Defunct Speedway Tracks

 

 
 
John Hyam
Part 4
 
Hedon Stadium nr. Hull  The Dave Collins Saga  "Noisy" Jim Chalkley  Igor Baranov  Ron Johnson
High Beech, Epping Forest, Essex  Jack Ormston  Canadian Capers  Byrd McKinney  Midget Cars v Speedway
 
 
The Mystery Of
Ron
Johnson’s
Two
Deaths!
 
 
Ron Johnson as a Crystal Palace rider in the early 1930s.
 
By John Hyam
 
A SIMPLE obituary message sent a ripple of excitement through the speedway world.
It read: “It is regret that I have to inform you of the death of Ron Johnson, pioneer of British speedway and ex-New Cross team member.”
Then came a line that was to lead to an international investigation which eventually involved a judge of the Supreme Court of Western Australia.  It said: "Ron passed away peacefully at his home in Bangor, North Wales, on Sunday, January 15th 2006 aged 94 years."
 
Yet it had been well chronicled in various speedway publications that Ron Johnson, then confined to a wheelchair, had died at his home in Perth, West Australia, aged 75 years on February 4, 1983. And there was further evidence that he had been buried in Karrakatta cemetery on the outskirts of Perth.  However, there were puzzling parallels between the ‘Ron Johnsons.’ Both had been married to a woman named Ruby!
 
The known speedway Ron Johnson’s short-lived marriage was in 1949. The second Ron Johnson left a widow, who he had married in 1963.
 
Mike Russell, a family friend of the newly-emergent Ron Johnson, said that he had know him for about 18 months. He said, “Ron told me that he had been born in Australia and that his father’s name was Charles. He had raced for New Cross. In that time, a report circulated that he had been killed. The shock was enough to bring on the premature death of both his parents, although before they died they did find out the report was wrong.
 
“Ron never talked about his speedway career and would talk down references to it. He also claimed that besides being a speedway rider, he had been a stunt motorcycle rider in a ‘Globe of Death’ act.”
 
Johnson also told Mike Russell that he had been a double for Dirk Bogarde in the speedway film “Once A Jolly Swagman” and to have served in submarines during World War Two.”
He also told Russell that at one time he had been a start marshal at the motor racing circuit at Silverstone and been awarded a plaque for his work there. But Mike Russell added, “I never saw this nor any mementos of his speedway days.”
 
Johnson’s step-daughter Hazel Evans said Johnson was born in Coss Cove, Australia. His mother was an opera singer while his father had been an engineer.  An extensive investigation in West Australia involving the Supreme Court judge and speedway historian Geoffrey Miller, Kwinana Beach track promoter Con Migro and historian Ken Brown convinced me that the man who died in Wales was not the speedway rider.
 
I have also studied photos of the second Ron Johnson which were taken in 1963. He bears no resemblance to the Ron Johnson I knew in the late 1950s and early 1960s who was born at Milton Douglas, Duntocher, in Scotland on February 24, 1907.  His parents emigrated to West Australia and it was there in the early 1920s that he started his speedway racing career in West Australia.
 
In Britain, Johnson’s most successful years were pre-World War Two and in the early post-war years, as a member of the Crystal Palace and New Cross teams. He was also a leading member of the Australian test team.
His career as a leading rider ended when he suffered a head injury at Wimbledon in 1949. Johnson made several unsuccessful come-back attempts, and retired in 1960. In the late 1970s, Johnson was badly injured in a car accident in Australia and spent the last years of his life confined to a wheelchair.
 
Judge Geoffrey Miller said, “There are existing photos of Ron Johnson in a wheelchair meeting various riders. He still had the same features of those shown in the earlier days when he was a speedway rider.”
The judge added, “Certainly Ron Johnson died in Western Australia because Western Australians had to put together the money to bring him back from England after his dismal failure in attempting to return to the speedway track in the 1960s or thereabouts.
 
“He was broke and had no money to ever go back again. I cannot see that he could possibly have ended up in Wales.”
 
The historian Ken Brown added, “I am 99 percent the man buried in Australia is the speedway Ron Johnson.”
There was just one other intriguing coincidence - both Ron Johnsons had a wife named Ruby. The speedway rider was briefly married in 1949.
 
Judge Miller said, “When I was writing a history of the WA solo champions I spoke with his grand-daughter and she questioned whether he had ever divorced her grand-mother.” Johnson and Ruby Green parted in the early 1950s.
And, finally from West Australia, promoter Con Migro provided a copy of the known speedway rider’s death certificate which authenticated the place and date of his birth.  But there remains a mystery - why did another Australian named Ron Johnson convince people for more than 40 years until his death in Wales that he was the famous Australian rider?
 

 
 
High Beech
 
Courtesy of John Spoor
 
 
High Beech
1931 Team
 
Courtesy of Mike Kemp
 
The 1931 High Beech team. The riders are - Billy Dallison, Syd Edmonds, Phil Bishop, Stan Baines, Jack Barnett, Reg Hutchings (Mike Kemp collection).
 
 
Phil Bishop In Action
 
Courtesy of the Mike Kemp Collection
 
The darling of the High Beech fans - Phil Bishop in typical legtrail action
 
This year (2015), speedway celebrates the 87th anniversary of what is recognised as the first British speedway meeting in February 1928 at High Beech. After a spell in early league racing, it became a junior track in the 1930s, but eventually closed in late 1949. JOHN HYAM writes of an hitherto unrecorded bid to reopen the birthplace of British speedway in 1954.
 
IT was one of the best kept secrets of 1954. An ambitious bid by Doug Falby, then editor-owner of the 'Speedway Gazette', to reopen the birthplace of speedway at High Beech as members of the Southern Area League.
 
Since its original opening in February, 1928, High Beech had been strongly associated with the sport. Sometimes known as King's Oak, the track had competed in the old Southern League until the early 1930s.
 
Even after the venue dropped out of league racing, it still featured as a junior track at various periods up to the start of World War Two in September 1939.  And, apart from its motorcycle speedway associations, in 1937 and 1938 High Beech had also staged meetings for midget cars which were then trying to make their mark as an alternative speedway sport.
 
 Post-war, High Beech returned to action in 1948 and 1949 with a series of open meetings - running very much as an alternative junior track to Dickie Case's vibrant venture at nearby Rye House.
 
Among the post-war riders at High Beech was Allen Briggs - later to be associated with Walthamstow and Rayleigh. Another was Steve Bole, who had a brilliant one season with Eastbourne in their SAL days, then surprisingly quit racing at the end of 1954. 
 
And a great stalwart and favourite at High Beech in the years spanning World War Two was Arthur Sweby, a rider who also made a name for himself on southern grass tracks.
 
