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Tall Tales from the Shale

Indoor fun at the top of the Tower


Indoor meetings like the Brighton Bonanza are nothing new. Back in 1957 a four team tournament was staged in the ballroom within Blackpool Tower. 'The Blackpool Seaside Special' saw teams representing Fleetwood, Preston, Leeds and Newcastle race a 16 heat meeting in front of 1200 holidaymakers. The Blackpool Tourist Board were concerned about damage to their famous dancefloor and insisted on modifications to the tyres of the bike. Six hundred pairs of tap shoes were located and the metal 'taps' removed and glued onto the tyres of the bikes. The floor therefore took no more punishment than it would during a marathon tapping contest. Top scorer on the night was Wilf Charles who notched a 12 point maximum for the Fleetwood side. Wilf later recalled: "It was a real hard shift as the pits were at the base of the tower, round the back beside the bins. They wouldn't let us use the lift to bring the bikes up so we had to carry them up the stairs for each race. It was tough for the boys who had to do two on the trot - they were knackered by the time they got to the tapes."


Housewife Mary Howard, 54, was astonished when a session of regression therapy revealed she used to be a speedway rider in Roman times. The shock revelation came to light when she paid her weekly visit to local spiritualist Annabel Defreitas. Mary takes up the story: "I'm a great believer in re-incarnation and have always believed I've had previous lives. Annabel placed me into a relaxed state and I could vividly recall the time I spent as a speedway rider in the era of the Roman empire. Of course things were very different back then, in fact it was barely recognisable as the speedway we know today. For instance we all rode 350cc upright engines, some riders wore white helmet colours and you could use a tactical ride in the knockout cup if you were more than VIII points behind."


Britain had to endure rationing in the years following the second world war and speedway did not escape the restrictions. Riders were forced to purchase methanol on the black market or develop their own home-made fuels. Mechanic Charlie Harris worked with many top riders in that period and he recalls that one particular rider perfected an excellent substitute fuel. Charlie said: "One guy I worked with, who shall remain nameless, developed a fuel that was part vinegar, part cooking oil and part perfume. The perfume he used was 'Poisson', a popular French fragrance of the time that gave women that natural smell. Unfortunately I once knocked over a can of his fuel and went home to the wife stinking of the stuff." It proved to be a major turning point in Charlie's life. "She accused me of having an affair with slutty Mary from the chip shop, took the kids and moved in with my cousin Ernie. I suffered from depression, took to the bottle and ended up living in hostel accommodation." he laughed.


This article was first published on 29th July 2005

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