Speedway Fiction

Great stories for speedway fans!

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Speedway Fiction

Great stories for speedway fans!

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MICHAEL HANSEN…

…is the only author writing novels specifically aimed at fans of motorcycle speedway racing.

Sadly, speedway in Britain today is very much a niche sport but it was not always the case. In the years between its introduction in 1928 and the war, crowds at dirt track meetings were huge and speedway riders were some of the highest-paid sportsmen. Again, in the 1970s, speedway enjoyed a revival in Britain and became what was described at the time as England’s ‘second most popular spectator sport’.

These are the periods in which Michael Hansen’s novels are set - when Britain was the centre of the speedway world.

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Earlier articles…

Heavens, the noise!

Cobble Street Speedway Star

Riddle of the Sands

Speedway Beginnings

Speedway Advertisements in 1929

Speedway Myth?

NEWS OF A NEW BOOK

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WHERE EXACTLY WAS ZAMALEK SPEEDWAY?

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Cobble Street Speedway Star Riddle of the sands

Zamalek Speedway, Cairo, 1928. The track was reportedly constructed inside the dog track belonging to the Egyptian Greyhound Racing Association

In doing the preparation for the book Cobble Street Speedway Star, much of the research involved life in Salford during the 1920s and 1930s. I was lucky enough to be able to consult many, highly-detailed Ordnance Survey maps of the city as well as read many personal accounts of people who lived and worked there. This was supplemented by large numbers of historic photographs which all added detail and anecdote to the story.

For the episode set in Egypt during the autumn and winter of 1928, however, material was far thinner on the ground and often ambiguous. The story follows the real-life trip made by 20 speedway riders who, anxious to earn a living during the off-season, arranged to set up a speedway in Egypt.

The closure of an unlicensed track by the Manchester coroner in 1931, following the death of 28-year-old rider James Kenny, was inevitable and probably long overdue. By the end of speedway’s first full league season in 1929, the death toll on the track had already reached double figures but the rushed and tragic way the sport was introduced across the country reveals much about the lure that it held for young men of the time.

Kenny was from nearby Salford, the ‘Dirty Old Town’ of Ewan MacColl’s iconic song and the setting for Shelagh Delaney’s harrowing depiction of working class life, ‘A Taste Of Honey’. His situation was that of many in an age of mass unemployment: desperate for work of any kind, attracted by the glamour and potentially high earnings of the speedways and at the mercy of unscrupulous entrepreneurs. It was James Kenny’s story that provided the inspiration for Cobble Street Speedway Star, a novel about the earliest days of dirt track racing in Britain.

So much happened so quickly in that first, ground-breaking year…

‘He doubted whether he had ever seen such a purposeful looking machine…’

THE LAUNCH OF DIRT TRACK RACING IN BRITAIN

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Speedway Beginnings

By the end of its first league season in 1929,

speedway’s death toll had already reached into double figures

TRADITION dictates that British crowds first thrilled to the sights, sounds and smells of speedway racing at High Beech, Essex, on Sunday, February 19, 1928. The sport chose to mark its Golden Jubilee in 1978 and closely involved in those celebrations was veteran impresario Johnnie Hoskins. Received wisdom also maintains that it was J. S. Hoskins who started the whole thing back in his native Australia in 1923 and brought his circus to England five years later. It credits him, too, with inventing the name ‘speedway’ for what was commonly called at the time ‘dirt track racing’. Speedway historians, of course, disagree about some or all of the above. Pages of print and months of research have been expended by some of the sport’s most proficient writers in arguing about its true origins. Was it actually born in the United States and taken later to Australia? Did the dirt track racing that undoubtedly took place in Britain before High Beech actually count as speedway? Was there even an Irish forerunner to the enterprise that still excites its much-diminished band of followers in England and, to a small extent, in Scotland, 86 years later? Those arguments are the territory of the even smaller army of adherents whose remarkable knowledge of speedway history is documented in books, magazines and, latterly, websites of wonderful detail. They need not detain us here, except to note that such disagreements are not the sole preserve of modern researchers, sifting through the necessarily sparse records left to us from those pioneering days. Speedway writers were arguing about it from the very start.

When did it really start?

THOSE of you ‘of a certain age’ may recall with fondness the BBC comedy, A. P. Herbert’s Misleading Cases. It ran over three series from 1967 until 1971 and starred Alastair Sim - in one of his rare ventures onto the small screen - as the mildly amused Mr Justice Swallow and Roy Dotrice as Captain Albert Haddock…

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A P Herbert, otherwise Sir Alan Patrick Herbert, 1890 - 1971

A P HERBERT ON SPEEDWAY Heavens, the noise!

1929 marked the first full season of dirt track racing in Britain. It also saw the introduction of league competition for the first time.

 Twelve teams contested the Southern League and seventeen inaugurated the English Dirt Track League of northern clubs but very often the real attraction for spectators remained the star riders from the USA, Australia, New Zealand and, increasingly, Britain.

Promoters who had invested considerable sums in building or renovating stadiums were anxious to recoup their outlay by pulling in as many punters as possible. To that end, advertising in their local newspapers - which had far wider readerships than those remaining enjoy today - was an essential tool in their armoury. Below is a small selection that typify the kinds of thing a supporter might come across as he flicked through the pages of his Clarion, Reporter, Advertiser or Evening Post.

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ADVERTISING IN THE LOCAL PRESS 1929 Pulling in the Punters Britain’s most exciting sporting spectacle!

With admission prices at 1s 2d (6p) and 2s 4d (11½ p), car parking for 2000 and buses to the track from all parts of the district, Long Eaton Speedway opens in May, 1929

If you would like to comment on any article, you can get in touch with Michael Hansen via the Speedway Fiction contact page.

IN the 1970s, it was frequently claimed that speedway was Britain’s ‘second most popular spectator sport,’ the first being the Glorious Game, the nearest thing Britain has left to a religion.

It may be hard to believe now but the dirt-track sport, we were told, was watched by more avid fans each week than cricket, rugby (League or Union), hockey, athletics, tennis, golf and horse racing.

In those days, of course, the terraces throbbed to the chants of thousands, bobble-hatted, whirling their rattles and hooting air-horns, cheering and booing, proud and partisan. At Wembley, (yes, Wembley and speedway were not mutually exclusive in those days), crowds of 80,000 would turn out to watch a World Final while, at the other end of the country and the bottom end of the pecking order, 2,000 or more would still roll up every Saturday night to shout for Berwick Bandits at the foot of Division Two.

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Nicholas Ball in ‘Hazell Goes To The Dogs’ Thames Television, 1977

WAS IT ONLY A SPEEDWAY MYTH? Britain’s Second Most Popular Spectator Sport?