While these riders never matched the calibre of the original High Beech aces of the 1920s and 1930s like Phil Bishop, Jack Barnett, Syd Edmonds and Stan Baines, they nevertheless were an integral part of the Essex track's history. 
 
And legend has it that in the only recorded match race between a male and female rider which took place at High Beech in 1929, South African favourite Keith Harvey was run into by an unnamed woman rider. She escaped injury, but Harvey suffered a broken leg.
 
This, however, gets away from the attempt to revive High Beech for entry to the SAL in the mid-1950s. Falby, of course, was well placed to act as a speedway promoter. In pre-war years he had been business manager to former rider Arthur 'Westy' Westwood. In his time, Westwood promoted in France - at the Buffalo Stadium in Paris and at Marseille. And just before war broke out, he had been involved as promoter of the Birmingham, Nottingham and Leeds teams in the old National League's Second Division. Post-war, Westwood ran at Tamworth in 1947 and 1948.
 
Falby was convinced that High Beech would be a welcome addition to the Southern Area League, which in its initial 1954 season featured Aldershot, California (Wokingham), Eastbourne, Brafield, Rye House and Eastbourne.
 
The moves towards a High Beech revival started in the mid-summer of 1954 when Falby enlisted me to help him draw up the framework for the venture. The first thing was to form the basis of the team.
 
High on the list was the former Southampton and Liverpool legtrailer George Bason. He had started the 1954 season with California, then dropped out of the side after six weeks to concentrate on his business. But he still turned out in open meetings at California. I assured Falby he could be persuaded into racing for High Beech.  
 
It was also planned to target another of the California regime, Ted Pankhurst, who had raced briefly for the 'Poppies' at the start of 1954 before reverting to his first track love grass track racing and a career in the then new British track sport stock car racing. 
 
Also on the High Beech hit-list was the former Oxford junior Ray Terry, who was then breaking into an injury-hit Eastbourne team. And colourful spectacular  Johnnie 'Cisco Kid' Fry - another Eastbourne rider - was also on Falby's team sheet.  Veteran grass trackman Tom Albery - famed for his brown racing leathers - who had also raced a few times on speedway for California was another ‘wanted man.’
 
Stan Tebby, the grass track racing father of Jim Tebby (later a long-time loyal servant to Wimbledon) was pencilled in, as were juniors John Lalley, Al Holliday (briefly with Rayleigh in the early 1960s), cousins Keith and Ronnie Webb, Irish junior Mike O’Connor, and an Australian youngster John Gronow.
 
Gronow had first arrived in England in 1953 primarily to race in the Isle of Man TT. But on the ship to England he came into contact with English rider Maury McDermott (Harringay and Rayleigh). Gronow liked what he heard about speedway and decided to switch racing formulas.    
 
Lalley, from Camden Town in North London, was a protege of the old West Ham, Norwich and Aldershot favourite Ivor ‘Aussie’ Powell. Lalley also pinned his faith in what was, for that time, a revolution in bike engine positioning. It was placed on a slope in the frame - the forerunner perhaps of the modern laid-down engine. Powell achieved much success with the bike - sadly Lalley never emulated his mentor.
 
With that part of the equation finished, at least on paper, the next objective was an inspection of the High Beech facilities. That's where I again came in. I was then regarded as an 'expert' on the SAL and its track requirements. I was writing regular columns on the SAL for the 'Gazette', 'Speedway Star' and 'Speedway News'. Falby said: "You know what the league's all about. Go and take a look at High Beech for me."
 
I did not own a car at the time, but I had a rather fine drop-handlebars racing-type cycle. More importantly, I was also keen on  the chance of becoming a promoter in the mould of Johnnie Hoskins, so I agreed to inspect High Beech. 
 
It involved me in a 30-mile round cycle journey from my south London home to High Beech on the far north east outskirts of the capital. I vaguely knew where the track was, and after biking through the East End, eventually went through Ilford and Romford, before finding Epping Forest and High Beech.
 
I was horrified when I saw the birthplace of speedway. The safety fence had long since gone, what had once been a stand of sorts was derelict, it was difficult to find the pits area, and  the race circuit was overgrown.  
 
 As for the centre green, this had become a storage area for beer crates. I had never seen so many in one place - hundreds of them, neatly stacked and placed there for storage  by the brewery which looked after the interests of customers at the nearby King’s Oak pub. 
 
 
Despite my enthusiasm, even I knew that a speedway revival at High Beech was a non-starter. For the type of Sunday afternoon racing supplied by the SAL and the low attendances the league attracted, only a fool would have poured cash into a venture that would never recoup a substantial cash outlay. I reported my findings to Doug Falby and he agreed with me: High Beech would never see another speedway meeting. And it never did.
 
Luckily, Falby had curbed an initial wish by me to hint at a 'High Beech speedway revival' story for the ‘Speedway Gazette’. We both felt that as things stood it was best to keep quiet  our moves in that direction. 
 
And that's how things have been for more than half a century. But it's good to get things out into the open and I feel now is the time to make public the sad tale of the last bid to promote at British speedway’s pioneer venue.
 

 
 
Jack Ormston
 
 
Courtesy of David Pipes
 
by John Hyam
 
When Jack Ormston died at his home on June 22, 2007, aged 97 years, it ended the last of the sport's links with the 1928 pioneer days. Ormston was also the last surviving starter from the first World Championship in 1936.
 
John Glaholme Ormston was born in West Cornforth, County Durham, on Saturday October 30, 1909. When he was 14 years old, Ormston developed an interest in cars and motorcycles. The passion often brought him reprimands from the local police - especially when they caught him driving the family's American Buick car.
 
In 1926, 17 year old Ormston took up grass track racing. It was good grounding for when speedway arrived in Midlesbrough in 1928. Ormston's reputation reached the south and he started to race at Wembley.  
 
When league racing began in 1929, Ormston was an influential member of the Lions' squad. He won the first London Riders Championship at Crystal Palace in 1930 and that season was also selected for England in the first ever test match against Australia who won 35-17 at Wimbledon on June 30.  
 
After touring Australia in 1932-33, Ormston went to the USA as partner to Australian star Frank Arthur in a bid to establish speedway at the Madison Square Gardens in New York. They also recruited Johnnie Hoskins as their racing manager. The venture collapsed when Ormston withdrew financial support to return to England when his father died.
 
Ormston sat out the 1933 campaign to manage the family butchery business but returned in 1934 at Birmingham (Hall Green), then joined Harringay in 1935 where he stayed until his retirement at the end of the 1938 season.
 
Courtesy of John Hyam
 
Ormston was a prominent challenger in the Star Championship, the foreunner of the World Championship. His best performance was in 1935 as  runner-up to Frank Charles, and ahead of Max Grosskreutz.  
 
