PROMOTERS, managers, mechanics and their attendant staff – the back-room boys of Speedway. As vital to the sport as the riders themselves, and at times their work can be equally exacting.


While you spur on your favourites with a thunderous cheer spare a thought for their mechanics. Unseen and unsung, they work feverishly in the grimy bowels of the pits, their expert hands adjust and fix at amazing speed, bringing a lifetime of technical knowledge to bear upon a troublesome motor. Upon their skills depends the fate of a crack rider, or even the fortunes of a whole team.


Then again, our promoters and managers are no elegant, armchair executives. Quite apart from the riders and their numerous specific problems – pay, transport, injuries, insurance and suchlike – there is accommodation, lighting, rentals, workshops, track and turnstile labour, advertisements and publicity. All of which require their personal attention.


Personality and showmanship are two essential qualities required of a successful promoter. His customers are tremendous enthusiasts; they like their sport rough and ready, thrilling but clean. The astute promoter will increase and guide their ardour by giving them the kind of sport they expect. Speedway promoting doesn’t require dignity, fine airs or graces. It wants enthusiasm and a will to work.


John S. Hoskins


Perhaps that is why “Roarin’” John Hoskins is the sport’s greatest personality. Born at Perth, Australia, he probably knows more about the game than any other man alive. In turn farmer, lumberjack and freelance journalist, Johnny spent four years in the Australian Navy during the last war and was stationed at Port Darwin, where he organised the Red Cross and first learnt the art of sports promotion. He entered the realm of Speedway when he was secretary to the Hunter River Agricultural Society at West Maitland. Organizing it as a stunt in the first instance, Johnny carried on with the idea through 1923 and 1924. Between 1925 and 1927 he presented Speedway as an organised sport at Newcastle (Australia), Sydney and Perth. 1928 found him in Britain and advising on track construction and refusing to open his own track because of the high rents asked. During the last war he instructed the RAF in Morse code.


Sir Arthur Elvin


Manager of Wembley under Sir Arthur Elvin in 1929, he went to West Ham in 1934 and built that track into the famous circuit we know today. Hardly a month passed without the “Home of the Hammers” gate-crashed the sporting headlines. When he was not turning the game inside out looking for flaws, John would be racing cheetahs or donkeys around his track! He has built and controlled tracks in Spain and America and is now managing Bradford in the National League and also Newcastle in the Northern League. The youngest promoter today is his son Ian, now running the Glasgow circuit for his father, and he certainly looks like being a chip off the old block. After a few minutes’ conversation he almost convinced me that he had the best team in the country and all the bad luck on Earth! Ian has two brothers, Barnard and Lionel. A heavy cloudburst last June cost Johnny over £1,000 when rain washed 2,000 tons of banking onto his safety fence at Bradford. But rain, sun or snow, “Roarin’” John comes up smiling. There is no greater show man in the game today and I know several who would give thousands for his goal-getting personality. In fiery J.H. we have the very essence of Speedway.


Fred Mockford & Cecil Smith


Able co-directors of the New Cross track are Messrs. Fred Mockford and Cecil Smith, who were among the first to pioneer the cause of Speedway in Britain. This famous pair started at Crystal Palace in 1928, calling in Johnny Hoskins to advise them on track construction. They opened New Cross in 1934 and have since been responsible for many of the major improvements that have been greatly beneficial to the sport. They were the first to introduce track workshops, giving a comprehensive maintenance and repair service on the spot. It was Fred, together with ex-rider Harry Shepherd, who eliminated the irksome rolling start by inventing the electrical starting gate. Last season Cecil took another step in the right direction by inventing an electrical device for indicating riders’ positions at the tapes by the use of coloured lights. This machine was used with great success for the British Speedway Championship. Formerly announcer at Crystal Palace and New Cross, Cecil has now forsaken the microphone to help Fred with track administration. Distinguishable by his teddy-bear coat and pork-pie hat, perhaps the best-known of the two is Fred Mockford. You can see him in the middle of the track any Wednesday night during the season. Dying a thousand deaths if his team are losing, but waving his hat like a two-year-old if the Rangers are on top! His second love is the theatre, and Fred is manager of the New Cross Empire. With this fine team at the helm we can expect great things from the “soup-plate” this year.


