The first dirt-track races took place in France as early as 1908. Meetings called "Le Automotive Grand-Prix" were staged at tracks in Dieppe and Lille.
Real speedway began in France in 1928 when the athletics track in Saint Ouent (Paris) was prepared for motorcycle racing. The following year speedway riders used Buffalo Stadium (382 meters long track) in Paris for meetings. There were also tracks in Marseille and Bordeaux.
The best French riders of the thirties were: Fernard Meynier, Andre Bourgeois, Ive de Lathe and Charles Bellisent. All of them took up offers to ride for British clubs - Meynier and Bourgeois rode for Rochdale, de Lathe for Crystal Palace, Bellisent for West Ham. Camille Tanton also rode in England but I don't know if he represented any club.
Some other riders from France of this period were: Jean Landru, Jean Rogere, Boulard, Vorgnes, Paulo, Marcel Jolly, Albert Sourdot, Jean Gaussorgues, Paul Meunier, Louis Jeannin.
Other French riders Robert Chaliper, Francois Hofecker and Boetsch appeared in many meeting in Central Europe - in Germany, Czech (in Zlata Prilba in Pardbubice), Austria and Poland. Chaliper was the winner of the prestigious Memorial of Lobkovic meeting in Czech in 1938.
The French staged a national championship in those pioneer days. The title was first won by Charles Bellisent in 1928. Fernard Meynier was French champion the following year and retained the title in each of the three years that followed.
The most important meeting in pre-war French speedway was the "Dirt-Track Grand Prix" which was also called the Dirt-Track World Championship. The competition was designed to rival the British Star Championship. Buffalo Stadium was the venue for the championships. I don't have comprehensive results but in some publications I have found the names of winners and runner-up. Here is the list:
1929 - 1.Charles Bellisent
Buffalo Stadium was also the venue for the first international 'test-match'. It was staged on the 20th of May 1932 and used an unusual format. The three countries competing were France, England and the USA. Each country was represented by a single rider and all three riders rode in each race. The race winner was awarded a point, those finishing second and third got nothing! The final result was England 3 (Jack Parker), USA 2 (Tauser) and France 0 (Bellisent).
A test match between France and Germany was staged on the 1st of July 1932. The visitors defeated the French by four points to two. Scorers were as follows:
France 2: Bellisent 2, Meynier 0, Bourgeois 0
28 days later a test between France and England was staged. The English won 5-1.
France 1: Bellisent 1, Vorgnes 0, Rogere 0, Meynier 0
A French squad labeled 'Paris Speedway Team' traveled to England in 1933 and rode meetings against some of the London teams. I don't have any details of these matches, get in touch if you do!
This article was first published on 4th November 2005
"When I went on a school visit to Paris in the early post war years I saw an advert for "Grand Reunion du Dirt Track" with Fernand Meynier, Champion du Monde. Not very accurate! Unfortunately I wasn't able to go to the meeting. Incidentally, my mother was at school in Bury, Lancs, with H R "Ginger" Lees. She said he was a horrible boy who she didn't like one bit! "
"So far as the French were concerned, Fernand Meynier was a world champion. In regard to the world championship, the first official one was staged in 1936 at Wembley. But there were unofficial world championships held in France, Australia and even in England before that. However, these events do appear to have carried other titles but Press reports and other available information also carries the world championship title. Perhaps a good qualification is that the first officially recognised world championship was held in 1936 at Wembley Stadium. France is rather a talking point on firstname.lastname@example.org and a message search there may help in this research. Besides Fernand Meynier, another French world champion was Charles Bellisent, while various English and Australian riders are also credited as having won the title. Some famous names among them. These championships were held in the Buffalo Stadium in Paris. The last world championship to be held in France co-incidentally was in 1936 and won by the American rider Charles 'Pee Wee' Cullum, who rode for Belle Vue in the late 1940s. "
"A correction in regard to the last winner of a French staged world championship. Charles 'Pee Wee' Cullum in 1936 was not the last winner of the event. There was another championship in 1937 which was won by Martin Schweinweiss of Austria ."
"This wasn't one of my better 'off the top of the head' replies. The French star Charles Bellisent never won a French-staged world championship, although he was France's National champion at one time. His son Pierre was also a rider of some merit."
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