SALFORD, England, 1928… the ‘dirty old town’ of Ewan McColl’s iconic song and home of L.S. Lowrie’s ‘matchstalk men’.


When Australian entrepreneurs Albert John ‘AJ’ Hunting and the more enduring J.S. ‘Johnnie’ Hoskins landed at Southampton on the SS Oronsay, it was with the sole aim of introducing the form of dirt track racing known as ‘speedway’ which had proved hugely popular on their own shores and which, if it took off in the Mother Country, would make them a fortune.


But it doesn’t take British entrepreneurs long to spot an opportunity, either. Charles Cavanagh is the manager of Salford’s ailing Albert Theatre and Cinema. Charlie knows how to put on a show and decides to bring the speedway circus to his town.


James Brennan is 22 and a miner at Pendleton Colliery earning £5 a week in 99-degree temperatures at the coal face. When dirt track racing is introduced to the Albion Stadium, just across the river from his home in Broughton, he and his brother Harry are amongst the crowd of 20,000 excited spectators who stream through the gates to witness the spectacle that had swept across Britain during that inaugural summer. Like scores of young men, James is captured by the excitement and lured by the money to be earned from Britain’s newest motorsport. Taught to broadside by American ace Brad Newton, he secures novice rides at the new Guide Bridge track and is taken under the wing of Sir Gerald Hardwick, a director who sees a future for speedway racing - but not as the circus show it currently is.


But the fast buck never comes cheaply and the hazards in this gladiatorial form of racing are all too apparent. When tragedy strikes at Guide Bridge, everyone must face the question: are the dangers simply too great, however big the rewards? Is speedway even a sport or is it just bare-knuckle fighting of a more sophisticated kind?

England, 1928… The Story… Cobble Street Speedway Star

SS Oronsay, the British ocean liner that

brought the AJ Hunting and Johnnie Hoskins circuses to Britain, later became a World War II troop ship and was sunk by an Italian submarine in 1942

It helped that the Morris ‘high top’ van carried his crest on both sides and was emblazoned with the words ‘Hardwick Mills’

So this was it: the Dirt Track Douglas. All 500cc of her. He doubted whether he had ever seen such a purposeful looking machine

Inside the showroom, highly-polished examples of the company’s current models were displayed on low plinths, accompanied by large white cards on brass stands detailing their names and specifications

James looked from one to another. ‘He’s dead,’ he said and barely recognized his own voice. ‘They took him to Ashton Infirmary but there was nothing they could do. They said he had a fractured skull.’

Emma knelt beside him and folded an arm around his shoulders. ‘The poor boy,’ she whispered

‘I’ll do my best,’ James promised, pulling on his crash helmet and climbing aboard the Rudge. With a push from Ed Stockdale, he was soon out on the track, cruising up the home straight with Brad Newton’s instructions uppermost in his mind

Sir Gerald smiled. ‘It is rather special, this place. Isn’t it? You know what they say about it, don’t you? If you sit on the terrace at Shepheard’s long enough, you’ll see the whole world walk by’

He was no longer wearing his Shepheard’s uniform but voluminous black trousers and a white open-necked shirt. Still, he was instantly recognizable.

     ‘Jeff!’ James shouted.

When James first saw it, his reaction was one of disappointment. Compared with the lusher, more beautiful and better-manicured parts of the Club, this forgotten corner was distinctly underwhelming. The stadium made Guide Bridge look well-appointed.

'Is that all I'm getting - one ride? What about the novices' races?'

'Well, there aren't any novices apart from you - not yet, anyway. We want to try and get some of the locals to have a go, then there might be a bit more competition for you.'

SpeedwayFiction Speedway like it used to be! Home

As the first season of dirt track racing in Britain comes to a close, a group of riders look to earning a living over the winter months by racing in Egypt. Arrangements are made to establish a speedway inside an existing greyhound track at Zamalek, Cairo and James manages to secure a place on this tour, despite being only a promising novice. Some of the riders resent his presence, however, and when he refuses to go along with one of their less-than-honest money-making schemes, life becomes very uncomfortable.

But when a visit to the Great Pyramid of Khufu, just outside the city, turns into something altogether less pleasant, it seems that his racing competitors are prepared to go to any lengths to protect their interests - and does that include stealing his one prized possession, the Dirt Track Douglas he still hasn’t paid for?

On and off the track, James has much to celebrate and plenty to lament in the year that the sport of dirt track riding swept through Britain.

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