SpeedwayFiction Speedway like it used to be! Home Speedway on TV 5 The night Blue Peter Made it a Date at Eight

HIDDEN away on page 30 of the Tenth Blue Peter Book is a feature that has as much chance of turning up in a children’s annual in 2016 as the original item that gave rise to it would have of featuring on CBBC today.

But this was 1972 and for speedway to be given a slot on Blue Peter was not new. They had already interviewed then four-times World Champion Ivan Mauger who had brought along his gold plated Jawa to show off to the 8 million viewers who regularly tuned in during that halcyon time.

It perhaps wasn’t surprising then, that the intrepid John Noakes and Peter Purves took themselves off to Hackney Wick for a day’s tuition on the dirt track under the entrepreneurial eye of Len Silver.

OUR first lesson was how to do a racing start.You don’t get a push start for a race - you line up with the engine running and the experts get away with tremendous acceleration. But a racing start has to be safe as well as fast - the big danger is that the back wheel has a tendency to climb underneath the front wheel and tip you over backwards.

THE technique is to release the clutch suddenly and use a lot of throttle - this starts the back wheel spinning. Whatever happens, it mustn’t grip. At the same time you get all your weight pressing on the handlebars, and as the bike moves, you slide back with it.

CORNERING came next. For this you don’t sit in your saddle, you stand on the footrest, putting your left foot out, keeping your right leg straight. You put a little weight on your left foot - which is why speedway riders have steel shoes fitted to the bottom of their boots so that they can slide easily over the ground. As you turn your throttle on, the back wheel slides outwards and you and the bike go round the corner in a nice slide.

Deliberately skidding like this is the quickest and safest way of getting round bends. But it’s something you can’t possibly do on a push bike.

LEN said we’d done so well, he was going to put us in a race, and our two opponents, 14 year-olds Terry Barclay and Mark Coombs, came up to say hello. They’d been training for the past six months, so Johnny and I didn’t rate our chances very highly.

OUR invitation race took place that night - in front of thousands of Hackney Speedway fans! My bike wouldn’t start at all, so I was given a substitute which felt very strange. It seemed more powerful than my practice bike and I wasn’t sure if I could control it - but with thousands of spectators, I just had to carry on and try my best.

DISASTER struck after the first lap. In an all-out attempt to catch Terry and Mark, who’d streaked ahead of John and me, my bike started to slide and in a flash, I was out of control.

THANKS to my crash helmet and protective leathers, there was no harm done - and the bike was undamaged, too. Feeling your back wheel starting to slide from under you is quite frightening - your natural reaction is to slow down, but that would be fatal. You must keep your speed up, and that’s the hardest thing to learn.

Speedway may look east, but John and I feel quite happy leaving it to Ivan Mauger and the experts!


YOU can see an excerpt from the Blue Peter visit to Waterden Road in our short movie, ‘How They Saw Us in the 70s and 80s’.

To watch, click the album cover opposite

Watch a clip How they saw speedway in the 70s