise to title contender and finding out how Red Bull strike back are all valuable storylines that are engaging fans.
The support program is solid and the addition of old Formula One cars to anything is always a win in Adelaide, let alone to the circuit where they raced between 1985-95.
Yet off track the Adelaide Media has not given the event what you would consider an easy go of it.
Local resident groups appear to have been more vocal than ever about their lack of love for the iconic event, to the point where they’re engaging political opportunists to support their cause, in the process confirming why many people hate modern politics with a passion.
In a recent Advertiser story, Minister for Tourism David Ridgway spoke out in support of the event and that the Government had not considered moving the event to The Bend Motorsport Park, an hour outside the city.
“The Government has no plans to change the existing arrangements beyond 2021,” he told The Advertiser.
“The 2018 event attracted more than 273,500 people and generated nearly $42 million for the economy.”
This was followed by the revelation that The Opposition had engaged with (or was engaged by – who knows) local resident groups to negotiate the potential for the race to move out to The Bend following the end of the current contract for the event, in 2021.
Ridgeway’s opposite number in the Labor Party, Zoe Bettison, told The Advertiser that residents had been lobbying to move the event since the Liberals won the state election last March.
“I have no doubt David (Ridgway) supports the event in Adelaide, but many in the Liberal Party do not and will continue to oppose it,” she said.
Funny, isn’t it, how in this day and age short-term political gain can be traded quickly for long-term loyalty: Ms Bettison may forget that while the Liberal Party backed the creation of the event in 1998, Labor were steadfast supporters of it throughout their lengthy 16-year term in local government that only ended last year.
In fact it was then-premier Jay Weatherill who extended the deal with Supercars to 2021 when speculation was abound that Melbourne was looking to axe the Grand Prix and replace it with a Supercars event.. always a touchy subject with Adelaide racing fans.
“Speculation about the viability of Melbourne’s Grand Prix had raised concerns that Victoria may have our V8 race it its sights, so with the uncertainty of what will happen to the Australian Grand Prix beyond 2015, we approached V8 Supercars organisers to negotiate an extension of our agreement that would lock in the Clipsal 500 for longer,” he told the ABC in 2012, despite his well-promoted issues with some evening noise from the event interrupting his personal enjoyment of an Ennico Morricone concert held in the nearby parklands.
The problem here, political agendas aside, is that the people complaining to the political parties aren’t your standard, run-of-the-mill social media commentators getting on their high horse.
They’re organised people representing grandly-named organisations like the Southeast City Residents Association, or the Adelaide Park Lands Preservation Association.
And they are dangerous. They’re dangerous because while you can mute or ban a Facebook commentor, it’s hard to do that to a persistent lobbyist or letter writer actively harassing a local politician – especially one who thinks a decision for or against the race one way or another will get them political capital.
They claim the event is disruptive and that it damages the parklands and that it kills the birds and pollutes the air, among other things.
They complain about the traffic issues, despite the fact that the same road closures have now been occurring for one week every year, pretty much every year, since 1985 – which probably gives you an indication of the demographic we’re dealing with anyway.
Each year the local media report every night on the traffic ‘snarls’ around the East end and how the city is ‘plunged into chaos’ by the race. Which a) indicates that that journo has never been to Sydney and b) has nothing to do with the fact that the government puts the Fringe and Festival on at the same time..
Still, there’s not much we can do about it, really. Nor do we really need to because this is an event that speaks for itself and does so firmly.
It would be a brave, nay, silly, government that stops supporting an event that brings more than 130,000 different people into the city centre for four days at a time and, whether you believe the ratings or not, delivers a substantial and passionate television and digital audience to boot.
So when there’s 93,000 people packed into Victoria Park this Sunday (A park, I’d add, that is a desolate open space for much of the remainder of the year) we’ll be able to sit back and marvel in the wonder that is the Adelaide 500.
It is an Event – capitalisation intended – that is a boon for South Australia, for the sport and for the thousands of passionate fans who keep coming back every year.
In 21 years the Adelaide 500 has weathered scorching heat, torrential rain, tragedy, three changes of government (and countless more in the city council) and any and all kinds of on and off track drama.
In the same way, it can weather a few letter writers, opportunistic politicians looking for an exposure opportunity and bored TV journo’s with nothing else to report on than the traffic.
Happy 21st, Adelaide 500. You’re a ripper.