Viking's Riders relate their Short Track Racing
("Cycle Speedway" as was) Life Stories (well, one of them does!).
I thought I'd take this opportunity to drone on for a while about my life as a Short Track Rider, so click away now to prevent yawns and groans as this page travels a really l - o - n - g way down.
There was only one lad in my class at Heaton Grammar School, Newcastle who knew what Speedway was apart from me in our Football/Rugby/Cricket fixated peerdom. He was called Rob, a nice lad. We went to Brough Park together in the 1966 season and both had huge "cowhorn" handlebars on our day-to-day transport which caused havoc at the school bike sheds because we took up six spaces for our two bikes. Mine were actually Speedway Bike handlebars from old 1960s Diamonds Captain, Don Wilkinson. I used to get the odd trinket as Daddy was Track Manager at the stadium. I actually had an ex-Brian Brett breastplate and later ones from Peter Kelly and Allan Butterfield, unfortunately long since lost. But I digress, now where was I...?
It was Rob that came with me around Easter time 1967 to have a mosey at the action at Monkchester Recreation Park (the "Rec") in Walker, not very far from the Speedway after my Dad had persuaded me to go and take a look. He knew all the riders as they were all Speedway supporters. I lived on Fairways Estate at Benton in the East End and rode over to Rob's just off Westbourne Avenue in Walker about 3 miles away before we continued up to Monkchester.
We parked ourselves in the little cut that was one of three entries to Burnham Park (it's posh name), hidden by the bushes and the Community Hall directly in front of the path. We could see there were a dozen or more lads riding around what looked like grass to us. Our attention was drawn to one of them as you couldn't miss him really - he was covered in white from head to foot! He also had a white scarf, neckerchief or bandanna around his neck that was floating in the breeze as he went up and down each straight. And he had cowhorns! (but he was the only one who did).
We were there for about 20 minutes, being careful not to be spotted by anyone. Eventually we looked at each other and both agreed that if we couldn't beat these lads, especially the one in white, we were sissies! Finally, we plucked up the courage and drifted over to the track, which we could now see was nothing more than a bare earth oval simply worn down by the bike tyres and surrounded and centred by tatty, unkempt grass. It sloped slightly up to the top, west end of the field that we had entered from, the Monkchester Road end, so was running east-west. We didn't know what to expect, or what a Short Track track should look like, so it seemed awesome to us both. We had no idea what the size was compared to other tracks, or even that there were any others, so weren't aware that this one was a titch. I suppose that would stand in my favour whilst getting used to the Sport. Or possibly not?
We were soon approached by one of the lads, then another, and the rest, and got chatting. They let us have a scoot around and after a quite enjoyable half hour the White Man came over and asked me if I fancied racing the very next month (originally I though it was the next weekend but photos have since put me right!) against a team from Halifax! "Er, what, er, yes, I suppose so" I spluttered in disbelief. "But I don't have a proper bike" I chimed in. "Don't worry about that, said White Man pointing at what he'd been riding - a sad looking heap with cowhorns. We arranged a time to turn up and that was that. I couldn't wait to tell the Old Man, so I did, but also mentioned about my lack of racing machinery. The one I was currently using was a 16 inch frame with 24 inch wheels and Roadie gearing (46-18). "Divint worry, nee problem" he replied, "I'll get that sorted, just you turn up".
Well, what an offer, he hadn't even given me a birthday present in the previous ten years so how could I refuse? Came the great day, Rob decided it wasn't for him after all, so instead I took Keith Robson, one of my old scramble bike buddies (now known of course as Moto Cross) who lived at the bottom of my street in Benton. We made our own way down there on our bikes, very nervously entering the "Rec" and seeing a huge mass of people right around the track! I was ready to back off, being a famously shy kid, but the Father Figure had spotted me. "Get here!". I got there. "This is Jimmy and that's Gordon, and they've got you a bike". Sure enough, there it was - and I have to say it looked mighty impressive. An 18 inch metallic red touring frame with immaculate, original paintwork and 26 inch wheels shod with brand new Avon Skidway Gripster tyres, together with the standard, as I thought, cowhorns - though not huge things. I couldn't believe it. Looks like I was in!
