The billycart is as Australian as Weet-Bix itself, but combine the two and you have an event that promotes healthy living and is fun for the whole family, as David Edgren discovered.
Each year more than 3000 people (competitors, family and friends) roll up—rain, hail or shine—to enjoy a day of family fun at the Weet-Bix Billy Cart Grand Prix in Lilydale, Victoria.
Event coordinator David Jones exudes his passion for the race: “It is a day of high drama as children parade their homemade billycart and present it for scrutiny. Teams gather in matching outfits and talk tactics. Proud parents sit in anticipation of a full day of friendly competition, great food and entertainment.”
Reflecting on the effects of the yearly event, Jones states, “The thrills and spills of the day become the stuff of legends. Kids go home dreaming of how to improve the design of their carts and to do better the next year, while adult competitors vow to get fit in time for the next event!”
Orchestrated for the past eight years by Lilydale Adventist Academy in Melbourne, the Weet-Bix Billy Cart Grand Prix has become a highly anticipated date in the community diary. “Our school wanted to involve itself in the community,” Jones recalls. “The event was to be unique in that it promoted teamwork, initiative, coordination of resources and practical skills. It also encourages family, friends and the community to come together for a day of celebration and fun,” says Jones.
The Weet-Bix Billy Cart Grand Prix is proudly supported by the Sanitarium Health Food Company. Melanie Royce, assistant brand manager for the Weet-Bix family, comments, “Eating a nutritious breakfast is the best start to the day a child can have. Improved concentration and stronger academic performance are associated with healthy breakfast habits.”
Further to the nutritional impact is the mission of Sanitarium to inspire and resource the community to experience healthy and happy lives. “It's an event that promotes all the positive lifestyle choices that families should be making but often fail to put on the agenda,” says Royce.
Jones explains, “Quality family time, exercise, team building, enjoying the simple pleasures of life and eating healthy food combine forces to send a powerful message to the local community around Lilydale Adventist Academy.”
Fathers, in particular, often feel out of the loop. One can only imagine the story behind the latest billycart prototype being unloaded from the family trailer under the watchful eye of Mum and Dad. How many hours of planning, scrounging parts and construction went into this pride and joy? More to the point, for how long will the hours spent together in the family garage be remembered? No doubt Dad scores a few brownie points on the way!
Added to this dynamic are the hours of testing and practising with family and friends, culminating in the energy expended on the racetrack. With government departments and health experts sounding alarm bells regarding the growing epidemic of childhood obesity and associated diseases, what better way to get children from behind computer and television screens and into the fresh air enjoying exercise with their friends.
Spending time with a positive peer group builds emotional wellbeing and state of mind.
Less bullying and improved academic success are also associated with the development of positive peer groups. The Weet-Bix Billy Cart Grand Prix promotes close peer relations and opportunities to meet new friends in other schools and neighbourhoods.
Lilydale Adventist Academy principal Dr Daryl Murdoch is proud to host the Weet-Bix Billy Cart Grand Prix and believes that the staff and students of the school benefit greatly. Murdoch points out that “there is strong evidence that the involvement of students in meaningful community service programs fills the void associated with the extended journey to adulthood experienced by young people in Western society.”
Recently, The Hon Jackie Kelly MP and The Hon Theresa Gambaro have proposed that community service be compulsory for students before they are allowed to graduate from Year 10. They claim that the “enshrinement of community-service work as a core curriculum would overcome the Y-Generation's ‘all about me' attitude.”
The Weet-Bix Billy Cart Grand Prix is just one of many community-service programs the students engage in. Soup kitchens, breakfast in schools, STORM (Service To Others Really Matters) Co projects during school holiday breaks, choir and band performances, nursing-home visits, Duke of Edinburgh Award program are offered to students across the school. Murdoch says, “There is compelling evidence that students who give their time to serve their community not only feel a sense of pride and achievement but also do significantly better academically.”
For many the Weet-Bix Billy Cart Grand Prix is the jewel in the crown. “It is a real chance to showcase the school and make a difference in the community,” says Jones. Academy staff and students plan and run the event. The entire staff and as many as 40 students volunteer as stewards, marshals, record keepers, scrutineers and hosts in the hospitality tent. The smiles and accolades of happy children, parents and grandparents at the end of the Grand Prix make all the time and effort worthwhile.
This year's Weet-Bix Grand Prix will be held on August 27, 2006. There will be a guest appearance from Cameron McConville from Super Cheap Auto Racing. “I was pretty impressed with the event back in 1999, so when I was asked to make an appearance at this year's event I jumped at the chance,” said McConville. “The Weet-Bix Billy Cart Grand Prix embodies all of the qualities of V8 Supercars; colour, speed, excitement, preparation and planning and, most importantly, fitness and team spirit. It's a fabulous event.”
“The real stars are the children, parents, caregivers and volunteers who make the day a priority,” concludes Jones. “They send a powerful message about home-grown fun, healthy interaction, exercise and healthy living.”
Each team has 9 participants (1 driver and 8 billycart pushers who are stationed around the course). The billycard is the baton in a relay race around a 500-metre track. Pushers changer every 120-150m
There are five categories from grade 3-4 through to an open category. Each has its own specifications to which the billycart must comply.
At the 1999 inagural Weet-Bix Billy Card Grand Prix, 20 teams (180 competitors) entered. This year 62 teams (558 competitors) are expected.
Entires comprise state and private schools, youth groups and parents of younger competitors.
The local SES, CFA and police have joined forces to race in the open division. Special guests have included Craigh Lowndes, Todd and Rick Kelly and Greg Murphy.
Communities interested in coordinating similar events are welcome to contact event coordinator David Jones at www.billycart-grandprix.com .