“Don’t be an idiot and only pass on a straight line,” he said. Every driver is required to wear a helmet. If someone is driving dangerously or shows a lack of respect to other drivers, they’re out.
The attraction of Eastern Creek, said one driver who wished to remain anonymous, was there was “no speed limit and no looking out for cops in the rear view mirror.”
Mr Stewart and a frequent driver at the open track days and nights, NSW Police Highway Patrol’s Steve Planinic, argue driving on the track is the safest and legal way to satiate a desire to speed.
Non-professional motorists got the “adrenaline” hit of driving fast rather than putting others at risk on the roads, said Planinic. For many, one night is enough. Like Mr Yu, many drivers admitted to feeling scared and sick after driving around the track at twice the speed on the open road.
Across NSW, councils and police are grappling with increased incidences of hooning, which includes driving 45km/h over the speed limit.
Planinic is an acting sergeant in Strike Force Puma, a NSW Police Highway Patrol special squad that tries to get dangerous disqualified drivers off the road.
He tells any member of the public inclined to speed that the $275 cost of a night at the race track is cheaper than the fines for speeding, which start at $285 for more than 20 km/h over the limit, and can range into the thousands accompanied by disqualification.
The track is also safer. “You have no oncoming traffic, you have medical staff on scene, you have got a helipad, you are wearing safety gear (including helmet)… And you have pristine road conditions that simulate the perfect road,” said acting sergeant Planinic.
Driving an inexpensive blue Honda that cost him $40,000 to fit out, Sergeant Planinic was one of the fastest on the track. He runs the annual Beat the Blues day in Eastern Creeks’ skid pan. It promotes road safety by encouraging hoons to race legally against the highway patrol (which wins about three quarters of the races) while raising funds for charity. He also organises free learner driver days.
Limited to 75 vehicles a night, Mr Stewart said “high end customers” with disposable incomes had spent more money on these events during the pandemic because they weren’t travelling to Europe or Asia on vacation.
The line up included a Lamborghini, Ferraris like Mr Yu’s that sell for more than $700,000, McLarens and BMWs mixed in with more suburban vehicles like Hondas, driven by members of a group that calls itself the Anti-Honda Honda Club and Mitsubishis.
It is an expensive hobby, though, said Curl Curl’s Seb Phillips. He estimates the annual expense at around $200,000 as he burns through tyres and brakes. He is a member of a club called Drive Masters and participates in open driving events, which range from the $275 at Eastern Creek to more than a $1000 or more a day, about twice a month.
“This is a group of enthusiasts who aren’t reckless hoons, who enjoy driving their cars and driving them properly in the right conditions,” he said. “This is a controlled environment where we are learning a skill. We are not out there being larrikins,” he said.
He sometimes does the school pick up in his limited edition BMW X. On Tuesday night, driving the same BMW he hit 250km/h down the straight, entered the left hand turn at 220km/h – and emerged from the corner at about 180km/h. The left hand turn is one of the fastest in Australia.
For Mr Yu, the experience at the track reduced his desire to speed. He said he always drove under the speed limit because it was safer, and he didn’t want be viewed as a “show off or a hoon”.
Julie Power is a senior reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.
Nigel Gladstone is an investigative journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.