This week marks the 50th anniversary of one of the events that kicked off Speedway's bitter civil war that saw the blacklisting of the Provincial League in 1964. Join us for part one of a three part series from Arnie Gibbons.
"Started my career after my learning curve in California in 1975. Came back to Champion Speedway and Batavia Speedway and rode Friday at Batavia near Rochester New York then Saturday at Champion Speedway. Became the first 60 yard rider at Champion for the handicap racing. Great little race track to ride on. They used to pack the place out on Saturday night and you could walk away with $500 dollars which was good money in 1976. I miss that place. They are still going strong with a great field of riders today. Jason Bonsignore is the promoter and puts lots of hard work in to keep East Coast Speedway going strong. Long live Champion Speedway. The Costa Mesa of the East."
"I'll forward the link for this to my cousin Rim Malskaitis in New Zealand. Rim rode for Long Eaton in the mid 1960s. I visited him in 2009. He's well and still racing motorbikes. He lives in Auckland. "
"Just a little note to thank you all again for your comments it's so touching to know he was a valued man, the family name live on yet, as you wouldn't believe it but I have finally bought myself a bike :) in honor of Pa, just a little cbr 125, although mum was NOT keen on the idea, although I made sure to note it was only a 125 :). Also my email is now firstname.lastname@example.org"
"These drawings are perfect in every way. Amazing concentration & dedication Ralph. Amazing eye skills, I think they are wonderful."
"Is it not high time in the 21st century that tracks started using covers to prevent rain-offs or is this just too much to expect? It seems promoters are only interested in lining their pockets and spending as little as possible on the sport? Belle Vue V. Poole is a case in point, had covers been in use the meeting would actually have run for the full 15 heats, and nobody would have been disappointed at the outcome, if its too much to expect every track to own some, why not say 5 Elite League tracks have them and they get shared / transported to the tracks that have meetings when others do not? "
Ralph Smith is speedway mechanic turned speedway artist. Here are some fine examples of his work. Ivan Blacka reports that these pictures will eventually grace the walls of Steve Luxton's Garage Mahal museum.
"Johnny Hoskins was manager at the Hammers prior to the war and a tradition was started when the riders took his hat and passed it to each other teasing Johnny to try to get it back. After the war he joined Odsal (Bradford) I think and stayed as manager for many years. In those days the team consisted of Bluey, Eric Chitty, Phil Bishop,Colin Watson, Arthur Atkinson,Tiger Stevenson and two others ."
"What is the future for British Speedway if England's No2 city cannot provide a big enough supporter base for an Elite League team at the top of the table with one of the best venues in the country. When I went to a Birmingham meeting 3 years ago most of the fans were of the generation that remembered Alan Hunt, Ron Mountford , Eric Boothroyd and the small proportion of younger generations amongst the crowd was obvious. As the generation from the good old days depart this earth there is currently no one to replace them and a major effort to attract younger fans or speedway will die with them.
BMX events, Marching girl competitions, Local Pop groups, Talent competitions anything to attract youth to the circuits should be tried. Second halves with Handicap racing and plenty of passing could help. The most exciting races I have ever watched are handicap races in Australia but they are a rare event in the UK.
I am sure others will be able to make suggestions but lets hope something can be done to save Birmingham and encourage the re opening of tracks such as Odsal and Ellesmere Port."
"Good day Mr Elliot, Not raking over in the slightest, as I in fact did mention in my first contribution "all of this is now totally irrelevant" given that nothing will turn back the page of time and the events of that oh so tragic evening. Also in my own defence please kindly note that I have never in any way even remotely suggested that everything possible was not done, or tried, to save Sven, only observations about how things were at that period in time. My last "raking over" was in fact an answer to a Mr Crawford's comments directed towards my initial correspondence and myself, and I would in fact understand I do have a right to reply, as I am also now doing to your contribution to the debate which seems to have been unfortunately installed. Like yourselves I have the right to view the past from a different perspective, although not perhaps through rose tinted glasses.
Not everything was in fact rosy from the promoters in those days, as may be seen from some of the severely scathing comments now revealed in various books from both riders and promoters of the age. Also completely like yourself whenever I see any accident on the track I also am very concerned until such times as the rider is seen to be OK. I am not out to see either accidents or horrific crashes when I go to watch speedway, which as mentioned is all too infrequent these days given that I do live overseas, but racing. I will have no further comments to make on this particular subject matter, as I am sure will relieve you from your declared "disappointed" standpoint.
On a lighter note I do avidly follow most of the comments from veteran Glasgow supporters mto this site (which is excellent), some who I do remember from the past, and who do in fact seem to contribute quite a few of the articles and comments in the readers columns. You, in particular, I do note are a very regular contributor to the various topics which appear on the site. Regards "
"My wife and I were sitting in the South Stand at Hampden that fateful night, and 41 years later, we can still recall the terrible crash which took the life of our young Norwegian Rider Svein Kaasa. Speedway can be so wonderful, yet also heartbreaking, and that night was truly heartbreaking. We will never forget young Svein Kaasa. "
"I met Neil many years ago and as a Weymouth supported was over the moon when he was made manager, he brought over a rider named Terry Tulloch who lived with me for 3 seasons hence to say Neil spent a lot of time at my house and we travelled a lot together going to meetings, I found him a true gent and very knowlegable about life and told me how he first arrived in England, we used to do the track at Weymouth after the meeting with me driving the tractor and Neil working the grader are freindship continued when he moved to Poole, I learnt so much from him, a great man sadly missed."