At the first World Championship at Wembley in 1936, Ormston was joint fifth in a meeting won by Lionel Van Praag. Ormston's other world final appearance was in 1938 when Bluey Wilkinson took the crown. Ormston rode for England against Australia in six domestic test series and went down-under with England sides in 1936-37 and 1937-38.
 
At the top of his career, Ormston earned 15,000 a year and lived at the Park Lane Hotel. This was when professional footballers earned a 6-a-week and the man-in-the-street 190 a year.
 
Ormston took up flying in 1929, using a bright red Westland Widgeon monoplane which he kept in a shed near his northern home. To the delight of local villagers, he gave unauthorised displays of skimming the rooftops and looping-the-loop. His best feat as a serious flier in the mid-1930s was to finish second in the Grosvenor Cup. He also twice finished in the King's Cup air race.   
 
In pre-war years, Ormston was a respected amateur steeplechase jockey. He became a trainer in 1940 and had 400 winners to his credit when he retired in 1976. His most famous horse was Le Garcon d'Or with a record 34 flat race wins.
 
 
Igor Baranov
 
 
John Hyam says: The name of early 1960s Russian rider Igor Baranov will mean little to most speedway followers. He turned up with much local publicity for a second-half ride at New Cross in the early 1960s.
 
Amidst a lot of ballyhoo by the then New Cross boss Johnnie Hoskins, Baranov appeared on what looked to be a newly-chromed bike and wearing a red race jacket complete with the hammer-and-sickle emblem.
 
His arrival at New Cross came at a time when Russian fishing fleets were alleged to be over fishing traditional British areas in the North Sea. So, in his introduction, Johnnie told fans, "Igor has escaped from the Red Herring fleet!"
 
In his race, Baranov was outclassed, but that didn't upset Johnnie. He told supporters, "We have still to see the best of him."  But that never happened, and those who bothered to check for further details on the Russian found no evidence of him as a rider in his claimed homeland.
 
Eventually, it leaked out. Igor Baranov was British junior Jack Jones who had been persuaded to take part in another Hoskins' publicity stunt. Those who knew Hoskins better should have spotted the giveaway clue when Johnnie mentioned the words 'Red Herring.'
 
 
New Cross promoter Johnnie Hoskins changed the nationality of British junior Jack Jones.
 
Jones was not seen again at New Cross, but he did have outings at Stoke and Wolverhampton in the early days of the Provincial League in the 1960s.
 

 
 
 
JOHN HYAM begins an in-depth survey on the influence of Canadian speedway riders on the sport in Britain in the pre and immediate post-war years.
 
Courtesy of J Spoor
 
Col Greenwell says: The names I have for your pre war Canadian team are...George Pepper, Robert Spark, Kid Curtis, Bruce Vernier, Elwood Stilwell. Interesting eh..!!..as all other old mags etc say Kid is from London, which I would say is correct.
 
CANADA has always been very a much a backwater of speedway racing, writes John Hyam. Only two riders - both from the 1930s and 1940s - have achieved recognition at international level. They were Eric Chitty, who made his mark with West Ham, and Jimmy Gibb, who had two pre-war seasons alongside Chitty at Custom House in 1938 and 1939.  Post-war, Chitty had several excellent seasons with the Hammers while Gibb came back for the first time in 1949 when he rode for Wimbledon. He stayed in the USA in 1950, but had another season with the Dons in 1951.
 
 
Newcastle's Best Canadian Import George Pepper
1938 & 1939
 
Courtesy of J Spoor
 
There were other Canadian riders who came to Britain in the immediate pre-World War Two seasons.  Undoubtedly the best of these was George Pepper, who first turned up at West Ham in 1938, but was posted by the First Division club’s promoter Johnnie Hoskins to his newly formed Second Division track at Newcastle. 
 
In 1937, Pepper was on the verge of dropping out of cross-Atlantic speedway to follow a career in road racing, but was persuaded by Chitty and Gibb to try British speedway racing. He actually arrived in Britain in 1938 with the purpose of riding in the Isle of Man TT.
 
Pepper was an immediate star at Newcastle and became the track record holder, which stood well into the post-war seasons. He developed into one of the Second Division’s top riders and many experts predicted that he was destined for the sport’s highest honours. Had war not started in 1939, it is certain he would have joined Chitty and Gibb at West Ham for the never held 1940 season.
 
Jeff Lloyd, who was a post-war star at Newcastle, New Cross and Harringay, had some vivid memories about the hard racing style of Pepper. When racing for Middlesbrough in 1939, Lloyd was going for a maximum against Newcastle when he met Pepper who went on to beat him. Lloyd said of Pepper’s tactics: “Considering my inexperience, Pepper was far more aggressive than he need have been in beating me.” But that was probably typical of Pepper - as it was of Lloyd. Both wanted to be the best and rode to achieve that.
 
Pepper volunteered for war service in September 1939 and after initial pilot training served with the RAF’s 29 Squadron, firstly flying Blenheims, then the Bristol Beaufighter. He distinguished himself by shooting down six German aircraft and was awarded the DFC and Bar. Pepper was 26 years old when he died in a flying accident on November 17, 1942, and is buried in his home town Belleville, Ontario, Canada.  Eric Chitty recalled the tragedy that befell his fellow countryman. He said: “One day he took a plane up for a test flight. The engine cut out and Pepper failed to get out before it crashed into the ground.”
 
Pepper’s last meeting for Newcastle was on August 28, 1939, when 10,862 fans saw them beat Sheffield 48-38. He scored a maximum 12 points. The following Sunday, September 3, war was declared and speedway virtually closed down in Britain. He did, however, race in a handful of the 1940 war-time meetings at Belle Vue.
 
Chitty arrived at West Ham in 1935 to fulfil an invitation made to him some years earlier by Hoskins who had seen him racing on tracks in the USA’s Eastern States. He struggled for some two years to make the grade, but when he did show improvement, Hoskins decided he wanted more Canadian riders.  There were restrictions on European and American riders getting contracts with British teams but, as was the case with Australian, New Zealand and South African riders - who were citizens of British Empire countries - there were no restrictions on Canadians.
 
Gibb made his mark in Britain from the start, and was probably a shade ahead of Chitty in racing ability. Besides his experience in the USA and Canada, Gibb had also campaigned with Americans Jack and Cordy Milne in Australia in the mid-1930s, When war broke out in late 1939, Gibb was the tenth highest scorer in the National League’s Division One, although Chitty was only a few places behind him in the charts.  
 
For their part, both riders were proving themselves on a par with their Trans-Atlantic cousins from the USA like Jack and Cordy Milne, Wilbur Lamoreaux and Benny Kaufman. But while the Milnes and Lamoreaux made a major impact on the World Championship scene in the immediate pre-war years, Canada did not enjoy the same success.  
 
