New Plymouth, New Zealand
SPEEDWAY HISTORY, PART 1, 1950-51. By Dave Gifford Return to Taranaki speedways
Although midget car racing had been introduced to New Zealand as early as 1937,
by 1950 only two areas were holding race meetings on a regular basis. Auckland
of course, the place where it had started, had racing at Western Springs and
meetings had also been held at Blanford Park after the war and later at the
Olympic Stadium in Newmarket. The only other region where the midgets had become
established was the Manawatu where Auckland cars and drivers had raced at the
Palmerston North Showground's in 1946 and created enough interest for the sport
to catch on. About ten cars were built by local would be drivers in time for the
following season and the future looked promising as the midgets grew in
popularity. Initially the cars had raced on a mixed program with the speedway
bikes but the sports governing body, the A.C.U, decided in 1948 that this
practice had to stop and that the two sections of the sport would have to
operate on separate nights. The speedway bikes had been racing at Palmerston
North for many years and had built up a very strong following so with only one
race night available the promoter, Gerry Mathieson, had little option other than
to cut the midget cars from the program.
Disappointed but undeterred the Manawatu drivers club obtained some land at Awapuni and built an unfenced track where they held Saturday afternoon daylight meetings beginning in 1949. The club did not confine it’s activities to Awapuni though, and in attempt to expand the sport they took their cars to Napier, where meetings were held at League Park, to Wanganui and to New Plymouth where racing took place in a graded farm paddock near Lepperton, just a few miles north of the city. The track at Lepperton had been formed by New Plymouth contractor George Amor originally as a dirt track for motor cycles to race on but as it had a reasonable clay base the midgets adapted to it quite well and provided some good racing. Several car meetings were held there which created enough local interest for a public meeting to be called for all those interested in forming a midget car club in Taranaki.
Practice day at Waiwakaiho in January 1951, before the lights were put in place. Note the man on the judges box roof with what appears to be an early movie camera.
At the meeting, which attracted a
large number of enthusiasts, John Arthur was elected president and a committee
was formed to represent the new Taranaki Midget Car Racing Club Inc. The first task for the fledgling club was to find
a venue where the new speedway track could be built and after due consideration
it was clear that the most suitable site was the Waiwakaiho A&P Society
showground which was situated on a river flat beside the main road on the
northern edge of town. The A&P Society were horrified at the idea and vigorously
opposed the whole scheme at first but after much persuasion they saw the sense
in the in proposal and an agreement was made in mid 1950.
The only facilities at the showground were a smallish grandstand and a rudimentary oval with a single rail fence around its’ perimeter and very little else, but at least it had potential, and was within walking distance of the tram terminal at Fitzroy. Building the new speedway was a huge community effort. Timber mills donated material for the four foot high safety fence, quarries provided crusher dust for the track surface and many local contractors and businesses helped where they could without charge. The club made the decision to install lighting so that night race meetings could be held instead of the much simpler and cheaper option of daytime racing and this decision was arrived at for a number of reasons. In those far off days it was actually against the law to charge an admission fee for any kind of entertainment on Sundays, a donation could be asked for but that was all. Besides, Sunday afternoons were spent with the family at the beach so that pretty much ruled out Sunday as a viable race day. Saturday for the average kiwi bloke was spent working on the ‘section’, or the car, with maybe a few beers at the pub in the afternoon , tough competition for any new sport to take on so that only left Saturday night as a time to have speedway racing.
Work progressed at a steady rate on the new track with working bees held every weekend by the club members and many would even give up their time after work to keep the project moving towards an opening night. While all the track building activities were taking place would be drivers were either building new cars or making purchases from other centres. Only three cars were built locally in time for the opening meeting. Jack Lambie produced # 1, a well built car powered by a Rugby motor, while fellow Coastal resident Theo Dodunski turned out an equally well finished # 13 powered by a Chrysler motor. New Plymouth mechanic Roy Low produced a Jeep powered # 99 and other cars were under construction as the opening night drew near. Completing the line-up of local cars which would race at the inaugural meeting were #10, a Ford B powered car formerly raced in the Manawatu by Ivan Blackbourne and now in the hands of George Amor and #18 which was the ex George Morgan car from Auckland which would be shared at Waiwakaiho by Jack Harwood and Jack Hinch. Other cars that had been purchased from Auckland were #57, which had been raced by Frank Maber among others, and Ron Bourne’s # 68 which had been bought by John Arthur. Laurie Mowat was the new owner of #57 and he had intended to drive the car himself but had a change of heart and turned the driving responsibilities over to Dave Holmes. Stratford car dismantler Bert Browne brought two cars south, # 23 which had been built by Stu Armstrong, and # 60 which had been Bill Stites, which gave the club a total of nine cars ready for opening night. Several practices were held on the new track and also at the track that Jack Lambie had graded on his Pihama farm near Opunake which most drivers took advantage of. Bert Browne and Theo Dodunski travelled with the Manawatu drivers to race at Napiers’ League Park over Christmas just to gain a bit of experience before the season started at Waiwakaiho. Photo at right shows Jack Lambie practicing on his Pihama track.
