By Peter Burrell
In 1968 I read in Speedway Star that a Bill Bridget and Mike
Parker had called a meeting at Crayford stadium to give details of
the new team and to recruit trackstaff.
There were around 80 people there and I was somewhere towards the
front of the crowd. We
were asked if anyone had experience of being on a track staff, so
as a long time ‘bike pusher’ at Hackney, up went my hand.
I looked around and mine was the only hand up!
Mike said “So you can be our starting marshal”!
the next Hackney meeting I keenly studied the starting marshal to
watch and learn exactly what was required.
At Crayford’s first meeting on 12th June 1968, I put
what I learned into practice and the first race started OK.
However, counting the number of laps put me in a panic!
I knew the yellow and black flag goes out at the start of
lap 3, but I had only a few seconds to work out how many times do
the riders have to come past, and does that include the start of
the race? I managed to get
it right, but for every race since, I count out loud 1-1-1-1, then
2-2-2-2, flag-flag-flag-flag, end-end-end-end as the four riders
came past on each lap.
I never did have a 3 or 5 lap race!
The Crayford season was three weeks of Speedway, then one week of
stock cars. I expected
a night off, but ‘management’ said no, I was to be starting
marshal for the cars as well!
A 30 second instruction put me standing in front of 30 or so stock
cars with only a Union Jack to defend me!
I waved it to start the rolling lap while they passed
either side of me, then had about 10 seconds to get through the
3-strand fence and onto the rostrum to wave the flag to start the
race. These were not
bangers but proper stock cars, with 5-litre Chevvy engines and the
like. Scary and noisy
to say the least.
Back to the Speedway and I had a few scares from wayward bikes and
riders careering across the centre green and one or two looping at
the gate. I was closer
to the riders than anybody, but never got to see any more of them
than their eyes!
One evening the electrics to the starting gate failed
completely. We tied a
length of shock cord (that’s the elastic rope that pulls the tape
to the top of the posts), to the inside post and as riders
approached the start line, I stretched it across the track and
held the other end behind the safety fence.
I watched for the Referee’s green light to come on, then
after a second or two released the cord which flew to the inside
of the track. I had to
cover my hand with my programme board as the crafty riders were
looking to see my hand twitch more than the cord!
After some years, I was ‘promoted’ to Pit Marshal, then Clerk of
the Course – still at the same wage of £0.
This involved checking everything was in place before the
meeting started and keeping the meeting running to time.
It also meant the occasional hassle from ‘management’ when
there were delays to the flow of the meeting!
One incident that could have been very serious happened during the
Pete Thorogood years.
Bikes had to be equipped with a cut-out switch and a lanyard from
the switch to the rider’s wrist.
If the rider fell, the lanyard would be pulled and the
switch would cut the ignition.
one race, a rider fell all by himself on the middle of the pits
end bend. Instead of
his bike cutting out, it stood
up on its wheels with the engine
revving flat out!
Unfortunately, the bike was exactly pointing towards gap in the
speedway fence and the entrance to the pits on the other side of
the dog track! There
was no gate needed in the speedway track fence as the gap was
designed to overlap away from the direction of racing.
the front wheel crazily banging from lock to lock, the riderless
bike came through the gap, across the dog track and towards 20 or
so trackstaff and riders watching in horror!
In a second, we scattered in all directions and the bike
missed everyone, ending in the ‘ditch’ behind the dog track where
the engine fell silent!
So did we, and apart from a few missed heartbeats, everyone
Shortly after that, a gate was installed to close the gap in the
The speedway fence was inwards of the stock car track, and did not
need supporting poles embedded in the ground.
A good safety feature, but on one occasion produced an
The leader of a race slid off and still half on his bike hit the
bottom of the fence which lifted up to let him through.
He stopped a few feet on the outside of the fence, which
closed behind him. The
rider was unhurt and he had pulled the clutch in, so the engine
was still running. He
jumped on the bike in order to chase the other riders – but there
was no way he could get back on the track!
He had to sit there watching while getting covered in shale
from their back wheels!
I did manage to complete many laps of the track after Len Silver
took over the promotion.
I went there on a day off to see what was happening.
Len had completely relayed the track, and he was driving
his car round to tyrepack the new surface.
I waved him down and offered to take over as I was sure he
had more important things to do.
He readily agreed, but did not offer me his car!
So I spent the next hour or so driving my Cortina 1600E
round every inch of the track at a steady 20 miles per hour.
I resisted the temptation to push the accelerator and let
the back hang out for a few laps.
Uncle Len would not have been pleased!
The joker of the riders was Pete Wigley.
One evening there was an announcement that a mystery fan
was to ride a few laps during the interval.
We were drinking our halftime tea when a tall mini-dressed
girl rode a speedway bike from outside the stadium and onto the
track. She wore a
helmet, gloves and boots, but no leathers, just the mini-dress –