Reminiscences of Palmerston North Speedway
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From a letter to our club from Barrie McBride of Trentham.
Speedway in Palmerston North has not always run at the Showgrounds venue or
Arena Manawatu as it is now called. I am not sure when the Showgrounds stopped
being used or precisely when racing recommenced there but I do remember there
being a track in Tremaine Avenue. One Saturday afternoon we had gone to see Dad,
who worked as a Refueller/Loader with N.A.C., at Milson Airport, and we walked
from there the remaining length of the Airport across the new railway tracks to
this speedway track. Racing had to be held in daylight because there was no
lighting – things were fairly primitive. It was a bike only venue – speedway
bikes and stock bikes. A group of jockeys became involved and seemed to do quite
well. Prominent among these were Bill Andrew and Brian Clement. I remember
seeing these fellows racing there. This would have been late 1950’s. Kiwi Cribb
was involved then and raced stock bikes. I do not remember what the bikes were
although I suspect they were mainly four-stroke scrambler types – of course this
was before the Japanese invasion.
Kiwi Cribb had a garage business operating in Main Street – I do not remember the name of it but it was almost alongside the site where N.A.C. built their booking office facility in the early 1960’s. I remember seeing the first T.Q. midget cars I’d ever seen being prepared in there and they would have been the cars of Lindsay and Noel Myers. Lindsay, sadly, was to lose his life on that track.
I formed a friendship with Maury McHugh who raced bikes in New Zealand and the U.K. Maury, his wife Janet and his mother ran the Elite Dairy on the corner of Main and Albert Streets and I would stop there for a Coke and a chat. Later they bought a grocery store on the corner of Heretaunga and Featherston Streets – close to where we lived – and he and I used to swap magazines. I would buy Sports Car World and Autosport and other similar magazines and lend those to him while he loaned me Speedway Star or whatever. When speedway returned to the Showgrounds, under the direction of Stan Cotter, Maury became timekeeper.
When my father died recently I had hoped that there would have been some old speedway programmes amongst his papers. Sadly that was not the case. I suspect that he gave a lot of stuff away. We did find the front page of an old speedway programme “Manawatu Speedway News” which is dated Monday, April 6, 1931. On the reverse side of the page is a rather poor reproduction of a photograph of Wally Kilmister wearing a golden helmet and a slightly better reproduction of a photograph of Lionel van Praag. There is also some information about a silver trophy donated by a Mr. J. King, Esq. to be contested by “B” grade riders.
However, I suspect that any surviving speedway memorabilia has been passed on to his friend Jackie Hart. Dad and Jackie had a strong friendship, that bond that motorcyclists have with fellow motorcyclists. I know that you have an interview with Jackie on your website. I also know that he does not have a telephone so any talking to him has to be face to face. There is a thought in the back of my mind that Jackie Hart held the four lap (flying start) record until Ronnie Moore broke it in a special attempt and I have a feeling that it was a World Record for the flying mile. I know it was broadcast over the local radio station live. Having written that I have just discovered a clipping which reported that attempt. It was an actual attempt on the world flying mile record. The previous record of 1 minute 12 seconds had been set by Gil Craven in 1949 and was equalled the same year by Peter Pollett. The new mark set by Ronnie Moore was 1 minute 10.2 seconds. Sadly I do not have a date for that as none of my clippings are dated.
When Stan Cotter took over Palmerston Speedway he promised speedway bikes and stock bikes as the main focus with T.Q. midgets and several speedcars that were either built locally or purchased from elsewhere. Some of the riders whose names I remember from back then are Merv Hodgson and Peter Drake. I’m not sure how many seasons Stan promoted things there but speedway really took off when Ray New, or Charlie New as some knew him, became the promoter. Ray had ridden for the Coventry team in the English league. Over the period of speedway, as in midgets and bikes, Ray sometimes rode to keep his hand in he also raced a midget under the pseudonym of Steve Storm. Maury Dunn often rode there. Ron Smith rode there. A press clipping I have refers to Joe Panetta but I do not remember him at all. John Laurie, Bob Andrews, Colin McKee rode there and also in the UK. Ray Thackwell rode there. Bruce Cribb began there (son of Kiwi). I understand that Bruce went on to be successful in ice speedway, according to Maury McHugh. I remember Bruce Abernethy riding there. One of Ray New’s promotions was a best pairs evening. The two teams that I remember were the pairing of Barry and Wayne Briggs up against Ronnie Moore and Ray Thackwell – the rest are lost in the mists of time. I was leaning over the pit fence watching these men preparing to race. Someone was warming up an engine – warming it up is right, the part of the exhaust pipe closest to the engine was cherry red. Barry Briggs was busy putting a security bolt into his back tyre. Ronnie seeing this made some crack about this “not being Wembley”. It impressed me that someone would take such care for detail.
Russell Harris began his motor sport involvement there as an assistant timekeeper. His father Wally Harris was the announcer at speedway and I worked with Wally at the Palmerston North City Council. It was funny to ask Wally a question at work and to hear the answer over the P.A. at speedway on Saturday night.
In looking at the T.Q. results I see the name of M. Rutherford – is that you? (Yes-It was Max Rutherford the editor). Jim Mark, Graham Handisides, Bob Jamieson, Murray Whitehead are some of the names I remember from T.Q ranks. I also remember Margaret Ellis racing there along with her father Rod Ellis. I met and talked with Rod when I lived in Cambridge back in the mid-60’s.
The midget fields were supplemented by visiting cars from Auckland. Lloyd Nutt brought the ex-Satan Brewer, ex-Roly Crowther V8-60 midget down on a reasonably regular basis but there were some good local cars near the end of this era before stockcars became the thing. I’m thinking of Ralph McCorkindale and Kevin Busch who both drove Willys powered cars. There were also the old stalwarts – Don McNabb, Ron Carter (New Plymouth), Charlie Anthony, Awa Chapman and Don Chapman.
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