Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Cultural Advice

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website contains names, images, and voices of deceased persons.

In addition, some articles contain terms or views that were acceptable within mainstream Australian culture in the period in which they were written, but may no longer be considered appropriate.

These articles do not necessarily reflect the views of The Australian National University.

Older articles are being reviewed with a view to bringing them into line with contemporary values but the original text will remain available for historical context.

Sykes, Geoffrey Percy (Geoff) (1908–1992)

by Peter Windsor

This article was published:

Geoffrey Percy Frederick Sykes (1908–1992), motor-racing promoter, was born on 6 September 1908 at Plumpton, Sussex, England, eldest of three children of Percy Robert Sykes, technical school principal, and his wife Mabel, née Smith. Educated at Brighton, Hove and Sussex Grammar School (191923), Geoff was apprenticed to British Thomson-Houston in Rugby, Warwickshire, an engineering company. Certified as an electrical engineer in 1929, he joined H. M. Office of Works. On 23 September 1939 at the parish church of All Saints, Lindfield, East Sussex, he married Margaret Rose White.

Motor racing quickly became a passion for Sykes. He regularly attended pre-war race meetings at Brooklands, he loved riding motorcycles, and he competed in hill-climbs and trials with his open-topped Wolseley Hornet two-seater. He was an active member of the Brighton and Hove Motor Club (BHMC). During World War II he undertook electrical engineering work for the Air Ministry.

After the war, Sykes worked in various management positions before joining the electrical drawing office at the Ministry of Works. He continued to foster his love of cars and motorcycles with the Junior Car Club. When it amalgamated with the Brooklands Automobile Racing Club in 1949 as the British Automobile Racing Club (BARC), Sykes, by then chairman of the BHMC, began working for John Morgan, the club’s secretary. Morgan became his mentor. Charming and mild-mannered, as assistant general secretary Sykes provided a counterpoint to the no-nonsense Morgan. Under Sykes’s direction, a motor-racing circuit was designed and constructed at Aintree racecourse, opening in 1954; it would be the setting for the British Grand Prix on five occasions. At many of its meetings, including the early Grands Prix, Sykes officiated as clerk of the course.

Invited by the Australian Jockey Club (AJC) in 1959 to discuss the design of an Australian version of Aintree, Sykes travelled to Australia for a fact-finding tour in December 1959, returning permanently in June the following year, when work began on the new circuit at Warwick Farm. Due mainly to his planning and organisational expertise, the facility was finished in only six months. The 2.25-mile (3.6 km) circuit was noteworthy at the time for its large expanses of grass and for its white railing (from the horse-racing track). It was extremely safe.

The first Warwick Farm race meeting was held on 18 December 1960. It was followed soon afterwards, on 29 January, by a major international meeting that featured a 100-mile (160 km) event for Formula 1 (F1) drivers and top locals. In intense summer heat, sixty-five thousand spectators watched Dan Gurney, Graham Hill, Innes Ireland, (Sir) Jack Brabham, and the eventual winner—(Sir) Stirling Moss—give the new circuit, and its organisation, their vote of approval.

Sykes, who habitually wore light chino trousers, suede shoes, white shirt, club tie or cravat, sports jacket, and cloth cap, was artistically talented and attentive to detail. He designed the badge of the circuit’s new club, the Australian Automobile Racing Club (AARC), instigated in July 1961, and the circuit’s support merchandise; he nominated a local artist, Peter Toohey, for much of the artwork. A small but efficient operation, the AARC was based in Sydney, with Sykes as general secretary, Mary Packard his assistant, and John Stranger his accountant. The AARC staged several major race meetings at Warwick Farm each year, including the February international and club meetings, as well as members’ film nights. On 10 February 1963 Warwick Farm hosted the Australian Grand Prix.

With his New Zealand counterpart, Ron Frost, Sykes initiated a Tasman Cup in 1964. He travelled to Europe each year to negotiate the appearances of the major F1 teams and drivers, usually timing his trip to allow him to indulge his love of aircraft at the Farnborough Air Show. The AARC eventually owned light aircraft for members’ use, and Sykes flew his own low-wing Thorp T-111 Sky Skooter out of Bankstown. In 1966 he and Margaret divorced. Four weeks later, on 27 October he married Meris Chilcott Broadbent, née Rudder, widow of the aviator H. F. (Jim) Broadbent, with whom he had worked at the BARC; a Presbyterian minister conducted the ceremony at her home at Kirribilli.

Warwick Farm staged the Australian Grand Prix on three further occasions—in 1967, 1970, and 1971. Sykes introduced the popular and affordable Formula Vee cars to Australian motor racing; pioneered the concept of club race meetings and practice days; and, in the 1970s, was one of the key figures behind the choice of production-block Formula 5000 cars as Australia’s premier single-seater category. The AARC continued to promote national race meetings at Warwick Farm until 1973, when the AJC decided to terminate its motor-racing activities. That year, due to Sykes’s declining health, Packard became secretary. The AARC supported club race meetings at Amaroo Park until November 1986.

A kind and generous man, in his retirement Sykes spent much of his time with bikes and cars: he enjoyed restoring historic motorcycles and riding his vintage Velocette. Following a succession of white, automatic Triumph 2000s, he drove a yellow Alfa Romeo GTV. After battling a heart condition for several years, he died on 12 April 1992 in Royal North Shore Hospital, North Sydney, and was cremated; he was survived by his wife, and the two sons and one daughter of his first marriage. Biennial Tasman Revival meetings began to be held in 2006.

Research edited by Karen Fox

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Automobile Racing Club: History and Events of the Club 1962-1986. [Sydney]: Australian Automobile Racing Club, 1986
  • Hanrahan, Bryan. ‘Mr Racing.’ Herald (Melbourne), 23 December 1967, 8
  • Horsepower: The History of Warwick Farm. [Casula, NSW]: Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre and Liverpool Regional Museum, 2005
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Sykes, Meris. Personal communication

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Peter Windsor, 'Sykes, Geoffrey Percy (Geoff) (1908–1992)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/sykes-geoffrey-percy-geoff-17494/text29182, published online 2016, accessed online 23 October 2021.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 19, (ANU Press), 2021

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2021