  In 1937, Chitty was 16th with four points and in 1939 was the 10th leading qualifier in a final postponed because of the start of World War Two. Gibb went to the 1938 world final as a reserve but did not ride in the meeting In the post-war British Riders Championship, which replaced the World Championship between 1946-48, Chitty qualified for all three finals. In 1946 he was seventh with nine points. The 1947 championship saw him move up to fourth place with 10 points, and the following season he was 12th, scoring five points.
 
Chitty had come to the forefront in 1938, starting that season with a sensational win in the London Riders Championship at New Cross. This was then a highly regarded event - attracting the top riders from the host track as well as Wembley, Wimbledon, Harringay and West Ham. Such was the wealth of talent assembled for the LRC, it was generally regarded as a pointer towards who might be crowned that season’s world champion.  With the outbreak of war, Chitty stayed on in Britain, and after serving briefly as a War Reserve policeman, tried to enter the Army. By then, he was also engaged on essential war work and his bid to enter the forces was refused because of the work he was doing.
 
Although speedway to all intents and purposes ground to halt for the war years between 1939-45, a few meetings took place in early 1940 at Crystal  Palace, Southampton and Rye House. As a London-based rider, Chitty appeared a couple of times at  Rye House. In later war years, he became a regular in the Saturday afternoon war-time meetings at the old Belle Vue track at Hyde Road, Manchester.    It was in these meetings, racing against topline stars including Jack Parker, Ron Johnson, Bill Kitchen, Frank Varey, Eric Langton and Joe Abbott, that Chitty honed his racing skills. Proof of this was his victories in a couple of the unofficial British Riders’ Championships. And when the war ended in 1945, Chitty was also a member of a NAAFI team that went to Germany for a series of international meetings to entertain British soldiers. He was very much the star rider of the group.
 
This sort of form made Chitty a ‘must’ for the West Ham side when speedway resumed on a league basis in 1946. Former Hammers’ rider Arthur Atkinson and his partner Stan Greatrex, the old New Cross favourite, who had taken over the Custom House promotional reins from Hoskins, had no hesitation in appointing Chitty as their team captain.
 
Gibb, however, was missing from the riders who returned to Britain for the early post-war seasons. In the early 1930s, Gibb had flourished on a series of tracks centred on New York State and had also been winner of both the Canadian and USA Eastern States Championships. He preferred the cut-and-thrust of individual racing, and after the war resisted offers to come back to Britain. 
 By then, Gibb was also holding down a well paid job as a film studio cameraman in Hollywood, and was combining this work with racing at various tracks in California against old rivals like the Milnes, Lamoreaux, Charles ‘Pee Wee’ Cullum, Manuel Trujillo, Bud Reda and Chuck Basney.
 
It was something of a surprise when Wimbledon promoter Ronnie Greene enticed Gibb to Plough Lane just after the start of the 1949 season. He immediately added much-needed punch to a flagging Dons team and showed all the brilliance associated with him by British fans some 10 years earlier.  
 
But the late 1940s and early 1950s were a time of economic depression. When the pound sterling was devalued against the US dollar just before the opening of the 1950 season, Gibb decided it was not financially viable to make another racing trip to Britain. But he was back for one more try in 1951 at Wimbledon and also raced in Sunday meetings at Shelbourne Park (Dublin). And, to add debate about his nationality credentials, some claimed he was really an American, he also rode for the touring USA team in their test series against the England ‘C’ squad.
(To be continued).
 
 
Canadian Capers
Part Two
By John Hyam
 
Courtesy of J Spoor
 
The 1938 Canadian team. Front - George Pepper, Johnnie Hoskins (promoter) , Eric Chitty and daughter Carol Anne, Jimmy Gibb. Back - Goldie Restall, Eddie Barker, Bob Sparks, Elwood Stilwell, Bruce Venier.
 
 
ERIC Chitty, Jimmy Gibb and George Pepper are the Canadians recognised as having made most influence on the British scene in the years either side of World War Two. In the conclusion of his analysis, JOHN HYAM records the efforts of lesser known Canadian riders.
 
THE pre-war years brought other Canadians besides Eric Chitty, Jimmy Gibb and George Pepper into British racing. 
One of them was Harold Blain,  who fleetingly flitted across the Birmingham scene in 1937, while  Johnny Millett was another Canuck who came to Britain but  failed to get a team place after trials at New Cross and Birmingham. In 1939, then West Ham promoter Johnnie Hoskins intimated he was prepared to give Blain a second chance in Britain, but the deal never materialised.
 
Blain and Millet had been early 1930s starters with Chitty, Gibb and Pepper at the Ulster Stadium track in Toronto, Canada, and on the USA’s Eastern seaboard. For around five years, they were accompanied on this racing schedule by Goldie Restall, Crocky Rawding, Bob Sparks, Elwood Stillwell and Bruce Venier, These riders also turned up in Britain in the last two pre-war seasons. Sparks, Stillwell and Venier lined up with Pepper  at Newcastle in 1938, while Rawding and Restall were associated with New Cross.  
 
Another Canadian was Eddie ‘Flash’ Barker, a former all-in-wrestler, who rode at West Ham in 1938 and 1939. Barker also went for a race-winning trial at Crystal Palace in June 1939, only for the track to close after the meeting because of lack of support.
 
At the time, another Canadian Charlie Appleby was just holding down a reserve berth at the Palace. Appleby, who served in the RCAF during the war, died from injuries on October 8, 1946, while a member of the Birmingham team. He was seriously injured in the previous night’s meeting at Newcastle when he crashed when avoiding a rider who had fallen in front of him and died from his injuries.  Appleby had originally turned up in Britain at Hackney in 1938 and following the Palace’s closure in mid-season 1939 returned to Waterden Road. During the war, Appleby flew on 150 missions as an air gunner with Bomber Command.
 
Barker came back to Britain after the war in 1947 and resumed his wrestling career with some success. In his speedway days at West Ham, Barker was a great favourite with Johnnie Hoskins. When the ‘great man’ first signed the 14-stone Barker he said: “When he’s around the Hammers side, we know there’ll be no physical problems from the other team.”
 
Bruce Venier spent the 1938 season with Newcastle, in a race term where he also competed at the Marine Gardens in Edinburgh. Pepper and Stillwell came back for 1939, with Pepper racing regularly at Newcastle, Marine Gardens and White City Glasgow. Stillwell was out of favour at Newcastle in 1939 but raced 10 meetings at Glasgow and in three meetings at Marine Gardens. Another Canadian who turned up at the Scottish tracks in 1939 was Fred Belliveau, a 24-year-old who originally signed for Wembley. They loaned him on to Middlesbrough and when that track closed in mid-season he moved on for trials with Stoke, who also dropped out of the league.
 
Restall and Rawding both had misgivings about racing in England. When Restall arrived at the start of 1938 he said: “It will be difficult to adapt. Tracks on the USA East Coast are mainly clay rather than cinder surfaced, while many races are rolling rather than clutch starts.”
 
