Speedway calls for support after Kaos in the Country cancellation saves lives

Headshot of Liam Croy
Liam CroyGreat Southern Herald
Travis and Ernie Menghini after a close call at Katanning Speedway Club.
Camera IconTravis and Ernie Menghini after a close call at Katanning Speedway Club. Credit: Liam Croy

The decision to scrap Kaos in the Country in seemingly decent weather earlier his month went down like a flat tyre with some speedway fans who had made the trip to Katanning.

But standing inside the venue one week later, surrounded by charred bushland, Ernie and Travis Menghini think it was a decision that prevented tragedy.

“About 10am on the Saturday morning, we had a meeting with DFES and the head of DFES said unfortunately we weren’t going to be able to go ahead with the event,” Travis said.

“It looked like the wind was going to swing around in the afternoon towards the speedway — and I don’t think he could have made a better call.

“I believe his call saved lives.”

The Menghinis help run the speedway — Ernie is the club president and his son is in charge of marketing and public relations.

The Katanning Speedway Club has been rebuilt over the past 12 years, largely thanks to the fundraising efforts and hard work of the tight-knit racing community.

All that hard work came very close to going up in flames on February 8, during the bushfire that forced the evacuation of large sections of Katanning.

When the fire was at its peak in the late afternoon, some people at the town’s makeshift evacuation centre said they believed the speedway had been destroyed.

Ernie and Travis Menghini are putting on a big event at the speedway this weekend. Pic: Liam Croy
Camera IconErnie and Travis Menghini are putting on a big event at the speedway this weekend. Pic: Liam Croy

But remarkably, the flames licked at the walls of the venue and encircled it, without catching onto shade sails or buildings.

“The fire basically engulfed all of the bushland around the speedway, and if it wasn’t for the firefighters, DFES and the local farmers and volunteers, there’s a very real chance we could have lost the speedway,” Travis said.

“We just had a look down the back there now and it got to the back wall. It’s come all around the fence lines here at the club and around the front of the venue as well. We’re extremely lucky not to have lost any infrastructure.”

For a small speedway club such as Katanning, Kaos in the Country was a huge event. About 80 competitors had come to town— one of them all the way from Canberra.

A lot of time and money went into preparing for a weekend when hundreds of spectators were expected to pack the venue.

The club is hoping to recoup some of those losses when it puts on a community speedway event called King of the Country this Saturday.

The Menghinis would also like to get a fire truck at the track for a lap of honour.

Ernie said the bushfire was a “pretty horrific” experience for the town and everyone needed to band together.

“We copped a reasonable financial loss with the cancellation,” Ernie said.

“It would be good if people could come out, if the town could support it and support the club.”

Saturday’s meet will feature racing divisions pro-modifieds, V8 wingless sprints, speedcars, super 6s, production sedans and burnout cars will also compete.

Gates will open at 3pm.

Tickets are $15 for adults, and $10 for children aged 12-17. Entry for children under 12 is free.

For details, visit facebook.com/katanningspeedway.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails