Sunday, 28 March 2010


This magnificent cigar case is currently in the possession of a friend of mine. It was given to him by a customer of his for local posterity. The case is actually a speedway trophy won by the great pre-war rider Frank Charles from Roose, near to Barrow-In-Furness.

The trophy was awarded by the Daily Sketch when it sponsored the scratch races at Wembley in the 1930s. This particular challenge trophy was held following the Wembley v West Ham National League match on Thursday August 13th 1936. Wembley won the match 43-28, but it was described in Speedway News as "...a dull match". Frank Charles top scored for the home team with maximum points and also recorded the fastest time of the night at 77 seconds. The "Speedway News" continued to report the scratch races as follows...

"The trophy races produced much keener racing, the highlight of which was the meeting of Vic Huxley and Bluey Wilkinson in heat 4, which Huxley won with Wally Kilmister third. Frank Charles won heat 1 from Bill Kitchen and Jack Ormston and also won his semi-final against Huxley and Lionel Van Praag. In the final, Charles beat Huxley and Kitchen. Ohers taking part in the Daily Sketch trophy were Ginger Lees, Wal Phillips, Ro Johnson and Morian Hansen"

Monday, 22 March 2010

LLOYD "SPROUTS" ELDER - The First American Speedway Superstar.

Lloyd "Sprouts" Elder was one of the pioneers of speedway racing and possibly the first great international speedway superstar.

Young Lloyd's first love was horses and he set his heart on becoming a jockey. At the age of 16 he found himself a job as a stable hand, but by the time he was 18 he had "sprouted" to over six feet tall. Too tall to be a jockey and the nickname "Sprouts" stuck with him for the rest of his life. Sprouts allegedly then ran away and got a job in a motorcycle store, where he found a liking for another form of horsepower.

Elder learned his racing skills on the dirt-tracks and also on some of the last surviving board tracks during the 1920s, but he really began to make a name for himself during the late 1920s by racing overseas. In the winter of 1925/26, he joined Eddie Brinck and Cecil Brown on a trip to Australia where they competed with another nation who had discovered the art of broadsiding and thus began the real history of speedway racing as we know it.

During his stay in Australia he was introduced to Johnnie Hoskins who allowed him to ride at the Speedway in Sydney. Hoskins said that he was impressed with Elder as he was a showman. Hoskins went on to say that Sprouts would ride flat out, full bore for the first part of a meeting, but would then deliberatley hit the fence, fall on the track and lay still for a few moments "... just to get his breath back". During his stay in Australia, Sprouts gained another nickname too - "the Red Streak", which referred to the tatty old red jumper he always wore over his leathers. He also brought himself to the attention of the authorities by refusing to wear a proper helmet in favour of a leather flying helmet. If nothing else, this little episode gained him even more publicity and notoriety from the press.

The "Red Streak" wearing his favourite red pullover and leather flying helmet.
With motorcycle racing in America at a low ebb in the late 1920s due in equal measures to the depression and the failing image of board track racing, Elder turned his attention to racing somewhere new. He joined another Australian trailblazer, A.J.Hunting, and sailed to Great Britain,  where Elder joined up with Jimmy Baxter's Dirt Track Speedways company. By July 1928, Elder would be demonstrating another side to his nature, that of the businessman, when he a became a director of DTS who were running the tracks at West Ham and Southampton, two clubs that Sprouts appeared for during his career in the UK.

Sprouts became one of the most popular riders in the country in the new sport of dirt-track racing. Crowds of 30,000 to 40,000 were not uncommon during the heyday of speedway racing in England. The lanky, spectacular Californian was hugely successful on the british dirt tracks, alledgedly earning around £150 per meeting, and the "Speedway News" honoured Elder by calling him the "Greatest showman of all time!". Representing West Ham, Sprouts rode in the initial Star Riders Championship, the forerunner of the World Championships, but went out at the semi-final stages.

1928 - Sprouts in London an a Harley-Davidson "peashooter".

Sprouts thrilling the crowds at Crystal Palace in 1928
Front page news - Sprouts thrills Paris.
He was not without controversy though and was actually suspended by the ACU from Oct 1st 1929 to Apr 30th 1930 for "conduct prejudicial to the sport" (i.e failing to fulfill bookings - for example, at Lea Bridge Sept 25th when he failed to arrive for a match race with Jack Parker, and was replaced at the last minute by Tommy Croombs). The suspension was "national" (only in the UK), so on Oct 3rd he went off to Hamburg to race, then to Argentina with Frank Varey for the British winter.

Controversy followed him in his private life too. Elder was married twice, but when the divorced his first wife, he offered to let his ex-wifes new husband adopt his son Edgar in an attempt to avoid paying the alimony.  Like it or not, money was a big motivator in Elder's life and I'm sure he simply saw this as a good business decision.

Sprouts returned to the UK in 1930 and continued to race in Europe too but during the early 1930s. League racing was becoming more and more popular in the UK and despite a well publicised move to Southampton and riding as their captain, the discipline of team riding did not appeal to the devil-may-care Elder. All good things come to an end, appearance money was abolished in British speedway and the novelty began to wear off, so, to the dismay of his fans, Sprouts eventually packed his bags, pocketed his money and returned to racing in Europe.

In 1931 he passed through British waters for one last time, heading back to his home in America aboard the liner Bremen. Once he was settled back home, Elder established a dirt track on some farm land near to his home in Fresno. He taught many young riders and was instrumental in getting speedway tracks opened in San Diego, Santa Ana, Long Beach and Los Angeles. For a short period during the mid 1930s, speedway racing was one of  the most popular forms of motorcycle sport in the country. Elder, along with Jack & Cordy Milne, Wilbur Lamoreaux, Miny Waln and Bo Lisman, were the real pioneers of speedway racing in America. Elder's racing career came to an end when he was hit from behind by another rider causing some injuries to his spine, but he continued to promote speedway meetings and cut a fine figure with his wide-brimmed fedora and film-star moustache.

Unfortunately, Elder ran into financial trouble when an investment in a silver mine cost him his fortune. He retired from the speedway scene and joined the California Highway Patrol in his native Fresno. Speedway racing was still very close to his heart though and Officer 606 Elder was responsible for getting the Highway Patrol to sponsor a number of speedway races during the late 1930s. His career with the Highway Patrol came to an abrupt end though when he was seriously injured in a traffic accident and was left disabled, A few years later, when his second wife Laura died, Sprouts Elder took his own life. It was a sad end for a man who had thrilled speedway fans the world over.
Lloyd "Sprouts" Elder was inducted into the American Motorcycle Association Hall of Fame in 1998

This magnificent painting of Sprouts in action aboard a 500cc dirt-track Douglas is by the artist John Proud. You can see more of John's action packed, vintage speedway artwork by clicking on this link.

Saturday, 20 March 2010


I was doing some research on Bill Kitchen, the famous speedway rider from the village of Galgate in Lancashire, and came across these two pictures of a motorcyclist named Dick Salt from the same village. There's a couple of scribbles on the back of the photos that could link him to the TT in the late 1920s, but other than the fact he smoked a pipe, I don't know anything else about him. They're still great photographs though and deserve to be shared and enjoyed, so here they are...

Tuesday, 16 March 2010


This evocative image of three riders waiting to pushed off at Leeds Speedway was taken by G.A.Shore of Keighley on July 5th 1930. The three riders are (l-r) Roy Barrowclough, Ham Burrill and American superstar "Sprouts" Elder. The original image was discovered in Ham's personal scrapbook along with some more images from Preston speedway too. I love the dropped handlebars on Roy's bike too, so reminiscent of the American board track racers from the 1920s.

"Sprouts" Elder set a new one-lap, rolling start track record just after this photo was taken, lapping the 402 yard circuit in 19.8 seconds. Roy Barrowclough set a new four lap track record from a standing start two weeks later, in a time of 88.9 seconds.

The speedway track at Leeds was known as Fullerton Park, situated on Elland Road, right next door to the football stadium and opposite the greyhound track. The very first meeting was held on October 13th 1928 and a further four meetings were held that year with the last meeting of the year held on Boxing Day. A Leeds team was entered nto the English Dirt Track league in 1929, but the company went into liquidation at the end of the year. More open meetings were staged under new ownership throughout 1930 before league racing was resurrected again in 1931. The track reverted to running open meetings again in 1932 the track was to close in August and remained closed until 1938 when one final season of league racing was staged. The final speedway meeting at Leeds was held on October 13th 1938, exactly ten years to the day from when it first opened. The stadium was eventualy demolished and now lies underneath training pitches for Leeds United and the Fullerton Park Industrial Estate.
(Information taken from "The Homes of British Speedway" by R.Bamford & J.Jarvis)

A map of Elland road from 1930 showing the location of the Speedway track, Football stadium and the Greyhound track.

Monday, 15 March 2010


I found this on Warwick Blogs while doing some research on one of old heroes T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia). This man had so many talents... artist, author, archaeologist, map-maker, engineer, boat designer, horseman, motorcyclist... oh yeah, and something about being the leader of an arab revolt too. Anyway, I always knew he had a passion for motorcycles, especially Brough Superiors, but he didn't only have one, oh no, he had seven of them and referred to them all  as "Boanerges", which means "Sons Of Thunder". He also named them George I, George II. George III etc, and actually had George VIII on order and was due to collect it around the time of his death. The article describes a marvellous motorcycle ride that we could no longer experience today... open roads, no helmet, no speed limit, no traffic, it all sounds like heaven to me. Anyway, I've taken the liberty of copying this passage complete from Warwick Blogs for your enjoyment too...

The Road

The extravagance in which my surplus emotion expressed itself lay on the road. So long as roads were tarred blue and straight; not hedged; and empty and dry, so long I was rich.

Nightly I’d run up from the hangar, upon the last stroke of work, spurring my tired feet to be nimble. The very movement refreshed them, after the day-long restraint of service. In five minutes my bed would be down, ready for the night: in four more I was in breeches and puttees, pulling on my gauntlets as I walked over to my bike, which lived in a garage-hut, opposite. Its tyres never wanted air, its engine had a habit of starting at second kick: a good habit, for only by frantic plunges upon the starting pedal could my puny weight force the engine over the seven atmospheres of its compression.

Boanerges’ first glad roar at being alive again nightly jarred the huts of Cadet College into life. ‘There he goes, the noisy bugger,’ someone would say enviously in every flight. It is part of an airman’s profession to be knowing with engines: and a thoroughbred engine is our undying satisfaction. The camp wore the virtue of my Brough like a flower in its cap. Tonight Tug and Dusty came to the step of our hut to see me off. ‘Running down to Smoke, perhaps?’ jeered Dusty; hitting at my regular game of London and back for tea on fine Wednesday afternoons.

Boa is a top-gear machine, as sweet in that as most single-cylinders in middle. I chug lordlily past the guard-room and through the speed limit at no more than sixteen. Round the bend, past the farm, and the way straightens. Now for it. The engine’s final development is fifty-two horse-power. A miracle that all this docile strength waits behind one tiny lever for the pleasure of my hand.

Another bend: and I have the honour of one of England’ straightest and fastest roads. The burble of my exhaust unwound like a long cord behind me. Soon my speed snapped it, and I heard only the cry of the wind which my battering head split and fended aside. The cry rose with my speed to a shriek: while the air’s coldness streamed like two jets of iced water into my dissolving eyes. I screwed them to slits, and focused my sight two hundred yards ahead of me on the empty mosaic of the tar’s gravelled undulations.

Like arrows the tiny flies pricked my cheeks: and sometimes a heavier body, some house-fly or beetle, would crash into face or lips like a spent bullet. A glance at the speedometer: seventy-eight. Boanerges is warming up. I pull the throttle right open, on the top of the slope, and we swoop flying across the dip, and up-down up-down the switchback beyond: the weighty machine launching itself like a projectile with a whirr of wheels into the air at the take-off of each rise, to land lurchingly with such a snatch of the driving chain as jerks my spine like a rictus.

Once we so fled across the evening light, with the yellow sun on my left, when a huge shadow roared just overhead. A Bristol Fighter, from Whitewash Villas, our neighbour aerodrome, was banking sharply round. I checked speed an instant to wave: and the slip-stream of my impetus snapped my arm and elbow astern, like a raised flail. The pilot pointed down the road towards Lincoln. I sat hard in the saddle, folded back my ears and went away after him, like a dog after a hare. Quickly we drew abreast, as the impulse of his dive to my level exhausted itself.

The next mile of road was rough. I braced my feet into the rests, thrust with my arms, and clenched my knees on the tank till its rubber grips goggled under my thighs. Over the first pot-hole Boanerges screamed in surprise, its mud-guard bottoming with a yawp upon the tyre. Through the plunges of the next ten seconds I clung on, wedging my gloved hand in the throttle lever so that no bump should close it and spoil our speed. Then the bicycle wrenched sideways into three long ruts: it swayed dizzily, wagging its tail for thirty awful yards. Out came the clutch, the engine raced freely: Boa checked and straightened his head with a shake, as a Brough should.

The bad ground was passed and on the new road our flight became birdlike. My head was blown out with air so that my ears had failed and we seemed to whirl soundlessly between the sun-gilt stubble fields. I dared, on a rise, to slow imperceptibly and glance sideways into the sky. There the Bif was, two hundred yards and more back. Play with the fellow? Why not? I slowed to ninety: signalled with my hand for him to overtake. Slowed ten more: sat up. Over he rattled. His passenger, a helmeted and goggled grin, hung out of the cock-pit to pass me the ‘Up yer’ Raf randy greeting.

They were hoping I was a flash in the pan, giving them best. Open went my throttle again. Boa crept level, fifty feet below: held them: sailed ahead into the clean and lonely country. An approaching car pulled nearly into its ditch at the sight of our race. The Bif was zooming among the trees and telegraph poles, with my scurrying spot only eighty yards ahead. I gained though, gained steadily: was perhaps five miles an hour the faster. Down went my left hand to give the engine two extra dollops of oil, for fear that something was running hot: but an overhead Jap twin, super-tuned like this one, would carry on to the moon and back, unfaltering.

We drew near the settlement. A long mile before the first houses I closed down and coasted to the cross-roads by the hospital. Bif caught up, banked, climbed and turned for home, waving to me as long as he was in sight. Fourteen miles from camp, we are, here: and fifteen minutes since I left Tug and Dusty at the hut door.

I let in the clutch again, and eased Boanerges down the hill along the tram-lines through the dirty streets and up-hill to the aloof cathedral, where it stood in frigid perfection above the cowering close. No message of mercy in Lincoln. Our God is a jealous God: and man’s very best offering will fall disdainfully short of worthiness, in the sight of Saint Hugh and his angels.

Remigius, earthy old Remigius, looks with more charity on and Boanerges. I stabled the steel magnificence of strength and speed at his west door and went in: to find the organist practising something slow and rhythmical, like a multiplication table in notes on the organ. The fretted, unsatisfying and unsatisfied lace-work of choir screen and spandrels drank in the main sound. Its surplus spilled thoughtfully into my ears.

By then my belly had forgotten its lunch, my eyes smarted and streamed. Out again, to sluice my head under the White Hart’s yard-pump. A cup of real chocolate and a muffin at the teashop: and Boa and I took the Newark road for the last hour of daylight. He ambles at forty-five and when roaring his utmost, surpasses the hundred. A skittish motor-bike with a touch of blood in it is better than all the riding animals on earth, because of its logical extension of our faculties, and the hint, the provocation, to excess conferred by its honeyed untiring smoothness. Because Boa loves me, he gives me five more miles of speed than a stranger would get from him.

At Nottingham I added sausages from my wholesaler to the bacon which I’d bought at Lincoln: bacon so nicely sliced that each rasher meant a penny. The solid pannier-bags behind the saddle took all this and at my next stop a (farm) took also a felt-hammocked box of fifteen eggs. Home by Sleaford, our squalid, purse-proud, local village. Its butcher had six penn’orth of dripping ready for me. For months have I been making my evening round a marketing, twice a week, riding a hundred miles for the joy of it and picking up the best food cheapest, over half the country side.


I found a superb article about the state of speedway in the UK on the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies website. It has been written by the grandson of Charlie Hornby, the pre-war Belle Vue rider, and refers to his grandfathers career quite a bit. The article is called Another One Bites The Dust and reflects on the loss of speedway in London following the last meeting at Wimbledon. As well as riding in the UK Charlie Hornby was also a big star in Paris, New York and South Africa where he rode as "Speed" Hornby, The article reveals that he didn't use his real name in SA because "Charlie" was a derogatory term for black servants in 1930s apartheid South Africa. There are a couple of excellent photo's used to illustrate the article too, one is particularly interesting and rare as it shows the Arpley Motordrome in Warrington, which only operated in 1929 and 1930.

Here are a couple of programme covers from Warrington Speedway in 1930.
You can find more like this at the excellent Speedway Swap Shop website.

Charlie Hornby in the pits area at Belle Vue Speedway

Warrington Speedway raced at the Arpley Motordrome on Slutchers The shape of the track can still be made out, especially where the track follows the bend of the railway line to the left of Slutchers Lane bridge. There are some concrete structures still visible too and remains of the terracing lies under the trees.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

CHARLIE BARRETT - Speedway Flyer

Arthur Charles Leatham Barrett was born May 2nd 1907 in West Hartlepool.

Charlie was a member of the Middlesborough Motor Club, competing in hill climbs, grass track races and the famous speed trials on the beach at Saltburn during the late 1920s. Charlie also rode in the very first dirt-track meeting at Cleveland Park, Middlesborough on August 23rd 1928. Middlesborough were running on an open licence in 1928, staging 16 individual meetings, but the following year they entered a team into the Northern League with Charlie as their captain. The first official match was against Salford on ay 16th and joining Charlie in the Middlesborough team were James "Indian" Allen, Frank Harrison, Alec Hill, Charlie Sanderson, Jack Ormston and Norman Evans.

On May 31st, Middlesborough registered a massive 43-18 victory over Sheffield and both Charlie and Norman Evans went through the card unbeaten. Later in the season Charlie had a brief spell at Preston before moving down to Wembley where he stayed for the rest of the season and right through to the end of the 1930 racing programme.

Following his departure from Wembley Charlie did some racing on the continent and raced around the bull-rings of Spain during 1932 alongside fellow Teessider Cliff Parkinson and Eva Asquith from Bedale. By 1938 his occupation was listed as "contractor" and he had also taken up a new hobby - flying. He gained his Royal Aero Club aviator certificate at the Newcastle Aero Club on June 11th 1938 flying an 85 hp De Haviland 60 Gypsy.

During the second world war Charlie joined the RAF reserve and married Doris Nicoll in 1940. He was stationed in the North West where he delivered fighters from the airfields at Walney Island, Cark and Haverigg to the frontline stations in the South East. He had attained the rank of Flying Officer by 1941. In the former RAF museum at Haverigg there was a display of memorabila and photographs of Charlie in his flying days. 

Following his retirement from the RAF, Charlie continued flying and set up his own company, Northern Air Charter. He purchased an Airspeed Consul, but he was involved in an accident on October 25th 1950 when the undercarriage failed whilst attempting to land at Seaton Carew, Hartlepool and the plane was written off.

He married again in 1948 and moved back to Cumbria, where he became the landlord of the King William IV pub in the village of Kirksanton, near Millom, just down the road from RAF Haverigg where he was stationed during the war. He continued his interest in motor sports, taking part in scrambles, beach races and trials. He also became interested in the new sport of Kart Racing and was involved in the opening and running of the Kart Track at Rowrah, near Whitehaven.

Charlie died in Cumbria 1983.

(Thanks to Nigel Bird for his invaluable help with additional information)

Thursday, 11 March 2010

JACK "TIGER" WOOD - The Bolton Broadsider

"Tiger" Jack Wood, the 6'2" Bolton Broadsider was a real charachter both on and off the track and became something of a continental superstar in 1930, earning huge amounts of appearance money from his base in Hamburg.

In 1928, the 21 year old Jack Wood was a motor mechanic at Gordon's Motor Works on Bridge Street, Bolton. He was a keen bike racer too, often competing in hill climbs with his Harley-Davidson. When dirt track racing made a big impact in the UK, Jack had to have a go and made his debut in the novice races at the speedway track built inside of the greyhound track at Raikes Park on Manchester Road. Soon the Bolton Broadsider was thrilling the crowds and beating some of the established stars, but his all action style often ended in a spectacular fall. One report from Bolton states that although he fell on four occasions his cigarette never left his lips! Jokingly, he referred to himself as a "cinder diver!" Jack also made successful appearances at the White City and Belle Vue tracks in Manchester, Warrington, Leicester 'Super' and at Farringdon Park, Preston.
Programme cover reproduced from speedway swap shop

Jack travelled to Copenhagen with members of the Preston team at the tail end of the 1929 season and the following year he based himself in Hamburg from the off and made a mint from his appearances in front of huge crowds at the tracks in Paris, Munich, Copenhagen and Belgium. The troupe also included American superstar "Sprouts" Elder, fellow Lancashire riders "Ham" Burrill, Tommy Price, Larry Boulton and Harold "Ginger" Lees, plus Scandanavian riders Morian Hansen, and Niels Sorensen. Jack bought a bike from "Sprouts" which really let him perform to his best, breaking the track record at Munich in May 1930. This feat was even more remarkable as Jack had only left hospital a few days earlier where he had lain unconcious for some considerable time following a 90mph crash on a German sand track. On his return to the UK in July 1930, Jack remarked that British riders and promoters could increase their crowds by "concentrating on spectacular riding, as opposed to sheer speed".