Alf Cole


Another fine personality from the Old Kent Road is Alf Cole, chief mechanic and coach to the Rangers. Alf was the personal friend and mechanic to the great Farndon and they used to race greyhounds together. Fate decreed that the mighty partnership should be broken, but “King” Cole still races greyhounds on the New Cross track and does pretty well. He has been with Fred Mockford over 16 years, being his chief mechanic in the old Crystal Palace days. During the war Alf was a Divisional Officer in the NFS, and had complete charge of all their motorcycles.


Ronnie Greene


Presiding genius at Wimbledon is Debonair Ronald Greene. In his time Ronnie has tried his luck as soldier, parachutist, bootmaker and NFS Commander. His first track was Bristol, where he started from scratch. When he took over, Ronnie had no team and no track; nevertheless he laid his £250 deposit on the line and in a few months the “Bulldogs” were thriving. Coming to Wimbledon in 1937, the acute shortage of riders made his job doubly difficult. He overcame the problem by importing such fine American riders as Lamoreaux and Kaufman; since then the “Dons” have never looked back. He stole a march on his fellow promoters in 1938, when, during the World Championship at Wembley, he hired a plane to fly over the stadium advertising his next match. In April last year, Ronnie’s great enthusiasm was nearly his undoing. He was leaning over the safety fence at Bradford, when a riderless machine hit the pit gate at full speed. A piece of metal flew from the bike and struck Ronnie on the head, knocking him unconscious. Bradford rider Bill Osborne had found that his throttle was stuck tight so Bill had “abandoned ship” and left his machine to roar on alone. However, Ronnie had the satisfaction of seeing his “Dons” win the match. Ronnie is also a big noise in wrestling circles. He promoted the World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship at Harringay in February, 1946.


Bert Dixon


Newcomer to Wimbledon last season was that Wizard of the motors, Bert Dixon. A little man with brown, curly hair, Bert was the first man in Europe to tune a motorcycle to exceed 100 mph at Brooklands and on the sand flats, and from 1922 1928 was in charge of the Harley racing competition department. Then he turned to Speedway and teamed up with the fabulous Sprouts Elder, afterwards joining the Parker brothers at Harringay. During the war he worked in an aircraft factory as a jig and toolmaker. At the end of hostilities Bert was mechanic to Birmingham’s team until Norman Parker persuaded him to “do” Wimbledon’s machines and become their chief mechanic. Certainly Norman showed good judgement, for the “Dons” are moving faster than ever.


E.O. Spence


Speedway lost a good friend and most able adviser when E.O. Spence, Director of Belle Vue, Manchester, died last September. A member of the Control Board, he was one of the most thorough promoters we had. “E.O.” Insisted that his teams be absolutely first-rate and every man a “doer.” Hence the high standard of racing we have come to expect from Belle Vue, for the team has won more National League competitions since 1932 than any other two teams put together. Unlike many of his brother promoters, this northern stalwart was ice-cool during racing, and was seldom seen to bat an eyelid whether his team was points ahead or streets behind. He was a man we shall always recall with pride and affection. Mr R.M. Dixon succeeds Mr Spence as Managing Director.


In 1946, when Mr Spence was appointed Chief Administrator to the whole of Belle Vue Stadium, Ltd., The responsibility for the “Aces” welfare fell largely upon the stable capable shoulders of Miss A.S. Hart. The first Speedway manageress in the country, it seems a bright future is ahead for the team under her expert guidance. She is extremely interested in the young “Aces”, many of them have profited by her advice. In addition, Miss Hart has the distinction of being the first person to stage a public Novices’ Meeting. She finds her sex is no drawback, although when visiting London clubs, indignant fans have written to their managers asking why a woman is allowed into the pits!


