- Tony Quinn purchased Queensland Raceway for $12 million
- First priority is to replace unloved facilities
- Planned upgrades to QR could see Supercars pushed back to 2023
Tony Quinn is many things – a racer, a businessman, a team and circuit owner and most importantly, a fan of all things motoring.
The Scotsman has recently acquired Queensland Raceway for $12 million from John Tetley after months of back-and-forth, negotiation breakdowns and compromises.
For Quinn, it’s another feather in his cap, adding QR to his existing circuit portfolio of New Zealand’s Hampton Downs and Highlands Motorsport Park, as well as Taupo – which was purchased for $9.8m within the past week.
For South East Queensland motorsport fans, Quinn’s takeover of QR is a step in the right direction after the venue seemed to be neglected since it was first opened in 1999, with basic facilities at the circuit serving function over form.
Taking some time out of his busy schedule of buying race tracks, running multiple businesses and being a 40 per cent owner of a Supercars team, Tony Quinn ran Street Machine through his plans for the circuit which is based just outside of Brisbane.
Jordan Mulach: How does it feel to finalise the takeover and finally have Queensland Raceway in your control?
Tony Quinn: “I’m not sure how many people know the history, but John’s been a personal friend of mine for about 20 years. When I started to own the tracks in New Zealand, we had a lot to talk about, but we probably have differing views on how to best run a racetrack. How John runs QR from a business perspective has been very good, however my gripe has always been about a lack of reinvestment in the facility.
“If you have a digger, a bobcat and a truck, you can dig holes and do your landscaping for the next 10 years – but at some point in time, you have to replace that equipment or at least maintain it. My business model is more of a reinvestment model, looking after the equipment and facilities which then looks after the business. Both of our businesses are prosperous, but it’s been due to using a different model.
“John’s 78 years-old, so over the past five years there’s been discussions between us about him retiring, selling up, moving on. He would phone me up, we’d have breakfast and he’d think it was too tough. He’s a proper negotiator and knows how to hold his cards, so when I would bring up making an offer, he’d flip around and say “I don’t know what else I’d do”. Within 10 minutes he’d go from wanting to sell to keeping it. I told him that when the time comes to sell it, let me know.
“Probably in March this year, he sent me a message saying he wanted to sell both QR and Lakeside Raceway. We made a deal and shook hands, but then a week out from the finalisation date, he phoned me up and said he had changed his mind. We had a handshake deal, there was no need to pay deposits because he knew I wouldn’t renege on it. He was just unsure about what he’d do after selling them, he made the announcement about the deal not going ahead and social media smashed him around a bit.
“My general manager kept in touch with him, together they progressed down the road of keeping hold of Lakeside, developing the RACERS business, but QR could go. I said the deal would have to be quick otherwise he could change his mind again. It’s all progressed nicely and we’ve taken control as of November 1.”
JM: Are you disappointed you couldn’t take control of Lakeside as well?
TQ: I’m not, actually. To be quite honest, taking them both on at the same time was always going to be a big job. John’s going to have a fair bit of money in his back pocket and he’s got some ambitions about developing the circuit. If it suits both businesses, we might run a few race meetings there because I don’t think he’ll be kitted up to run a race meeting as such. There’s no point in doubling up on people and assets – if we can run something there with our business, John will get a cut of the action.
“We have first rights on Lakeside if he decides to sell it. I’ve told him a dozen times to go look at his birth certificate – I look at mine a few times every year and think, ‘what am I doing?’ There’s about $5 million to spend at Lakeside before you even make a big impression, just in safety and a few bits and pieces around the place. The control tower is nearly condemned, it should be demolished. We’ve got different views on what Lakeside needs to be, but I wish him luck. I’ll support him, but my job is to bring QR up to a modern standard. It’s too big a job to make it futuristic, but I just want to make it modern so we can catch up on 15 years of neglect.
“It’ll take me about 12 months to do and then depending on what his thoughts are on Lakeside, whether he wants to keep it or the council wants to shut it down, we’ll carry on with QR and see what the future holds. It’s a tough business to make a dollar out of, but John has been making a dollar out of it, so all kudos to him for running a business which is successful.
“With the fighting between Lakeside and the local council, the past has been about trying to hold ground over the Government. I think Lakeside requires a more conciliatory approach – you need to work with the community to have a compromise. Maybe only a few noisy days in a year to keep everyone happy. Let’s give him a chance to do something with it. I want to make Lakeside the premiere period race track in Australia.”