I straddled the bike very tentatively and paddled it around the field for a few minutes to get the feel of it, but before I knew it I was being hailed into the "pits" with the other riders. The top of the field was the pits. And yes, it was the pits! "Jimmy" turned out to be Jim Hewitson and little did anyone know but he was about to etch his place in Short Track history a few weeks later by attacking a Halifax rider with a brick, henceforth ensuring everyone knew him as "Jim the Brick". Looking at the original match programme now, that would have been either Heat Four and the Halifax rider avoiding being turned into part of a house would be a Mr Kirkroyal, Boothtown Rapiers' Number 7 reserve, or else Heat Ten with their D Woodward excluded and Jimmy and I picking up a 3-3:
I'm on a borrowed bike here, proper Canadian Bends! It must have been this race where Jimmy lost his cool - so I'd assume that this was the first staging of it and the lad at the back must have ploughed into him.
I also discovered that my bike had been assembled by Jimmy and his good mate, the one-and-only Ivan Mauger's mechanic Gordon Stobbs as a favour to my dad. Probably ensured their free entry to Brough for the next 7 years! I bet there aren't many who can claim the builder of this:
also built this: (just kidding Gordon, mate!).
****NOTE! Gordon was at our Cramlington track today, Saturday 20th September 2014 to watch our Euro-Vets meeting and swears he can't remember building my bike!
It wasn't long before George Grant, the Club Secretary, had me signing a licence; something he placed great importance on and valued highly and it wouldn't be too long before I discovered why it was so coveted.
Anyway, just over a month after joining the Club, my big-time début arrived - Newcastle "Stars" versus Boothtown "Rapiers" and Newcastle "Vikings" v West Vale "Wolves" at Monkchester. As was now the norm, Keith and I rode down to Walker but now, with somewhat less trepidation than our first attendances, just merged with the throng of riders and supporters around the "Rec". I took my jacket off to reveal my George Taylor lookalike hooped shirt and the NCSC Vikings badge my Grandma had rapidly stitched on the arm after I'd insisted I had to look right on this auspicious occasion!
But I wasn't exactly on fire that day in my first ever "real" meeting, and only scored when nobody ran in behind me after a first heat fall shook my confidence. My mate Keith had similar luck at reserve. However, on a track that measured at most 65 yards (no, not metres, YARDS - the somewhat more anorexic Imperial version of a long footstep) with extremely tight bends, and riding a bike assembled by, shall we say not the best or most clued-up riders in the Newcastle Club (Slick Jim & Stobbsy had built it OK but stuck on an extremely lethargic gearing - it was 40-20 on the donkey with junior cranks, 150 mm!) then I reckon my début on Sunday, 25th June 1967 wasn't a total disaster. The President of Brazil died on this day, but participating in my new found hobby, which was to be life-changing, was a much more significant event, though not reported worldwide!
I was famously dead shy but eventually started mingling with some of the other lads when I crept very slightly out of my shell over time, and rapidly realised I needed to fettle the infernal machine as a first step to greatness. Taking advice from Mick Dobson and George Taylor, who I think both spotted some immediate potential in me, I made it my business to get the handlebars and gearing changed very quickly, in fact for the next race day. That got me on a level footing with the better riders mechanically, and it was only weeks before I had the beating of all of the local established "second strings". A few practice gating sessions with George and time spent studying him, Ges Atkinson and Jimmy Graham who were easily the best gaters there (apart from Ray Turner who I didn't rate a great gater as he had the mechanical advantage of always using "4 under" thus accelerating virtually twice as fast as the rest of us - we always joked he had no male undercarriage to allow him to spin the pedals so quickly!) had me well up to speed inside a few months. No way could I get a decent start off my right foot though, no matter how loud the advisory voices yelled at me. But I was definitely in now!
By the time the 1967 summer season ended with Local league racing the mainstay and a few more decent Challenge matches under my belt I was already an established Heat Leader. Being the new boy there was stuff going on in the background that I had no inkling of, but I knew I wanted to race at a higher level now. So it was relatively easy for Mike Dobson to persuade me to join him at South Shields and desert my Home Town club. I recall this didn't go down too well at all (and why Licences were so valued) and I think my new best buddy George and I may have fallen out over it as he was happy to stick with the Toon. So we both were seafaring folk: George a Viking and I had now become a Trow Lea "Mariner"! Of course I wasn't the first, or the last to do this. I think Ray was first, then Frank Auffret. Jim Graham followed me after a while and then Eddie Murray and another mate of mine from Benton Mickey Noutch also followed suit.