The reason was that on the East Coast USA and in Canada, at many venues speedway was only an additional class to motor-cycle flat-track racing and races were run largely according to the rules of the latter formula. Most of the Canadians tended to race at these venues, whereas Gibb and Chitty had done much of their racing at purpose-built American speedway tracks and consequently adapted more easily to British racing conditions.
 
By August 1938, Restall was down to second-half rides at New Cross and made an unsuccessful bid to go on loan to Second Division side Bristol. At the end of the season, he was not retained by New Cross, but appealed for another try with the club for 1939 and was brought back. He showed marked improvement and had scored 54 points when the sport ground to a halt because of the outbreak of war on September 3.
New Cross, also signed Rawding for the 1939 season. He originally came to England with Belliveau to ride for Wembley. There was a row between the two clubs before Rawding opted for New Cross. Like Restall, he was disappointed with his form in Britain, and found British track conditions hard to adapt to. His reputation had been built on tracks around New York.   
 
In 1935, Rawding was runner-up to Gibb in the USA Eastern States Championship, was second to Benny Kaufman in 1936, then in 1937 and 1938 was beaten by former Wimbledon rider Bo Lisman.   In his first match for New Cross, Rawding crashed and broke his collar-bone. When he recovered he moved across south London and was a reserve rider for Wimbledon and up to September had scored 17 points.
 
Venier was a surprise starter for British racing in 1947, when Ian Hoskins signed him for Glasgow White City. The Canadian made his debut on April 9 in a challenge match against the Oliver Hart Select, and the following week turned out in a league match against Norwich. He fell in all his races in both matches, although in one meeting he was twice in the lead when he crashed.  In both matches, the Canadian was riding the White City track spare and using borrowed leathers. In Venier’s last match, Hoskins recalls that when he crashed he tore the seat out of his  borrowed leathers and vanished to the dressing rooms. He added, “I was surprised when Venier presented himself at White City. He had no equipment, just a reputation gained at Newcastle before the war. On that, I gave him a chance.”
The next day after his last rides at White City,  Venier turned up at the stadium and persuaded Hoskins to lend him 10 for the fare to London, from where he planned to return to Canada. Hoskins never heard from him again, but years later told me: “I was in Toronto in 1980 and heard that Venier was driving taxis. I never found him, so I’m still owed a tenner.”
 
Two other Canadians who turned up in Britain immediately after the war were Bill Matthews and Mike Tams. It was Eric Chitty who persuaded Matthews, a top performer on one-mile and half-mile dirt tracks in Canada and the USA, to try speedway at West Ham in 1947. But try as he did, despite a mid-season loan spell to gain experience at Second Division Birmingham, Matthews never made the transition to speedway.  Matthews was winner of the annual 100-mile dirt track race at  Daytona in 1941, and repeated the feat in 1949. Because of these achievements he is recognised as being one of Canada’s top riders in this form of track racing and has a place in American motorcycling’s ‘Hall of Fame.’  Mike Tams, who had arrived in Britain pre-war with his family as an 11-year-old, decided on a speedway career in 1946 and was a member of that winter’s Harringay training school at Rye House. He linked with Third Division   Eastbourne for 1947 where he mainly rode in second-half races.
 
Wembley made an inquiry to buy Tams but their team boss Alec Jackson baulked at the Eagles’ 500 valuation. In 1948 and 1949, Tams was rider-promoter at Santry in Ireland, then in 1951 rode for Newcastle in the Second Division,  before spending a couple of seasons with Southampton. In 1955, Tams turned out for Ringwood in the Southern Area League, and was at one-time holder of the section’s match race championship.  
 
His stay in the SAL was brief - the Control Board banned him from the competition on the grounds he was ‘too experienced.’ Disillusioned, he returned to Canada. In 1960, Newcastle promoter Mike Parker signed him to lead the ‘Diamonds’ in the newly-formed Provincial League. At the last minute, Tams dropped out of the deal, staying in Canada to promote speedway at Dundas and then Welland with former Stoke, Motherwell and Liverpool rider, Englishman Stan Bradbury.
 
Mike Tams’ younger brother Les also had a spell with him at Eastbourne in 1947, but declined the chance to move to Hastings the following season when the Eagles’ moved there. In 1948, Les and Mike were involved in a bid by then Belle Vue rider Wally Lloyd to promote at Belfast in Northern Ireland before linking with Santry in the Irish Republic.
 
It was then that Les became known as Les Gordon. Mike explained, “It was felt that one Tams around a place was enough for most people!” On August 29, 1948, Les scored two points for Ireland who lost 39-33 to England at Santry.
Mike added, “Early in 1949, Les gave up racing. He went to work for Ford at Dagenham, then reverted to his trade of plumber and for many years was involved on housing developments in the south of England.”
 
 
Mike Tams Canada
 
Courtesy of J Spoor
 
Mike Tams Canada. Newcastle 1950-51 Southampton 1952-53.  
 
Eric Chitty, Jimmy Gibb and George Pepper were the leaders of the pre-World War Two invasion of British speedway by Canadians. In the 1960s, Dave Dodd rode for Poole and Liverpool. After his spell in British speedway, Dodd raced a couple of meetings at Welland before contracting cancer, from which he died.  
 
 
More Canadians In Newcastle's
1938/39 Teams
 
Courtesy of J Spoor
 
Newcastle's Canadians, 3rd from Left Bruce Venier. 5th Elwood Stillwell and 6th Bob Sparks.  George Pepper was also a member of the 1938 and 1939 Diamonds teams but he is not in this photo.
 
 
George Pepper
 
 
 
Bruce Venier Canada
 
Photo's courtesy of John Hyam and J Spoor
 
 
Bob Sparks Canada
 
Courtesy of J Spoor
 
 
Elwood Stilwell Canada
 
Courtesy of J Spoor
 
John says: My thanks to John Hyam for this very interesting article entitled Canadian Capers and a thank you to J Spoor for supplying some of the pictures.
 

 
 
 
1933 Photo of Byrd on a 1933 Harley Davidson. Courtesy of J Spoor
 
AMERICAN rider Byrd McKinney had a brief spell with Wimbledon in 1937. Writes John Hyam.  I believe he also raced in the UK in 1936 as a member of Putt Mossman’s teams. In Britain,  
 
 
McKinney does not rate alongside his more famous fellow countrymen, but it seems he built a good reputation in the USA. Here is some information passed on my an American contact:
 
McKinney was third at the very first USA National Championship in 1934 for what they then called night speedway. For some reason what we call speedway today was spun off by itself or at least was identified as a special form of dirt track racing. This was probably due to what was happening in the rest of the world.
 