A week before opening night the final preparations were taking place at the speedway when disaster struck. As the track lights were being attached to the overhead wires the weight was found to be too great for the standards footings and they began to lean dangerously. This was overcome by putting temporary bracing wires up the following Saturday but it meant the lights would be untried until later that same day.
With the promise of support from the Manawatu Midget Car Club for most of the season, and regular visits from Auckland cars and drivers, the stage was now set.
From now on during summer,
SATURDAY NIGHT, WOULD BE SPEEDWAY NIGHT !!!!
Opening Night at
The first meeting to be held at the Waiwakaiho Speedway took place on the 27th of January 1951 after many months of work by the enthusiastic club members. Their efforts were rewarded when a crowd of between six and seven thousand ignored the chilly wind coming from Mount Egmont in the south to witness midget car racing for the first time at the new venue.
The Taranaki Midget Car Racing Club produced nine of its own cars for the historic occasion while a further nine or so made the journey up from the Manawatu area. Bob Leikis of Auckland travelled down for the meeting which produced an excellent total of nineteen starters raring to go on the immaculately prepared track. First though, they and the excited spectators would have to wait while the opening ceremony took place with all the mandatory speeches that befit such auspicious occasions. There were speeches by Club President John Arthur, Bill Okey the secretary of the A&P Society, the track manager Eric Bisset and finally the deputy mayor of New Plymouth Mr G.H Fry who declared the new speedway open.
The first event on the program was a series of three six lap handicap heats with the first and second placed drivers progressing to a final over the same distance. Much to the delight of the spectators the honour of winning the first official race on the Waiwakaiho Speedway went to local driver Dave Holmes when he brought his # 57 car home ahead of Manawatu ace Fred Karlsson in # 30. Heat two gave the local fans another chance to voice their approval when George Amor was the winner in car # 10, holding off the relative newcomer to the sport, Jim Guthrie, another of the Manawatu visitors, in car # 32. Heat three finally produced a win for the visiting drivers when Brian Milne in car # 46 worked his way through the field to finish ahead of Bert Browne in his # 60 car. The local fans were optimistic for another home town win as the six starters took to the track for the final and Bert Browne justified their optimism by storming home in his # 60 car ahead of the hard charging back marker Fred Karlsson in car # 30 and Dave Holmes in car # 57.
Next on the program was an event for novice drivers comprised of two heats and a final over four laps. Most of the starters were in cars borrowed from their official drivers but as many of the drivers, with the exception of the Manawatu veterans, were new to the sport it was a fairly open competition. The first heat was won by Sherlock Holmes driving #57 who came home ahead of Bruce Boyd who had borrowed Jack Lambies # 1 car for the event. Bruce was building a car of his own but had not been able to get it ready in time for the first meeting. Ralph Chadwick, another driver with a car under construction, borrowed Theo Dodunski’s # 13 car and finished third in heat one. The second heat was a clean sweep for visiting drivers with Manawatu drivers Gordon Morris in car # 47 and Tom Masters in car # 34 taking the top places ahead of Aucklander Bob Leikis in his # 83 car. The final was a victory for Sherlock Holmes who had taken the first step of a career in speedway that would see him become a legend in Taranaki during the coming years. Second place in the final went to Bruce Boyd and Gordon Morris finished in third.