If you look at the dates on both licences you'll notice quite a small gap between them, just less than three months. That's how long it took me to realise where my bread was buttered! However, I don't think I saw out the full term of the Shields licence either before hauling my arse back to the Toon and I've a feeling that this was due to Mickey Dobson heading down to London for work - may have been Les Gustafson aswell. The Newcastle management team of George Grant, Jackie Hiscock and the rest were extremely displeased at our desertion and threatened all sorts of things should we ever try to ride at Newcastle again! It took a while for the fuss to die down. I remember on my return Jackie began calling me "Ted" rather than Terry, and I'm sure this was his way of maintaining his discreet angst against me for deserting to Shields.
Initially before I got my first car, our little Newcastle-based squad used to cycle over to ride on the racy new Shields track at Temple Park, To me it was both terrible and awesome at the same time! The thing was sat half inside a natural bowl so one bend was nicely banked up. The other end, however, was nicely banked DOWN, off-camber and tricky to negotiate. And one straight was distinctly and visibly lower than t'other so you climbed a hill into the fourth bend and flew down one into the second. And that bl@@dy starting gate! The dozy effers who built it used tarmac, which would have been fine but they were the last of the Council workers on site after the beautiful red shale surface had been laid (well, it was red ash, a wee bit lumpier than your average Finest Warwickshire Red and perhaps not so "beautiful"!).
Consequently, the Friday Afternooners (whatever day it was, these lads were definitely Friday folk!) decided against the laborious task of digging out a trough for the black stuff and just dumped it on top! I kid you not, it was like hitting a kerb at 25 miles an hour, such was the severity of the sloping front of the tarmac. So ideally you'd have to haul up on your handlebars on the approach and lift the bike over the severe step! If you were engaged in hot pursuit or manic defence at the time and forgot about the ramp, it would throw you off-course nicely and present your challenger with a great passing opportunity into the first bend.
I can only remember having two big matches on it against tough opposition. Of course I exclude the visit of Newcastle who ran us very close! One was Scottish Rangers (Edinburgh) and the other Stradbroke Arrows (Sheffield) for whom the Fordham Brothers, Eddie 19 and Gary 13 (!) were building a reputation to rival Cockroft and Dangerfield (Halifax), Garnett and Hinchcliffe (Manchester) and Ellis and Walsh (Birmingham) as a pairing to be feared. Both matches resulted in heavy defeats for us. That track disappeared under the new Temple Park Leisure Centre about ten years after we stopped using it, that being when Les moved south and Ray and Mike both disappeared from the scene, we assumed through working away.
We'd return after the match by Tyne Pedestrian Tunnel or the Shields Ferry which dropped us off nicely at the bottom of the steep bank up to the Hot & Cold Drinks Shop in North Shields. This fabulous little corner shop could serve you any-flavour-you-like drink or iced cream, and I mean ANY! That sugar (or alky in some cases!) kick gave us the energy needed to skedaddle back to our various abodes throughout Newcastle and avoid the Constabulary who had nowt better to do than stop us for having no brakes. Actually most of us finally cottoned on and used to hang a front brake on temporarily, as that was all the Officeurs of the Lur demanded.
Here's my racing shirt shown while I was hovering in the pits at the 1968 Newcastle Rider's Final:
From bottom left, clockwise: GB flag (fiercely patriotic!), NACSA, Eastfield Eagles (even more fiercely proud), Newcastle Speedway Supporters Club, East of Scotland CSA. As you can see, or rather CAN'T see, my proudest possession of all - my Newcastle Vikings badge - isn't there. And that's because I'd deserted for South Shields at this time and taken it off my shirt, shame on me! However, it wasn't too long before I, and in fact all of us, were back in the Vikings fold again. Here's the same shirt, same season, same track but now resplendent with Vikings identity on left shoulder! And yes, that white-clad gent was just behind me here.
I'll never forget that painful run-off for the '68 NRC with defending Champion Frank Auffret and Jim Graham. At least I put my shirt on the podium for the first time but the second step should have been the top one after I'd blitzed the pair of them, possibly the undisputed top two at the time, for over three laps before I caved in and allowed Jimmy past me. Bu@@er! But I was still the New Boy and I'd have my time. Actually, Eddie Murray was the real new boy now but there were just the two of us during this phase of NCSC operations who made elite Heat Leader status.
