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History Of Dirt Track Racing

The Origins Of The Sport – UK, USA Or Australia?

The origins of the sport are not entirely crystal clear but it is generally accepted that Australian farmers started it all.  They were racing their motorcycles around rough oval dirt tracks during the 1920s.  Early motorcycle owners in the USA can tell a similar story but they did not have a man like Australia's Johnnie Hoskins.

In 1923, Johnnie was the secretary of the West Maitland (New South Wales) Agricultural Show.  As a "side attraction" he introduced motorcycle racing on an oval dirt track under lights. Speedway had just been born!  From West Maitland it spread across Australia like wildfire.  Hoskins the entrepreneur was so keen on promoting the sport he had helped to invent that he soon had ambitions that lay outside Australia.  Pound signs were flashing, the UK was beckoning.

    West Maitland Showground

Above: West Maitland Showground track

Below: Commemorative Plaque

 

By 1927 Johnnie had set sail and arrived in Great Britain to introduce the spectacle of Dirt Track Racing to the unsuspecting British public.


UK Dirt Track Racing

Arguments rage amongst speedway’s historians, although most agree that “Dirt Track Racing” first took place in English Towns in the following order; Camberley, Droylsden and at High Beech.

Camberley in Surrey, staged racing on 7th May 1927, although it bore little resemblance to speedway.  The “track” was mainly sand so this does not really qualify as a Dirt Track.

Droylsden near Manchester was next, 25th June 1927. This track was cinder covered (Cinders were a by-product of the local power station).  Cinder tracks became the norm at this time, presumably because cinders were cheap and in plentiful supply from Britain's heavy industries.  The Droylsden venture suffered from council objections.  It never “took off” as a venue.

High Beech in Epping Forest also attempted to stage racing in 1927 but their application for a license was refused until 1928.  The opening meeting at High Beech was staged on 19 February 1928 before an amazing crowd of 30,000 spectators.  It was a huge success and High Beech is considered  to be the birthplace of British Speedway.  

Other British tracks got in on the act, they are too numerous to mention, ( I plan to list them all on this site one day!)


  “Diamond Jubilee” 

Newcastle's link with Australia the Tyne Bridge, under construction 1928

Dirt Track Racing On Tyneside

This totally novel form of entertainment immediately hooked a large section of the UK public and the North East didn’t lag far behind, with not one, nor two, but three venues opening on Tyneside!

The Newcastle Motor Racing Club Ltd applied to lay a track inside the recently built horseracing venue at, Brough Park, Byker. A rival company Tyneside Speedways Ltd., applied to use Newcastle’s Rugby Union ground in Gosforth Park and also the Rockcliffe Rugby Ground at Hillheads, Whitley Bay for dirt track racing.  These ventures had to wait until 1929 to stage their first race meetings.

  1. First up was Whitley Bay. They staged their first Dirt Track racing on 20th April 1929.
  1. The first ever Dirt Track meeting at Newcastle's Brough Park took place on 17th May 1929.
  1. Then Newcastle's Gosforth Park opened it’s doors for Dirt Bikes on 1st June 1929.

 

The above newspaper article gave advice for motorcyclists on converting their road bikes for Dirt Track racing.  I like the reference to "Making the bikes brakes ineffective".  I will bet that raised a few eyebrows in 1929!


Whitley Bay may have been the first to open but unfortunately they were the first to close too, although the Hillheads stadium survives to this day as a Football Club.

Gosforth lasted until 1931 but by then had played its part in establishing Newcastle as a Dirt Track centre. It was left to Brough Park in Byker to entertain the Geordie speedway fans and Brough remains as the city’s only Speedway Track to this day.

Whitley Bay Programme 1929        Copy of the First Ever Brough Park Programme 1929        1929 Newcastle Gosforth Programme

Early programme cover pages from all three Tyneside tracks.  All very collectible items, Whitley Bay's Programme shows more imagination than the other two.  At three pence in “old money” they may well have been more affordable than any of today’s programmes (priced at Ł1.50). Here are a few more fine examples of old programme covers.

         

Many Tyneside families have been formed by young people meeting at the speedway.  Now it is common to see grandparents, parents and young children at Brough Park, all enjoying a truly family orientated day out at the Speedway, so ask your family if they have any old programmes, photographs, badges etc.  Grandad just might have stashed them away in the attic.  An old programme like these will be worth far more than 3d now!


Adverts from Friday 24th May 1929 Newcastle Evening Chronicle.

Brough's rival company Tyneside Speedways Ltd include here an insert in their Whitley Bay advert for the " Grand Opening" of Gosforth Speedway.  Anyone know who Whitley's Bud Thompson was? e-mail me dantodan@btopenworld.com