Friday, 29 October 2010

Speedway Inspiration

My wife came home from the library this week and presented me with a book that she thought I might be interested in.

"The Adventures of Barry Briggs..Wembley and Beyond... Briggo" biography.
When I was about 9 years old I met Barry Briggs, he tried to sign an autograph for me, as I mentioned elsewhere in this blog he announced in his NZ accent that "yer pen don't write mate".
I am now 49 and those words echo in my head so clearly as I reflect on them.

The book set me thinking of the whole Speedway inspiration.

My first memories must be a little before 9 years old (1969), I remember going to Swindon Robins meetings on Saturday evenings and perching on my brothers shoulders. His shouts of "Get under him Broady" (Mike Broadbanks). The Castor smell of course, would never be forgotten and the speed and engine note as the riders enter from the straight and transition into the wonderfully controlled slide and unmistakable body poise.
When my brother left home and moved to Exeter there was the opportunity to visit him and go along to see Exeter Speedway. There I took a photo in the pits of Ivan Mauger and his bike for my school art project. Developing it the wrong way round in the process.

Swindon rider Mike Keen lived in my home village, Saturdays would often mean riding to his house and help to clean his boots, leathers and bib.
The thing is, I can really remember the way that the riders and bikes captured my imagination, but I just can't quite embrace it any more.
 I sometimes try to capture the feeling of being a little involved, of looking across Mike's workshop and seeing his two bikes sitting on their stands, proud and pert in the way that speedway bikes are. He even gave me 50p for this privilege!
He also gave me a Robins bib....... what a treasure.

thankyou to:

My friend and I each built pseudo Cycle Speedway bikes, taking an old bike, stripping it down and fitting knobbly tyres, bending conduit or water pipe ultra wide handlebars and a 22 tooth rear sprocket!..... not really sure how much of an advantage this was but it had "Cycle Speedway" on the box so it must have been important.
Nearby in the disused village station yard, we had the perfect shale/ash oval track, clad in my Robins bib, this venue became my regular play ground.

I now realise that these days must have been such a huge inspiration to me.
However, it is surprising that this hadn't occurred to me before, is this vivid memory the beginning of a period of reflection and contemplation? Is this the "on set" of old age?

As years went on, I inevitably (as I now realise) progressed to racing and almost in a chance way, on to Grasstrack (as near to speedway as I would be likely to get). Ironically I have raced with the sons of my heroes, including Mike Keen, Mike Broadbanks, Martin Ashby and Barry Duke.or even with some of the old names themselves.
My brother who had taken me along to the meetings in the beginning had now come full circle, he was again looking after me but as mechanic, mentor and first aider. He also found himself with the very same old names, standing alongside Mike Keen, Mike Broadbanks and all.

This one went bang on my test ride, oops!
Try this one, ah yes much better.

I have a proud memory of racing with grasstrack legend and mentor Lew Coffin.( Lew Coffin You Tube)
Lew would always be there to help, especially with young riders or newcomers to the sport.
Lew wandered up to me in the pits of a Grass meeting, he suggested that I reposition my sliding foot on the track and helped me select more suitable gearing. Having crossed over from motocross, the significance of gearing was not fully appreciated. On Lew's advice I lowered my  ratio, making a dramatic difference to my performance and the battle of simply getting the bike into a corner.
The outcome of this was a completely satisfying next race and then the semi final.... which included Lew.
We raced until the penultimate lap, exiting the corner, a bike length behind Lew, the bike snatched, I grabbed the clutch, but not before a loud metallic ripping sound followed by a "fantasy like" glitter mist hovering ahead of me in the late afternoon sun. One broken con rod, giving one broken crankcase, barrel, piston, head, valves and guides.....

I must add, all of the above was just on a low key club level, I was no expert.
 Lew would have been in his mid sixties and he was riding with so much skill in hand that he would do just enough to do the job and keep us youngsters (well 20somethings) at bay.

Lew's signature. Note conrod not from this engine.
If you look closely at the rings you can see
`how the piston swaged into the pent roof head.

Never the less I raced with Lew Coffin. After the race he came along to me and commented on my improved performance, thanks to his advice. He peered into my, now stripped and wrecked engine before picking up and signing my still warm piston with his historic
 "22 Lew" signature. In this single action he gave me a ticket to set off on a memory trip every time I glanced at this momento!

All good for the old age moments!


  1. Excellent post Eric, it brought back some great memories for me too. My grandparents lived near to the original Weymouth speedway track on Radipole Lane, which is where Lew ran his training schools. My cousin had a few goes there but my lasting memories were the encouragement from Lew to just give it a go and have some fun. Thanks for the comments on my blog too... I didn't know that there was a link between Joe Petrali and Howard Hughes, something for me to investigate. Nice blog by the way, I'll have to stop by more often. regards... BCB

  2. Thankyou BCB, I really appreciate your comments, Best wishes to you Eric..