"I'd like to respond to Ian Tyrie's recent statement that 'Mauger was a great gater and that's how he won his races, he wasn't so good when he missed the gate and if he would have been off 20 yards there is no way he would have beaten them.' To the contrary, I saw Ivan Mauger ride many times in California, over a period of several years, on a variety of tracks from 150 to 880 yards in length. In the late 1960s and 1970s half of every meeting in the U.S. was handicap racing, in which riders of the calibre of Mauger were set back as far as 70 yards behind the gate at the start. In those races, Ivan would often weave his way through the five riders who had started in front of him and would come out in front by the finishing line. In the years following his initial trip in 1968, those riders were not just a lot of easy-to-beat local boys who came out at the weekend to have a go. They had developed into experienced professionals who rode several times a week, eight months a year on the California ovals, while Mauger only visited for a handful of meetings at the end of each season and had to adapt quickly to unusual track conditions. No rider who was just a gater could be World Champion six times (plus three times on the long track). Getting out of the trap first is perhaps the surest way to win, but when that tactic didn't work, Mauger was always ready and quite able to overtake other riders."
"Andrew Gallon on Svein Kaasa: Howard Jones shed a fair amount of light on this tragic incident in issue 11 - Glasgow, Hampden Park - of his Pocket Size History of Defunct Speedway Tracks. Howard quotes Jim McMillan, Svein's partner in the ill-fated race: "I saw someone down but returned to the pits. At the time I didn't think much about it. We were told later that he (Svein) died in the dressing room but that was kept from us. As far as we were concerned, he was rushed to hospital." Howard also spoke to Dick Barrie, the track announcer. Dick refers to Svein being "catapulted into the fence" and adds: "He (Svein) was rushed to the dressing rooms and then to the nearby Victoria Infirmary but Dr Collier (the long-time Tigers track doctor) later admitted he was dead on the track." I visited the 'new' Hampden several years ago, to watch a football match, and was surprised and very pleased to see the memorial to Svein just inside the main entrance. "
"Fantastic memories of my youth come flooding back - LOVED the place, the noise, the smell and the chips and gravy on the way home - all for 10 bob! Let's hope the new stadium at least tries to capture the magic of Hyde Road."
"Really enjoyed reading this. I was a regular follower of Halifax Dukes from 1965-68 and, occasionally, in the early 70s. I can still remember vividly the teams and riders of those days. Many seemed to have unusual and, to a young boy, quite exotic names - Ronnie Genz, Jimmy Squibb, Gordon Guasco and your own Cyril Maidment to name just a few. Great days. There's recently been talk of resurrecting a Bradford/Halifax team at Odsal. I won't hold my breath but it would be good if it happened."
"This was a fantastic nostalgia trip for me Ian. I went to my first Belle Vue meeting in 1969 when I was 12, and like yourself soon got hooked on Speedway.You captured the whole spirit of the thing really well, I also remember the old scenic railway racing round as well and the Belle Vue amusements after the meetings, fantastic nights.The track was terrific back then and some of the action was breathtaking.The first meeting I attended was against Leicester Lions and Ivan Mauger won the first heat by a mile, I remember thinking has he got a different machine from the rest of them because he was so far ahead of everyone.Like you say there was Soren Sjosten and the skipper that season was Tommy Roper.The other riders were Ken Eyre, Mike Hiftle, Dave Hemus and Chris Pusey maybe a young Eric Broadbelt as well? I also sat in the old F block over the pits right at the back and it looked fantastic when the track lights were on.It was heartbreaking when the Hyde Road track was demolished but at least the fabulous memories still remain.Thanks again for a great article."
"I was mascot there between 1970 and 1975 and remember Bernie taking me round the track and leading the riders out on many occasions. Fond memories, never forgotten. Thank you Cradley for many happy years."
"This was my era too, I could close my eyes and be there at any given time, Some of the best memories I have, The excitement for a ten year old, I can barely remember anything else about the early 70s apart from holidays, A really excellent read ...."
"A really good read. Capturing speedway and what it's really like to a young boy looking over the fence and being sprayed with dirt. I'm 50, two years younger than Ian Harwood. Unfortunately I never got to go to the old Belle Vue. The Sydney Showground was the place where my father took me each week. Much of Ian's story runs parallel to my own, as it does with so many of us who were lucky enough to have been kids at the speedway in the '60s."
"Disappointed to see that Mr Lewis continues to rake over the details and aftermath of the tragic death of Svein Kaasa in 1972 at Hampden Park. Knowing some of the people involved behind the scenes at that time I'm in no doubt at all that everything possible was done both to try and save him and, ultimately, let spectators know as soon as was possible rather than, as he seems to be alluding to, get the meeting completed before giving the awful news, as if, 41 years later, that has any significance. All that matters is that Svein was killed, a lot of folk to this day remember what they saw that night(to this day, every time I see a rider go down I hold my breath until I see him moving, a direct result of my own experience that night), and I don't really want to read about folk suggesting that ulterior motives got in the way of showing due respect to what happened at the time."
"Fascinating and terrifying. Makes you wonder if there is any instructions given to rider today on what action is advisable if the same was too occur, God forbid? The consequences don't bear thinking about."