JM: What are some of your plans and where do you aim to start?
TQ: “Nowadays you expect to have decent toilets, facilities and food when you go to a venue. You go to Suncorp Stadium and it’s pretty cool, even if that is due to Government money. When you’re a private operator, it’s a bit different. For sure, it might not but Highlands standard, but it’ll certainly be Hampton Downs. A proper facility which is clean, looked after, maintained and well run.”
JM: What was the appeal for you to buy the circuit? It would’ve been easy for you to sit back and think of it as a problem for someone else to worry about –. but being the businessman, circuit owner and team owner that you are, you would’ve looked at the facilities and knew it needed some improvement.
TQ: “You’re quite right, it’s public knowledge that I started with nothing in life and ended up with a solid amount of wealth. I’ve got children who I’ve taught and given lessons to make money, I’ve got nine grandchildren too. It would’ve been easy to do f**k all, buy a boat, drink chardonnay and watch the world go by – but that’s just not me.
“The enjoyment I get from owning Hampton and Highlands in New Zealand is indescribable. For someone who has a hobby, some success as a driver, team owner, sponsor and all of that side of things – to have smiles on people’s faces is a fantastic feeling. I love going to work or thinking about working in those facilities.
“It saddened me that in Australia, tracks have only come good in the past decade or so. The Shahins investing in the Bend Motorsport Park, we’ve seen investments in Barbagallo Raceway and Sydney Motorsport Park. The whole thing has moved on and yet QR has stayed where it is. I’ve got New Zealand well sorted, I’ve got massive kudos from the mayors and the governments nearby the circuits are proud of what we’ve achieved.
“I think I can improve QR to a point where people will be pleased to go there, enjoy it and grow the community involvement. I know these are just words, but I’ve proven in the past that when I talk, things typically happen. There’s going to be some drastic action to improve the facility.
“The business model is fine, the RACERS model needs to probably be aligned a bit closer to the other insurance providers out there, there needs to be a common understanding of the signals. There needs to be a movement from our side and Motorsport Australia’s side so competitors can understand what the race meeting is going to be like, whether it’s run by RACERS, AASA or MA.”
JM: What does this mean for future events at QR, not just from a national point of view but also grassroots and community events? Do you have any plans to move away from events such as roll racing and Powercruise or are they still integral to the business?
TQ: “The business model which John runs is a good model, but what we have to do is have some signature events there. In the first 12 months, I won’t change anything on the events side. We will develop hybrid events though, so some run by MA, some motorcycle events for Superbikes and drifting. We can cater for national events, but looking after clubs is still important.”
JM: Given you’re now an owner of Supercars team Triple Eight Race Engineering, how hard will you campaign to get QR back on the calendar given there hasn’t been an event there since 2019?
TQ: “I don’t think I’ll have to campaign too hard to be honest, obviously there’s been discussions at the higher level already. If we provide the facilities and remove some of the hurdles or road blocks, I think we should go hard to get Supercars back to QR.
“However, my personal preference would be to skip 2022 because I need 12 months to fix the venue. I can tell you the café will be demolished, there will be corporate suites built, there will be a pit lane to the left hand side of the control tower. I want a viewing deck halfway along the right hand side of the pit structures.
“There will be some track changes – it’s difficult to reconfigure it in any constructive way. It’s a great and safe track for fast cars – if you’re driving a GT car or a TA2 or Supercar, it’s quick enough. However, if you’re in a Hyundai Excel or on a motorbike it’s boring. We do intend to put in a few bits and pieces which will change the track for those categories and will make the racing more interesting and challenging for them.”
JM: And finally, similar to the $7000 fine you paid to Motorsport Australia (then CAMS) in 2004, is John being paid in coins?
TQ: “Ha! I hadn’t thought about that actually, although I imagine it’ll all be done on a computer with the press of a button. I don’t think the tap and pay will work, it might be over the $100 limit.
“John did very well out of the deal, it’s a $12 million transaction. Some people will say I’m an idiot and paid too much, but I don’t think so. I’ve got several fingers in several pies. I bought a business in the UK a few years ago for £10m and sold it last year for £42m. I owe it to myself to take on the QR challenge and make it work.
“I must say one of the things we have at both of our tracks in New Zealand is for rubbish to be put in the rubbish bin. We take pride in our venues and want that to flow through the fans. If you’re proud of your facility and see some rubbish some other f**cker has left behind, you put it in the bin and look after the joint. We will look after you.”