The History Of
Dirt Track Racing

 
 

The Origins Of The Sport
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 who got organised.
 
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 and below: Maitland's 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.
 
1. Camberley in Surrey was first.  They staged racing on 7th May 1927. It bore little resemblance to speedway.  The “track” was mainly sand so this does not really qualify as a Dirt Track.
2. 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.
3. High Beech in Epping Forest 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.  Brough Park's first speedway meeting took place on 17th May 1929.  I believe the stadium now has a claim to fame as the longest serving speedway venue in the UK, that is still running (I write this in 2014).
 

 
 

The iconic Tyne Bridge under construction in 1928.  It was only a few months old when speedway started in the Tyneside region.  Newcastle's link with Sydney Australia, the Tyne Bridge

 
 

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, venues.  There were three! which opened 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.
The Burnhills Racetrack at Greenside staged motorcycle racing in 1928.  Whether this was "Speedway" is open to debate as the racetrack was more grass and dirt than cinder.  I am researching the Burnhills track and when I find out exactly what was happening there 75 years ago I will update this page accordingly.
 
1. First up was Whitley Bay.  Tyneside Speedways Ltd staged their first Dirt Track racing  on  20th April 1929
2. The first Dirt Track racing at Newcastle's Brough Park took place on 17th May 1929.
3. Then Newcastle's Gosforth Park opened it’s doors for Dirt Bikes on 1st June 1929.
 

 
 
Newcastle Evening Chronicle
1929 Article
 
 
I copied the above article from the archive held in Newcastle City archive.  I couldn't get the quality better than this.  I am putting it on my website as I think the content is very interesting.  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!
 
 1. Hillheads Stadium, Whitley Bay may have been the first to open but unfortunately they were the first to close down too, after just 11 meetings.  The Hillheads stadium survives to this day (2014) as a Football Club.
 2. Gosforth Park Stadium, Newcastle Gosforth lasted until 1931 before closing, but by then had played its part in establishing Newcastle as a Dirt Track Racing city.
 3. Brough Park Stadium. It was left to Brough Park in Byker to entertain the Geordie speedway fans and Newcastle Brough remains as the city’s only Speedway Track to this day 2014. However, no other venue in the UK can equal Brough Park's record of "Off and On" from 1929 to 2014 and counting.  We have the countries oldest venue (85 yrs) and still in use today, yes we have closed but always made successful comebacks, our latest unbroken spell under our ever present co promoter George English 1997 to 2014 (at time of writing) is the longest unbroken run in Brough Parks 85 yr history.  Well done George and Dave Rowland, Barry Wallace, Darryl Illingworth, Andrew Dalby, Alan Hedley and anyone else who has slipped my memory

 
Programme Covers From The
Tyneside Tracks Operating In 1929
 
Whitley Bay Programme 1929 Copy of the First Ever Brough Park Programme 1929 1929 Newcastle Gosforth Programme
Whitley Bay, Newcastle Brough and Newcastle Gosforth
 
Early programme cover pages from all three of our 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 Ł2.50). Here are a three more fine examples of old Newcastle Brough Park 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! I would love to hear from you if you have any photos etc that you would like me to put on this website. email me here John
 

 
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 John
 

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