Sir Arthur Elvin


Capital of the Speedway world is Wembley, but the speed fan cannot claim a monopoly of the massive Empire Stadium, but stages anything from a PT display to a Cup Final with equal ease. Perhaps the most versatile and highly organised Stadium on the map, we particularly relish it as the home of the “Lions.” Known to every Wembley supporter, and most other supporters for that matter, is Wembley’s mastermind, Sir Arthur Elvin. Sportsmen everywhere congratulated our most successful promoter when he was honoured with a knighthood on June 13, 1946, and never was an honour more merited. At the age of seventeen he was serving with the RFC as an observer during the Great War, when he was shot down and imprisoned but made several unsuccessful attempts to escape. After demobilisation, Sir Arthur accepted a job at £4 10shillings a week as assistant in charge of two tobacco kiosks at the old Wembley Exhibition. When the show closed, Sir Arthur was able to obtain the options on several shops anxious to cut their losses. These he operated on a profit-sharing basis with the Exhibition authorities. More ambitious than ever, he bought up some of the old Exhibition buildings, sold them at a profit and finally bought the stadium itself. Through the years, by sheer hard work and business genius, Sir Arthur has built the former neglected building into the magnificent stadium it is today. To Sir Arthur and his “Lions” we wish the very best for many seasons to come.


Alec Jackson


Wembley team manager is the North countryman Alec Jackson. As might be expected of the manager of the country’s crack team, Alec knows the cinders from A to Z. A dispatch rider in the 1914 to 1918 war, he was a REME Major in the last war. Trick cyclist, parachute jumper and Belgian Grand Prix winner, he rode for Belle Vue in 1929. He managed West Ham in 1932 and joined Wembley in 1933. Last season, his young discoveries were the most promising on the track, and this talent-spotting knack of his is nothing short of amazing. Some promoters like a ready-made stars, but Alec prefers to train his own. “Split” Waterman, in my opinion the best novice we have seen on the cinders since the war, was his big surprise for 1947. With a manager possessing the “Midas touch” of Alec Jackson, is there any wonder that Wembley have been top of the League for two successive seasons – and what price the “Lions” for the big treble?


Arthur Atkinson & Stan Greatrex


Of the two West Ham directors, Arthur Atkinson and Stan Greatrex, we already know much. Last year was a disappointing one for them and, unfortunately, they could not do much about it. However, 1948 finds them eager and fighting fit. They have spared no pains to get a fighting combination together. Let’s hope that the lads get a much-needed break and that the “Hammers” will begin to climb from the lower regions of the League table.


West Ham’s fifteen-stone tuner, Alec Mosley, maybe the key to the golden gates of success this season. Last September, after two years’ hard work, Alec finally perfected a new type of Speedway machine which he claims will revolutionise racing. Malcolm Craven was the first to try it, and Malcolm really went places. By now the whole team may be equipped with replicas of that model, so here’s hoping. At Crystal Palace in 1928, Alec later went to Stamford Bridge. Chief of the Wembley workshops before he came to Custom House in 1932, Alec has been personal mechanic to “Cyclone” Billy Lamont and Les Blakeborough.


Fred Whitehead


Harringay, the new First Division team, under the management of former Hackney Wick manager Fred Whitehead, had to start right from scratch last year. During the close season Fred was training his own lads to strengthen the second strings. Fred has now retired to manage his farm and we look to veteran Wal Phillips to carry on the good work and bring the “Racers” safely through their teething troubles.


So much for the senior tracks of 1947. This season will see many more new tracks in operation. At the time of writing, licences have been applied for to open circuits at Braintree, Brighton, Cardiff, Charlton, Cheltenham, chrome, Hastings, Hull, Leicester (three applications), Steppes, Mitcham, Nottingham, Peterborough, Romford, Rossendale, Stainforth, Southend, Swindon and Worksop.


What kind of returns do these promoters hope to get? In 1946 over 6,500,000 people attended meetings (approximately 170,000 a week). Combine undertakings were around the £1 million mark. The government wanted 48 percent of this for entertainment tax. Riders’ payments amounted to £135,000; rentals and maintenance took a further £120,000. Mechanics, general staff and the usual overheads cost £85,000. Thus, the clubs took about £160,000 clear profit between. 1947 showed an even bigger turnover.


Yes, Speedway certainly turned over big-money, and it will do much better this year. But the fan can rest assured that the men at the helm, new and old, know their profession well before any of them is granted a licence to race under ACU rules, that body thoroughly inspects the new tracks. Every aspect, from the safety and welfare of the riders to the comfort of the patrons, is taken into consideration. Speedway grows in size and popularity, but it’s fine organisation and the high standards will not be lowered or modified as a consequence.

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