Luke Youlden has been one of V8 Supercars’ most in-demand endurance drivers over the last decade, but there is more to the Youlden family than meets the eye.
Luke’s father Kent has had a stellar racing career, winning back-to-back Production Car Championships in 1990 and 1991; he won seven championship rally car events and was one of the best sport sedan and touring car drivers going around.
Kent Youlden’s career spans over 35 years. He started racing in 1970 in selected rally cross events and retired from racing after a production car race at Phillip Island in 2005.
Youlden was brought up with an interest in cars, but he didn’t go to his first event until he was 16. It was a three hour race at Sandown. Watching drivers like Bob Jane fascinated Youlden so much he decided he wanted to get involved.
“My brother took me to the 1968 three hour race at Sandown and I remember thinking ‘gee that looks like something that I’d like to do one day’,” Kent Youlden explained to Speedcafe.com
“That got me going; then we went to a couple of Calder Park race meets when Bob Jane was driving the Mustang.
“I thought yeah, this is the stuff for me.”
Racing started for Youlden in an old SE Holden, which he bought to go rally cross racing.
“I won 13 heats with that car over a two year period, so I got the taste for winning,” said Youlden.
“I then moved into rallying in a little Mitsubishi Colt. Colin Bond was winning a lot of races in this car so I bought one almost new.
“I had some success in the Victorian Rally Championship between 1971 and 1974; I won seven rallies and came third in the Alpine rally.
“I only had basic road tyres and knocked off all these factory teams, which was the highlight of my rally career.”
Deciding that the risk was too great in rally events, Youlden turned to road racing. He bought a 2600 Torana from Fernando D’Alberto (Tony D’Alberto’s uncle) and enjoyed immediate success.
“I raced the Torana for three years and we won lots of races,” said Youlden.
“There was nothing particularly special about this car but we won a couple of six cylinder sport sedan championships.
“We also dominated at Winton for a long time in that car.”
With an expanding family and the mortgage taking priority Youlden stepped back from racing, but not entirely.
While working with Ford, Youlden managed to “heist” a TE Cortina body shell which he turned into a sports sedan.
“That car was really good and we won lots of events,” said Youlden.
“We supported the touring cars, but we didn’t do all the rounds, we couldn’t afford to.
“It was at this time that I was introduced to Ian Dowsett, who ran his own engineering firm.
“Dowsett Engineering sponsored me from 1980 right through to the end; they were wonderful, he was a young guy on the charge and backed me.”
Production cars soon beckoned, Youlden initially purchased a VK Commodore and then changed to an EA Falcon for the 1988 season. By 1990 he was the man to beat.
“In 1988 I could see that the production car world was changing,” said Youlden.
“I had an EA prototype which I ran against Turbo RX7s and Toyota Supra Turbos.
“I knew we weren’t going to be competitive, but I saw the writing on the wall with those cars. I could see that the series would move across to Falcons verses Commodores.
“With that in mind I had a big development programme in 1988 through 1989, then in 1990 sure enough it was Commodores v Falcons.
“We had a great year, won the Production Car championship, the Yokahama Series, we won the Goodyear Cup at the Grand Prix and we won the Yokahama 300 at Winton by nearly two laps.
“We had a great year, then we backed it up again in 1991; back-to-back titles were terrific.
Youlden could have won three production car championships in a row but a move (in 1992) to a very rare Falcon SS (only five were ever built) was introduced too late in the series.
After Production cars, Group NC was starting. Driving a Monaro 350, Youlden had one of the most dominant years of his life.
“In 1994 we won the group NC championship,” said Youlden.
“There were 13 races, we won 11 of them and came second in the other two.
“They allowed cars from 1968 through to 1972 I believe, something like that.
“We were limited with the rules; you couldn’t do anywhere near as much to the car compared to what you can do in Touring Car Masters nowadays.
“While the results were great, the series didn’t give me a challenge, I didn’t feel it was rewarding, it was too easy. There was also no signage allowed on the car so I sold it.”
It was in the early 1990s that Youlden also competed in the Bathurst 12 hour endurance races. He came second in his class on two occasions, including an outright second place.
“In 1991 we came second outright and second in our class racing a Laser Turbo,” said Youlden.
“In 1992, we ran with Dick Johnson, we were running second with 30 minutes to go but broke a CV joint.
“Then in 1993 I came fifth outright and second in my class.
“We also had some very good results in the Bathurst two and three hour races, winning in our class.”
After so much success – Youlden also won the 2001 Phillip Island Production car race and still holds the Group N Sedan lap record at the Winton short track and Calder Park Raceway – he ended his racing career at the Island in 2005.
Looking back, Youlden finds it hard to go past winning his first Australian championship as his favourite career memory.
“That first 1990 championship win is pretty hard to go past, it was my first national title” said Youlden.
“We virtually won everything that year, it was a big time.
“Overall though I had lots of good races and I won a lot of races that I shouldn’t have against better cars, which was pretty fulfilling.
“Also the Winton 300, we won by almost two laps, we just demolished the field, it was very satisfying.”
Having so much success meant that Youlden was watched very closely by the likes of Dick Johnson and Colin Bond. He was offered several Group A tests, but wasn’t able to secure a drive.
“Dick (Johnson)gave me a run,” said Youlden.
“I was only a second and a half off the qualifying time and they only gave me eight laps.
“I was sweating pretty hard because I didn’t want to bend the car, he was winning the championship.
“Bondy (Colin Bond) was going to give me a test but he lost his Caltex deal so it didn’t eventuate.
“Overall I came close three times but missed out each time, that’s life though.”
Of course Youlden also had a big influence on the career of his son, current FPR endurance racer Luke Youlden.
“I bought Luke his first car, it was a Corolla,” said Youlden.
“His car control was wonderful straight away, I thought he could have a career in racing if he wanted it.
“Early in his career I’d spend time talking to him about how to go racing, how to intimidate people, what lines to use and to watch and listen to the fast guys; he was a fast learner.
“He’s done very well, I don’t think I can teach him much now.”
Throughout his racing career Youlden was employed by Ford. He initially built body shells, which lead to him managing the full automation process of the under body build.
Having walked away from Ford in 2007 Youlden keeps himself busy when the opportunities arise, but he is still essentially working with cars.
“I’m not retired, I’m between phone calls,” said Youlden.
“If someone wants to offer me something I’ll consider it and take it on if I want.
“I do some high performance driver training with Kevin Flynn’s ‘Driver Dynamics’ and also at the John Bowe Driving School.
“This year I spent 10 weeks in South Africa. Ford wanted me to come over and launch the T6, which is like a Hilux and the new Ford Ranger replacement.
“Other than that I enjoy travel. I spent 10 weeks in Europe earlier this year and am about to enjoy some more time overseas.”
With a son still competing and a long interest in touring car racing, Youlden is still a fan of V8 Supercars.
“V8s are in good shape,” said Youlden.
“The races are OK, they are a little processional though.
“The old days were great, you had a Torana fighting a Falcon, now they are basically sports sedans with a road going skin on them.
“I’d love to see a bit more dicing, but the series is very strong. I hope it continues to grow.”