Christchurch Speedways,    Monica Park, Halswell, Aranui,
Ellesmere and Ruapuna.
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History of Speedway in Christchurch 1929--to current date (with thanks to Alan Batt and Phil Harbison)

 
  The first Speedway meeting to be held in Christchurch was on 23 March 1929 at the English Park Stadium.

      In November 1929 a new track was opened up at Monica park in Woolston, and after the two tracks went head to head for one night, the more affluent Monica Park Promoters bought out the interests of Christchurch Speedways Limited and shut down the English Park track.
      The continuous stream of top overseas riders gave the locals plenty of chances to gauge their skills against the best in the game, and soon a few of the local riders started to make a big impression on the sport. Percy Lunn, Norm Gray and Charlie Blacklock were the first home grown stars of the Speedway. These three were involved in many memorable clashes, particularly when the Chevrolet Gold Helmet was being contested.
      While the depression of the thirties caused some interruption to proceedings with no racing in 1934 and several short seasons late in the decade, perhaps the biggest blow to Speedway was the death of Charlie Blacklock in a crash in 1935.  Blacklock had been the first of the locals to travel to Britain to seek fame and fortune.
      In 1938 a group of Midget Cars with drivers from Australia, USA and Auckland added a new dimension to the previously "bikes only " Speedway. Among the early US Midget drivers were Duane Carter who went on to race in the famed Indianapolis 500 race. (he also had the distinction of winning the first ever midget race in NZ at Western Springs)
     A noted driver who started his career at Monica Park was Frank Brewer who became known as "Satan" Brewer and was to be rated as world class. He was never to race again at this track though.
      With the outbreak of World War 2 , the Monica park Speedway shut down for good. In 1947-48 tracks opened up at the Halswell domain and Tai Tapu, breaking the drought. Then in late 1948 construction started on the speedway track in Rowan Avenue, Aranui. This was previously the site of the New Brighton Club's hurley burley course. It had an electronic starting system and a beam timing system.

(photo of Aranui taken March 1949.
Press announced it had seating for
18,000 and was a 440yd. cinder track)

      On January 29th 1949 the Aranui speedway opened up under the direction of Promoter, Alec Pratt,  (see sketch at right) who had previously run Taita Speedway in Wellington.
      For the next 10 years the Aranui speedway became one of the greatest tracks in the Speedway world with such great names as Ronnie Moore, Barry Briggs, Ivan Mauger, Mick Holland, Trevor Redmond (see photo below at left)  and Geoff Mardon learning the ropes at the track.

      Part way through Aranui's tenure Midgets, Sidecars, TQ,s and Stockcars were introduced to the Speedway public. All good things must come to the end and in 1959 the Aranui Speedway became a victim of the urban sprawl and what had been a fine speedway stadium, was torn down to make way for a housing development.
     
To prevent the sport from dying the Christchurch Speedway Association was formed, with the view of giving competitors the ultimate control over speedways destiny in the city.
      To keep the sport going, the Ellesmere Motor Club started up a Speedway at Osbourne Park, Doyleston. This ensured that not too many competitors lost interest and it bought time for the Christchurch Speedway Association who were feverishly hunting for a venue closer to the city. See also Ellesmere speedway page.
      
Eventually construction began on a Speedway stadium at the Templeton Domain, now known as Ruapuna Park. Stock car scrambles were held as a way of earning funds to build the new track. Somehow the club managed to survive many organizational hassles and on 29 April 1962 the track opened up with a daytime meeting. Problems with the tracks foundation meant that the track did not reopen until the 16th of  February 1963 but one plus side was the tracks lighting system had been set up and night speedway was back on the scene.
       The late 1960's and 70's were great days for Speedway in Christchurch with many of the worlds great competitors racing at Templeton at some stage or another. Visits by the English Solo Test Team and American Midget Cars always attracted big crowds with the traffic jammed for several miles as eager Speedway fans made their way to the track. Among those to race at the speedway have been legendary figures such as USA icons A.J Foyt, Mel Kenyon and Bob Tattersall. Australians Ron Wanless, Jim Airy and Ronald MacKay. Denmarks Ole Olsen. Sweden's Anders Michanek and Ove Fundin and scores of competitors from far away shores like Japan, Holland, Hungary, Slovenia and Italy.
       Apart from a three season flirt in the mid 1980's with private promoters, the Templeton track now known as Ruapuna Speedway, remained as a club operated affair.  While the sport has to contend with more competition for the entertainment dollar, there is hope on the horizon that Speedway racing will return to its former glory.
       For the 2005/6 season, the speedway will be promoted by Springs Promotions, who also hold the reins of the world famous Western Springs track in Auckland.  With new promoters the track has a new identity with it renamed Powerbuilt Speedway, in light of a sponsorship arrangement with Powerbuilt Tools.  The Christchurch Speedway Association continues to operate, as a landlord of the track and as an organization for competitors and supporters to belong to.
(On right is Jack Parker at Aranui in 1952.)

ARANUI SPEEDWAY  from the book "Aranui--a speedway legacy" by Alan Batt.

        There was much more to the Aranui speedway than the 182 race meetings held at the Rowan Avenue site. As far as Speedways go it had a huge following, particularly during the first four seasons when inter provincial rivalry for the Uniweld Golden Helmet was almost as big as Ranfurly Shield Rugby.
       The names of the competitors rolled off the end of sporting fanatics tongues as readily as test rugby and cricket players names did and a large supporters club which organised many "after race "dances which gave the fans an opportunity to mingle with the competitors.
       Ronnie Moore, Barry Briggs and Geoff Mardon all got to ride the tractor at Wembley which signified a first three placing in the World Championship.
       Of course Moore's two World titles and the four won by Briggs have gained them a place among Speedways immortals but Mardons terrific third placing at the 1953 final must never be forgotten.
       Another Aranui 'old boy' Trevor Redmond also made the World Final in 1954 but his place in the sports history is perhaps more assured due to his standing as one of the most dedicated Promoters of speedway in both Britain and South Africa.
       And then there is Ivan Mauger.   He started off as a raw novice (see photo at right) in 1955 and went on to win six individual World Speedway Championships as well as many Pairs, Teams and Long Track titles. This places him as one of the greatest Speedway riders of all time.
       For each of these superstars there were many others whose big night came when the gates to the Aranui speedway swung open.  Aranui was their Wembley.   
       The Sidecars, Midgets, TQs and Stockcars also had their heroes.  John Shaw and Rex Burt went on to win New Zealand TQ Championships while Trevor Hall was desperately unlucky not to join Bill Harris as a New Zealand Midget Car Champion.
       Throughout the eleven seasons that Aranui ran it had some very capable promoters. Alec Pratt, Ted Beckett, Les Moore, Des Wild, Alison Holland and Pat Doling all left their mark on the place.
       It was a Speedway that launched many dreams and shattered others and despite its relatively modest facilities, it deserves its place as one of the greatest Speedways that ever opened its gates.

Aranui produced many champions. Wonder how many came from these "Ultra Midgets" in the 1955 season at left?

More to follow.     
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On right is the "Golden Helmet" which was presented in 1948 by Uniweld in Christchurch for NZ inter track competition.
It is currently in Southwards Museum. (See Kevin Hayden page)

On left we have 1952 Aranui Mascot Billy Philp

 

 


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