Jack made the headlines following a fatal accident at the Audenshaw Racecourse in August 1931. James Kenny from Salford was leading a race when his engine cut out, causing him to fall. Jack was closing in on him and had to lay his bike down to try and avoid a collision, but both bikes flew into the air trapping Kenny underneath. Jack jumped to his feet, lifted the bikes off the fallen rider and carried him onto the centre green for medical attention, but unfortunately the young rider died later in hospital. At the inquiry into his death Jack confirmed that he had tried to avoid the collision and that it was he who had rescued him from the track. The promoter however was found negligent and only another two meetings were held at Audenshaw before the owners evicted the speedway.

Speedway had landed Jack in court on an earlier occasion too. He had been trying to repair his bike as it would not start and in an attempt to get it going Jack pushed it out on to Dorset Street, where he lived. Suddenly it burst into life and Jack had no alternative but to jump aboard and ride the bike until the fuel in the carburettor ran out. The incident was about to get worse though as Jack unwittingly rode the bike speedway style right past the police station in Castle Street and was apprehended as soon as he stopped. Jack was charged with riding a bike with no brakes, no licence, and not having any personal identification or documents relating to the bike. Neither did he have silencers, mudguards or protective gear of any sort... Poor Jack really didn't have any defence so he admitted his guilt and pushed the bike back home, still smoking his cigarette of course.

In 1932 Jack gained cult hero status at the narrow Lonsdale Park track in Workington. He somehow managed to wreck his bike on his debut and finished the programme by borrowing bikes from his rivals. In subsequent weeks he would crash and damage his bike on several occasions from his over exhuberant riding and had to borrow bikes regularly. The crowd gave an enormous cheer when Jack eventually won a race on his own machine, but it took until August 13th when he beat Aussie Vic Ctercteko in the final of the Golden Helmet event.

Jack later opened his own garage just off Bury Old Road back in his home town and died in 1988, aged 80. There are more pictures and clippings from Jack's career at

Jack "Tiger" Wood... a true "Bolton Broadsider" and another unsung hero from the early days of British Speedway

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


By 1953 there were over 80 manufacturers producing motorcycles in Japan and just like anywhere else, competition on the track was seen as the way to prove whose bikes were the best in the drive for increased sales. The Tokyo Motor Cycle Race Association was formed and held their first meeting in the shadows of Mt Fuji on a 17 mile volcanic ash course that wound its way through villages and up over the mountain (just like the IoM TT). That race was won by a 150cc Monarch with Suzuki winning the lightweight class by default as the only finisher. By 1958 Yamaha were sweeping all before them at Mt Fuji and also took the first four places at the new Asama races organised by the Nippon Motorcycle Race Association. Flushed with success, Yamaha became the first Japanese manufacturer to race overseas by entering the 1958 Catalina GP in Southern California, another course that winds its way through village streets and up mounain sides. They arrived with their 250cc 2-stroke "Asama" Racer based on their road-going YD2 machine and made a damn good impression. Factory rider Fumio Itoh firmly placed his name in the history books by finishing a credible 6th place against much more powerful Manx Nortons and the like.

The bike still remains in America and by the look of the fabulous photographs at the top of this post, it has been well preserved. For more information on this bike, the Catalina GP, American racing motorcycles and big ole American cars take a look at the fantastic "Poppa Wheelie" blog.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Harley-Davidson Factory Team

Mory Graves leading at Springfield

Otto Walker

This has got to be one of the most extreme forms of motorcycle racing ever. Riding stripped down and highly tuned bikes like Cyclone, Flying Merkel, ACE,  Harley-Davidson, Excelsior and Indian, these all-American heroes raced around banked oval circuits constructed from wooden boards - a bit like a gigantic, highspeed wall of death (literally). Board racing was immensley popular up until the 1920s. It was also very brutal and fatalities were high amongst riders and spectators!