During these formative years in my CS "career" I absolutely drooled over the prospect of racing at exotic places like Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and the rest. It wasn't long before I could do that, actually 3 weeks after my 17th birthday when I passed my driving test, and for my birthday was given my first car by my Step-dad, pictures elsewhere on here. That released me into the Wild and from that day the poor overworked little motor had bikes strapped onto every corner of it's body and a vast menagerie of almost human beings wedged inside as we trekked over the Border and over the Pennines with what seemed like exciting regularity, riding for both South Shields and Newcastle. It was great! I'd spend all of my wages, after paying my board money at home to my Grandma, on petrol at about thirty pence a gallon (about 5 litres) in today's money! So two pounds fifty got the tank filled and off we went looking for tracks! Well, not quite - not at about 22 miles to the gallon - I still had to live!
One of the most memorable trips of the Sixties was the one we made to take on Kingstanding Monarchs at their Perry Bar, Birmingham track. This would have been instigated either by Middlesbrough's Frank Auffret or the South Shields Mike Dobson/Les Gustafson duo. Although we got murdered by the one and only Roger Ellis and his cronies (cor, they weren't taking any chances by picking a weak side to take on the unknown Geordies, were they?), and even though our Transit minivan with Ernie Kirkup driving broke down on the old A1 at The Angel Cafe, Doncaster on the way home, and even though none of us got any sleep that night, and didn't get back to Newcastle until the wee hours of Monday morning, and even though we didn't see our beloved bikes for a few days after that, it was a fantastic experience.
***footnote - It is now Saturday 5th September 2015 and I'm talking about the early days in the pits at Edinburgh (Redbraes Park) with my new-era Euro-Vets cronies from the Midlands, and lo and behold my great pal Mick Aris, now famously of Wednesfield Aces, actually rode in this one against us for his first club, Kingstanding Monarchs, and claims he got his first maximum against the Geordies!
But the weirdest thing of all is that you can probably find a VERY similar tale on any of the current Short Track Club history sites, especially the Scottish ones! Seems as we all pursued the same line of gratification, we all suffered a similar fate at one time or another. I suppose the further we had to travel, the greater the risk of calamity or great adventures along the way. In the autumn of 1968 we started building the original track at Eastfield, small but perfectly proportioned, we humped the black ash from the nearby park keeper's garden and had the thing constructed in a month, about six regular hands and a few occasional helpers. Eastfield was to remain our Ancestral Home with a couple of track rebuilds along the way and a spell back at Fawdon until the whole thing died, permanently (or so we thought!) in 1992.
As if I haven't had enough bikes to tell you about, Dear Reader, there's one other I'd like to add, for no other reason than to prove my crazy biking heritage. So here's a pic of my Daddy around 1970 hauling our beloved JAP 500 around Brough Park where he did a few seasons of second halfing:
pic coming soon...
When it got to my turn to try the engine-driven variety I spent my very early (from 4:30 am!) winter Sunday mornings raking the thing around Druridge Bay for a few years (short-stroke JAP motor), long-time practice haunt of the old Diamonds riders where I was taken by the old man around 1960 ish to mingle with the likes of Don Wilkinson, Gil Goldfinch et al. The worst damage you could suffer there was drowning but as I feared water more than Death itself I stayed well away from the waves. I could get a full "broadside" on around the wide open spaces with the throttle twisted back hard, but my one and only excursion onto a real track, some years later at Berwick's Shielfield Park proved a non-event, and also proved how much of a chicken I was.
From the start none of us could have dreamed we'd have some of the World's top teams and riders competing against us, either at their grounds or here in Newcastle & District on our own. And how many 15/16/17 year old kids ever get the chance to represent their Cities at their chosen sport? We have indeed been blessed, but I think it's only now in our later years that we've come to realise and appreciate it fully. Other very memorable and enjoyable meetings we took part in were the 1969 Manchester 21st Anniversary Weekend at Carrswood and Offerton, the same sort of gig in Glasgow later that same year and several great weekends in Sheffield following the friendships George Taylor had struck up with two of the Parkwood riders. Here's a program from 1969. Although Jim Graham is missing, how about this for solid scoring? No wonder we could all beat each other on our day. Pic from Keith Dyer but originally someone else!
After a very short life in 1970 when all our dreams were about to be fulfilled by potentially winning a Regional league title for the first time my beloved Sport ceased to exist north of Hull and I was forced to resort to playing with cars as a hobby. I'd kept in touch with Colin Grant and we built and modified a whole crop of old bangers for the next few years including a rally car that never saw an event until he deserted me for a girl! At least he had the good sense to marry her. It was truly devastating to have to stop doing what you loved and at 20 just when you felt you were reaching the peak of your performance. Ouch. Bollox.
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