Class "C" (or flat-track) didn't exist in the early days and only spotty in the run up to WW2. After the war it took over and Class "A" which once was everything, sidecars included, all but died.
 
In 1934,  the USA Nats were held at the Los Angeles Coliseum and McKinney came third behind winner Cordy Milne and Lammy Lamoreaux. He was third again the next year at Fresno State College Speedway. Cordy Milne won it and brother Jack tied with Miny Waln for second, McKinney tied with Pete Coleman for third. I don't have any run-off info so presume these were the final results.
 
“McKinney also won the 100 mile Ascot race in 1934. Speedway bikes ran longer races with bigger tanks, mounted the usual way like a regular bike, on top of the diamond.”
When speedway revived after WW2 in California, McKinney came back for several seasons and was again a leading rider in California. 
 

 
 
 
John Hyam writes:  It took a lot to upset renowned cricket commentator John Arlott, but a speedway rider managed to do it in 1952!
 
 
 
Jim Chalkley, then with Rye House, in action at Rayleigh in 1956 and the BBC's Cricket Comentator John Arlott
 
 
The incident happened when then Southampton rider, the late Jim Chalkley, was working on his bike in the pits. He said, "I decided to tune the carburetor, so I started the engine and kept revving it up for it to be warm enough for me to do some adjustments.
 
"Suddenly I realised there was a man looking over the fence at the back of the pits. He was really angry and shouted turn that bloody bike off we are trying to do a commentary on a cricket match for the BBC'. 
 
"What I didn't know was that the Hampshire cricket ground was neighbours to Southampton speedway."  Chalkley added, "Later I heard references to the incident on the BBC radio's 'Programme Bloopers.' It features John Arlott's commentary from that day. "He actually says 'some idiot's revving a motor bike the other side of the fence while I'm trying to do a commentary.' John was correct because you can clearly hear my bike's engine in the background."
 
 
Dave Collins
 
Part One By John Hyam
 
As a schoolboy, Dave Collins used to sneak in at pre-war West Ham meetings. After World War Two service in the Royal Navy, he emigrated to South Africa to work as a gold-miner and earned enough money to buy a speedway bike.
 
When Dave Collins left his London home in late 1947 for South Africa it was to find fame and fortune as a gold miner. Collins never found that elusive pot of gold, but he did find fame as a speedway rider and for some 20 years was a well-known figure in the sport in the Republic.
 
Collins, born in 1926, is now in 2015, 88 years old and living in Munster, South Africa, he recalls: “Before the war, I was a keen West Ham supporter and from around 1937 used to sneak myself into the Custom House Stadium without paying. That was naughty of me, but that sort of thing was a way of life then for East End kids.”
 
The 1938 world champion ‘Bluey’ Wilkinson  was Dave’s big hero, although there were other pre-war West Ham stars he admired including the Canadians Eric Chitty and Jimmy Gibb, and the England ace Arthur Atkinson.
 
Collins was born in Plaistow in London’s East End, and in the closing years of World War Two saw service in the Royal Navy. “When I came out of the forces in 1947, I tried to get into speedway racing but just could not afford it. I was wondering what to do with my life when I saw an advert in an evening newspaper for gold miners to work in South Africa.
 
“In March 1948, I started an eight-month stint working underground at 10,000 feet - that’s nearly two-miles. It was dreadful - no place for human beings really, but I needed the money. When I left the mines, it was just as a boom for speedway was starting and I bought a bike on hire-purchase terms from Buddy Fuller, who was promoting and riding in South African meetings.
 
“My first competitive meeting at Dunswart in 1949 proved a disaster. In my first ride I hit the safety fence and broke my collar-bone. But I persevered and established myself in South African speedway. Before leaving for England at the start of the 1951 British season, I sold my bike to another rider who promised to forward the money to me in England.
 
"I spent most of the summer waiting for the cash to arrive, and just as I was doubting if it would ever come, it was deposited in my bank account just as the British season was coming to an end."
 
“By then I was the owner of a bike reputed to be a Vic Duggan ‘Black Duck.” I always doubted the authenticity of this, but it was a very fast bike and served me well when I returned to South Africa.”
 
As a rider in the South African League, Collins rode for the Johannesburg-based Wembley Lions, Randfontein Aces, Boksburg Bees and Springs Stars. “There was also a very fluid guest rider system operated by Fuller, You could be a regular for example with Springs, but also be called into action for any of the other teams if a need arose.
 
“Over the years, the South African League was very competitive. Riders like Ronnie Moore, Barry Briggs, Trevor Redmond, Freddie and Ian Williams, Alan Hunt, Ron Mountford and Basse Hveem were just a few of the European stars who rode in it.”
 
 
South Africa 1
 
Courtesy of John Hyam
 
Dave Collins, extreme left, and the 1949 England team meet the mayor of Boksburg at a test against South Africa,
 
Collins pointed out, “And of course South Africa had its own big stars like Henry Long, Doug Davies, Buddy Fuller, Doug Serrurier and Trevor Blokdyk proving their worth over the years. At its peak, the sport probably equalled what was being seen in Britain.”
 
 
South Africa 2
 
Courtesy of John Hyam
 
Freddie and Ian Williams with Dave Collins (right) in the pits  at Wembley Stadium, Johannesburg.
 
 
South Africa 3
 
Courtesy of John Hyam
 
Henry Long, on bike, and Dave Collins admire a trophy.
 
 
South Africa 4
 
Courtesy of John Hyam
 
Dave Collins meets a trophy girl at Springs.
 
Collins added: “For most of 1951, I did second-half rides at various British tracks. The sport was very competitive and it was hard to get chances. But when they came along, you never turned them down. I remember taking by bike and gear on the tube from Plaistow to Liverpool Street, then pushing the lot across London to Paddington just to have a second-half ride at Cardiff.”
 
The end of the British season saw Collins return to South Africa. “There the ‘Black Duck’ lived up to its Vic Duggan-legend and I did very well with it,” he commented.
 
Collins was back in England for the 1953 season. “At the start of the season I was given second-half rides at two London tracks that could not be more different, the 262-yard New Cross and the 440-yard West Ham track.
 
“From these tracks I signed for Swindon and again was confined to the second-half. Desperate to get more experience, when the offer of 10 meetings in Spain came along I jumped at the chance. I later heard that had I stayed in England, I would have been given a team chance with Swindon. It’s academic now and the only person who might have confirmed it was Norman Parker’s wife Jean who ran the track office.”
 
Before going to race in Spain, Collins was involved in a Phil Bishop-managed tour of Holland. He said, “I really enjoyed that venture. Besides Bishop, others who raced in the Dutch meetings included Howdy Byford, Pete Lansdale and Roy Craighead - all of whom had won big reputations over the years with various British teams.
 