One of the early stars was Eddie Hasha who set a 1 mile record of 95mph at the Playa Del Rey circuit near Los Angeles on May 1st 1912. Over the years, the sport began to get a bad reputation, not just because of the casualties but also illegal gambling, the consumption and selling of "moonshine" and even prostitution too!!Edde Hasha himself eventually became a victim of the sport that made him famous, He was killed in 1921 at the Newark track in New Jersey when he and a few other riders flew all off the banking killing themselves and a number of spectators too... Brutal and frightening it may have been but I just wish I could have witnessed this spectacle for myself.

If you want to see more amazing photos and read about the history of these crazy adrenaline junkies take a look at Highly recommended!

AUTO RACE - Japanese Speedway on Asphalt!

Autorace in Japan is unique and it's a huge gambling sport. The riders are hidden from view and seperated from their bikes until the start of a race. They race in virtual silence while the spectators wait to see how much cash they've won or lost!!! Autorace can trace its origins back to speedway and dirt track racing, but racing on dirt was banned in the 60s when the authorities took control of Autorace. The bikes are 600cc Suzuki SEAR engines (Suzuki Engine Auto Race) and the riders resemble dayglo Samurai Warriors.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

MINY WALN - 1920s USA Speedway Star

What an excellent collection of photographs and memories! Check out this link for a family history of American speedway champion Miny Waln. Plenty of sideways action 1920/30s style and loads of awesome images...
Miny Waln at Ascot Speedway 1929
Kickin' up a roost at White Sox 1931
Miny Waln - George Lannom - "Sprouts" Elder
Miny Waln and Wal Phillips (pulling an awesome locker!) at Long Beach 1933
Miny Waln and Don Moyle

Vic Ctercteko - 1932 Workington Track Champion

This is Victor Ernest Ctercteko from Perth in Western Australia. Vic was one of the pioneer speedway riders who came to the UK in the formative years of the sport and also rode in some of the earliest motorcycle races at the famous Claremont track in Western Australia. He is recorded as having ridden in the WA grass track Championship at Claremont on October 30th 1926 and again on April 9th 1927, He also raced at the first dirt track meeting on 14th May 1927.

Vic's Grandfather arrived in Australia from Greece back in 1863, allegedly jumping ship so that he didn't have to return. His name was actually Kepeotus, but for some reason it got changed to Ctercteko (pronounced Ter-Chee-Ko) over a period of time. One theory is that his name was mispelt during the process of him becoming a Australian citizen and that is how it stayed. Vic was born on 11th Oct 1909 and began his working life as a motor mechanic. He was also a budding motorcycle racer and competed at Claremont again on 10th September 1927. Vic finished in 2nd place in his very first ride that night (heat 2 of the Handicap event) and his first outright victory came on 15th October 1927 winning the Handicap final.

At some point during his racing career he had a nasty accident and smashed up both of his legs. As a result he was a couple of inches shorter than he would have been and his legs troubled him until he died.

Following the lead of the Australian pioneers who found fame and fortune on the dirt tracks of the UK from 1928 onwards, Vic sailed to the UK on the SS Moreland Bay accompanied by fellow riders James Ewing and Harry Lewis arriving in Southampton on April 13th 1931. James Colebatch the manager of the Leeds team in the UK was also aboard the same ship so it's not surprising to find all three riders at Leeds during the season. Vic moved to Wimbledon in 1932, but he never really made the grade of the top Australian stars of the time. He did have some success on his travels though, notably winning the first ever Workington Track Championship at Lonsdale Park (Cumberland) on 27th August 1932. Vic also rode grass track while in the UK and appeared at the famous Scale Hall (grass) speedway near Lancaster in the same year.

On his return to Australia, Vic joined the Royal Australian Navy as a CPO mechanic and later had his own garage business in Queensland and NSW. He started working for Massey Ferguson in the early 1960s as a rep/instructor/troubleshooter and eventually became a salesman for a Ford dealership.

After he retired he maintained his mechanical interests repairing and rebuilding machinery in his garden workshop. Vic never really spoke of his racing days to his family and once told his son, Neil, that if he wanted to ride the motorcycle he'd just been given have to learn how to fix it first!

Vic finally passed away on 14th Sepember 1992 and deserves his place in speedway history as one of the lesser recognised pioneers of the sport. He was there right at the start in Australia and travelled halfway round the world to thrill the UK audiences too.

(With thanks to Graeme Frost and Peter Oakes for extra information)

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Whitehaven, Cumbria, United Kingdom
Disenchanted City Boy who rode out of the fast lane and into the back lanes! Life on Two Wheels is so much fun.