“We appeared in three wonderful stadiums - the Olympic Stadium in Amsterdam, at the Feynoord Stadium in Rotterdam, and at Hengelo, which is up on the Dutch-German border.”
 
Collins recalls of the period spent in Spain. “The British organiser was Ted Gibson who rode for several British tracks during the late 1940s. Even now, the mention of his name and how he handled the tour sends my blood pressure up a couple of notches.
 
“Gibson’s role was to organise things like getting us accommodation and to the meetings. The promoter was a former German Luftwaffe pilot Hans Fabry. He owned a Piper Tripacer aircraft and used to fly from Barcelona to meetings in Majorca while the riders froze on the deck of a rust-bucket ferry ship.”
 
Dave Collins, Part Two By John Hyam: -
 
John Hyam writes about Londoner Dave Collins who went to South Africa in 1947 to work as a gold miner, started his speedway career there, then came back to race in Britain and Europe.
 
In late 1953, South African-based English rider Dave Collins was part of a British team that went to pioneer the sport in Spain.
 
 
 
Collins has an amusing recollection of the racing-manager Ted Gibson who fell out with the riders over delays in paying their wages and hotel expenses.  Collins said of Gibson: “He could not see anything without his spectacles. When we were in Tarragona one rider - I think it was Jimmy Wright - hid his glasses. It left Gibson forced to wear his special racing goggles - these also had lenses like ‘the bottom of a Coca-Cola bottle.’ Passers-by used to stop and point at him.”
 
Collins vividly recalls trying to race speedway on the bull rings in Barcelona, Tarragona and Majorca.  “The racing was exciting and, with no straights, falls were frequent - usually after the race! Initially, the Spanish people were disinterested but they soon became very excited by the racing from us who they dubbed ‘El Suicidos’ - it was magic,” Collins said.
 
When the Spanish tour ended, most of the British riders needed financial help from the British Consul to get home. Collins said: “I was not involved as I managed to get a lift back to England with the New Zealand road racing star Ken Mudford and he took me to Plumstead where he left his bikes for tuning at the AJS motorcycle factory. I then made my way onto Romford.
 
“There is no doubt, this Spanish speedway tour was a disaster financially, but did provide some interesting insight into the Spanish way of life which, even being then under the government of General Franco, was a virtual paradise and from that aspect I really enjoyed myself.” 
 
It was not until 1962 that Collins again tried his luck in England. He explained: “My mother was seriously ill and I stayed in Romford for 10 weeks. In that time, I was given the use of a bike owned by the former Birmingham rider Doug Davies, who had left it with the engine-tuner Victor Martin. Davies gave me permission to use it while I was in England.  “I was signed to ride for Plymouth in the Provincial League, but they closed after I spent two weeks with them. Then I signed for Leicester but before I really got started I had to return urgently to South Africa.”
 
Leading promoter Mike Parker was the next person to entice Collins back for another try in British speedway. Collins recalled: “Parker wrote offering me a team place at Sunderland" . As my pal Vic Ridgeon was also racing there, I jumped at the opportunity and travelled over with my wife Val.  “It was not a happy experience. I never really got on with either Parker or his co-promoter Bill Bridgett. Out of the blue, they just closed down Sunderland and Val and I were stranded".
 
 
John Skinner says: Dave Collins 1964 (Sunderland Saints) doing the splits! From the helmet colours I would say this took place at Wolverhampton
 
 
John Skinner says: A mud spattered Dave Collins wearing his Sunderland Saints race jacket but John Hyam, whom supplied the image, says the picture was taken in Durban!
 
“We decided to ship our Commer Caravan to the continent and travel around, eventually reaching Gothenburg in Sweden on the night of the world championship final. That was a highlight of speedway spectating for me.”  Just before setting out for Europe, Collins raced in a meeting at Rayleigh who were then in dispute with the Control Board. As a result, Collins and the other starters at the meeting were branded as rebels. This verdict soured him permanently against continuing in British speedway.
 
 
 
He said: “After 1964, I soldiered on in South African speedway. The most memorable part of that period was in the 1967-68 season when I was invited to captain the British team in a test match in Cape Town.  “Cape Town is 900 miles from where I was living in Johannesburg. I finished work at 5pm, rushed to the airport on my Laverda motorcycle to catch the 6pm flight. When I arrived in Cape Town, I was met by car and rushed to the outside of the stadium, then flown into the arena by helicopter. It was a great experience.”
 
 
 
 
1970 - Dave Collins tests a midget car at Wembley Stadium, Johannesburg.
 
In South African racing, Collins rode three times for England in the 1949-50 test series and again for the UK in 1967. He also rode in three tests for Overseas against England in 1953-54 and for the British team against South Africa in 1971.  Besides racing for a variety of South African league teams, Collins also partnered Australian star Junior Bainbridge when they won an International Pairs tournament at Randfontein in the 1954-55 season.
 
After retiring from speedway, Collins was keen to get involved with a training school being run by former Wimbledon rider Peter Murray. “That was soured for me when I heard somebody mutter something about ‘old riders who will do anything to get into a meeting for nothing and are out to get themselves noticed.’ At first, I thought it was a joke but the guy concerned turned out to be serious.  I never went to another practice session.”
 
Even away from speedway, Dave Collins still sought adventure and excitement. “In 1972, I joined the South African Volunteer Reserve Squadron and flew as a pilot with them. When I left in 1984 it was with the rank of captain, so I feel that was also something of an achievement.  “But nothing can ever recapture the magic of the years in speedway. Despite quite a lot of injuries, I would race all over again. It was a wonderful life.”
 

 
 
Hedon Stadium
Hedon Near Hull
 
John Hyam says: IT’S amazing! Some of the crazy things you get up to when you are younger - and sillier. 
 
I tried to be a speedway rider with disastrous results in the mid 1950s. Before that I was involved in 1954 in an ill-founded attempt to reopen High Beech as a Southern Area League track. Finding the stadium in ultra-need of renovation, no safety fence and the track and the centre green a storage yard for hundreds of beer crates killed the High Beech revival idea very quickly.
 
But that promotional aspiration was rekindled enough to prompt a second attempt in 1959 as news came through of the likely start of a Provincial League in 1960 under the guidance of Mike Parker. This time the target was Hedon stadium in Hull, a track built at an old airport on the outskirts of the city which ran in the old National League Division Three in 1948 and part of 1949, before the operation moved on  to Swindon.
 
 
Pete Rogers
 
 
Hull's possible return to the sport for 1960 was the brainchild of myself and one-time Wimbledon and Oxford second-half rider Pete Rogers. We had no money - just sheer enthusiasm and a vague idea of getting ourselves on the promotional speedway chain. It was late in 1959 when we decided to travel from London to Hull - not the easiest of places to get to these days from the south of England. And more so 50 years ago.
 
And, at was probably the worst time of the year weatherwise, we decided to go to Hedon Stadium in late November. Some hours out from London it started to rain. It was on a Saturday night as we travelled north - I couldn’t drive a car then so the burden of the outward and  return journey fell on Pete Rogers. It was a nightmare as we battled northwards.
 
We left London around 9.30 pm and arrived at Hedon at 7.00 am the next day. Hull probably isn’t the most exciting of cities to visit - and it was a miserable and unimposing sight on that wet Sunday morning.
 
Upon our arrival we scouted around and found the site of the old Hull’s Angels - a team that had tracked such riders as Mick Mitchell, Alf Webster, Derek Glover, Johnnie White, Fred Yates, Fred ‘Tracker’ Tracey and Norman Johnson. But we were more than disappointed at our findings. There was nothing to indicate that a stadium - of sorts - had been there although we could trace a very visible outline of what had once been the famous D-shaped Hedon track.
 
 
 Alf Webster
Hull 1948 
 
 
 
Hull's Fred Tracey 
 
 
 
Hull's Fred Yates 
In Tamworth Colours
 
 
 
 
Hull's New Cross's Mick Mitchell (Right) With Jeff Lloyd
 
 
 
Fred Pallett says: Hello John,  Just noticed that the fourth photo from the end of John Hyam Part 4 shows two riders and is captioned "Hull's Mick Mitchell (right) with Jeff Lloyd". This would appear to be incorrect. I can confirm that both rode for New Cross, whose colours they are wearing in the photo. Conversely, I have been unable to find any evidence that they rode for Hull at any time. For further confirmation, there are photos of both riders in the New Cross section of Defunct Speedway. Accordingly, you might wish to amend the caption in John Hyam Part 4 to read "New Cross's Mick Mitchell (right) with Jeff Lloyd".
 
John Hyam says: There then followed the all-too traditional habit of walking round the track. The surface was sodden, clingy clay of sorts. My shoes soon let water, then somehow I got bogged down and part of the sole of one of my shoes was torn away. Pete Rogers walked grimly besides me - muttering about "getting involved in an idiot’s venture." I now presume he was referring to me!
 
Then came rational thought. To go through all the planning applications to return speedway to Hull, and the financial outlay involved, would probably be prohibitive. “What are we doing here?” we wondered as the rain cam down in torrents. It hadn’t stopped for hours. There was one thing to do - beat a hasty retreat southwards.
 
But before we left Hull, a place I have never been to since, there was one memorable happening - a traditional English breakfast in a transport cafe. It was super - and mentally I can still enjoy it now. After that we made the return journey to London - around noon the rain stopped. Our promotional plans, like the weather, had been a washout.
 
Overall, we had involved ourselves in a 26-hour round trip - and I had to pay my share of the travelling expenses - I think it was 5 old money. It’s as well other people are able to get into the promotional side of speedway properly. My record in that direction is abysmal. However, with the passing of the years they now provide some amusement. 
 

 
 
Midget Cars v Speedway 
By John Hyam 
 
A fine example of a Midget Car
 
IT was a unique challenge match and it took place over 60 years ago at Glasgow's Ashfield Speedway. 
At the time, while the Ashfield 'Giants' were doing their stuff in the National Speedway League's second division, the promotion was also trying to pioneer midget car racing. 
 
Naturally, there was some keen rivalry between the bikers and the car men. And while the car men could never be tempted on to two wheels, some of the speedway riders fancied their chances on four wheels. 
 
There's no disputing the cars were 'pretty lethal.' They were owned by a giant of a man, 17-stone Dave Hughes, who had trouble squeezing into his car. But while he had weight problems  he could still use craft to win races. 
 
The cars, were built by one-handed pre-war driver Harry Skirrow, who had pioneered them at Belle Vue, Coventry and Lea Bridge in the late 1930s, were four-wheel drive with transmission brakes. The engines were JAP twin-996cc, commonly known as 8/80, with a power output of over 80bhp. They were of the type used just before the outbreak of war in September 1939 by the late Eric Ferneyhaugh in an unsuccessful; motorcycle world speed record attempt. 
 
Eric Liddell
 
 

In 1953, Eric Liddell, a Scottish-based speedway rider, had also built himself a good reputation in midget cars, but the rest of the Ashfield speedway team were untried on four wheels. But Liddell put together a squad with Cyril Cooper, Johnny Green, Doug Templeton and Australian rider Ron Phillips in his side to race against the midget drivers. NIven MacReadie was the reserve.  The midget team, labelled as Stepps Stadium, was led by Hughes and included Mark Black, Tommy Forster, Jimmy Reid, George Ellis.  The epic clash took place on Tueday, October 15, 1953, Races were two-a-side, with the familiar 3-2-1-0 points scoring for finishing places. Races were four laps clutch start.  The match opened with a drawn heat, Hughes leading home Liddell and Cooper. In the next heat Green and Phillips shocked the car men at their own game with a 5-1 from third placed Glasgow bus driver Forster.

 

A 4-2 from Liddell, when he split Hughes and Ellis, kept the speedway men ahead 10-8 after three heats. Then in a rerun heat four, Black and Forster took a 5-1 over Cooper after Green went out with engine failure

And so the midget men 13-11 ahead kept a a slender lead in the match with their drivers taking first place in the heats up to eight, when Templeton won and Green was third in a 4-2 result

 

Going into heat nine, the car men led 25-23, but then Liddell and reserve MacReadie took a 4-2 from Reid, and the scores were tied 27-27. In heat 10, Hughes and Ellis with a 4-2 over Templeton put the speedway riders back in front. And after two drawn heats, the midget drivers led 37-35 going into the penultimate race heat 13.In this, a 4-2 by MacReadie and Phillips over Hughes broke a sequence of midget drivers as heat winners. And it made the score 39-39 with two races left.

 

Interest and excitement was at fever pitch. In heat 14 Templeton and Phillips grabbed a 4-2 from Ellis to give the speedway riders a 43-41 advantage going into the last race.  Liddell and Phillips lined up for the speedway riders while the Stepps' midget drivers put out the formidable Hughes-Forster duo. Liddell swept into the lead with Hughes challenging all the way. Forster nosed past Phillips but the speedway rider outwitted him on the last lap and went after Hughes. And that's how it finished, a 4-2 win for the speedway riders and a 47-43 match victory.

 
 
Dave Hughes number 66 top scored for the midget car drivers. Also seen is George Ellis - who pre-WW2 was a junior speedway rider.
 

SPEEDWAY RIDERS 47: Doug Templeton 13, Eric Liddell 12, Niven MacReadie 9, Ron Phillips 6, Cyril Cooper 4, Johnny Green 3.
STEPPS MIDGETS 43: Dave Hughes 16, Tommy Forster 10, George Ellis 8, Jimmy Reid 5, Mark Black 4.

 

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