An invitation six lap race came next which turned out to be a Manawatu drivers benefit when they filled the top three places. Fred Karlsson in car # 30 showed all his class to take first place ahead of Noel Bird in # 93 and Frank Collis driving the # 23 car owned by Bert Browne. Frank had sold his own car to Tom Masters and retired the previous season but couldn’t resist the offer to race again when it was made. A four lap race for the four fastest cars was the next event on the card and this time it was the Manawatu star Lex Wilson, holder of the New Zealand one lap record, who took the victors laurels in his # 39 car ahead of the only other finisher Fred Karlsson in car # 30. (shown below)
Interspersed among the normal races was a three lap match race series between Jim Guthrie in car # 32 and local driver Roy Low in car # 99. The races were of three laps duration and Jim Guthrie was the victor by the margin of two races to one over the steady Roy Low.
A number of attempts on New Zealand track records were made during the nights racing but without success. Gordon Morris put up a time of 23 seconds for the flying one lap while George Amor went quicker with a time of 22 1/5 seconds but both were well short of Lex Wilsons time of 19 2/5 set at the Palmerston North Show grounds some years before. Bob Leikis made an attempt on the four lap record but his time of 1 min 30 sec was well short of the national time of 1 min 19 sec.
A four lap consolation race was won by Noel Bird #93 from Gordon Morris # 47 and Bert Browne # 60.
Now it was time for the big race of the night, the Ten Lap Feature. No less than sixteen cars were pushed out on the track and placed on their respective handicap marks as the expectant crowd looked on and the thrills came thick and fast once the starters flag fell to start the race. The dubious honour of being the first driver to knock a hole in the safety fence during an official race went to Theo Dodunski in car # 13 and Dave Holmes’ # 57 car also suffered damage to its bodywork when it too crashed. About half the cars that started the race managed to finish while the rest either spun out or retired with mechanical problems during the torrid affair. Untroubled by all that was going on and out in front was Gordon Morris who made the most of his favourable handicap mark to bring home his # 47 car in first place ahead of Bert Browne in car # 60 and the back marker for the event, Fred Karlsson in car # 30.
The opening night meeting had been a huge success and the club members could now take time out to celebrate the occasion as the spectators made their way home. Fred Karlsson had been the star of the night finishing every race he started in among the first three places but the local drivers had acquitted themselves well and the future looked full of promise. The decision to install lighting and run night meetings was totally vindicated by the spectacle that was made. The brightly painted cars with their neatly dressed crews, the flying dirt, the smell of burning rubber and racing fuel all helped to create a truly memorable occasion.
One or two problems had arisen during the meeting, which in no way detracted from the success of the night, which had to be dealt with. The Manawatu drivers had refused to race against Jack Harwood and Jack Hinch’s # 18 car claiming it was erratic in it’s handling and because it had a reputation of being an unlucky car when raced at the Palmerston North Showground's in previous seasons.
History of Waiwakaiho. Second meeting 1951
A large crowd
returned to the Showgrounds for the second meeting ready for more of the thrills
and spills they had witnessed on opening night and they were not to be
disappointed. All the local cars were present including the much maligned # 18,
which now appeared as # 19, and the home line-up had also been increased by one
as Dave Waldie had purchased Manawatu driver Ron Westons # 28. Ron Weston had
been the first of the Manawatu drivers to take up the sport when he purchased #
28 off Aucklander Stu Armstrong back in the 1946/47 season at the Palmerston
North Showground's and after several successful years at the wheel had decided
that it was time to retire. Dave Waldie was
reluctant to actually race the car himself and the driving responsibilities were
entrusted to Harry Williams who would make his debut at this meeting.
Most of the Manawatu drivers were present for this meeting but their clubs past efforts to expand the sport of midget car racing was backfiring somewhat as more and more of their cars were being bought by Taranaki drivers. Probably the most successful driver in the Manawatu ranks over the years had been Bryant McIntosh with his # 37 car but he had recently married and sold his car to Bill Evans of Wellington and retired from speedway. Taranaki speedway enthusiasts did get a chance to see this fine sportsman in action at this meeting though when he borrowed and raced Les Eagles’ # 29 car.
Also making his first appearances at the Waiwakaiho speedway was the experienced Auckland driver Ian Holden who usually drove his own # 38 car but on this occasion he drove a borrowed car, the number of which is not known, but it was probably Bert Browne’s # 23. Ian Holden had become a solid mid pack starter in Auckland and the previous season had won the 20 lap New Zealand Championship conducted by the Manawatu Midget Car Club and held at Palmerston North Showground's on one of the few occasions that the midgets were permitted to run there.
Ray Mitchell also made the trip down from Auckland bringing his Whippet powered # 62 to make his Waiwakaiho debut at this meeting. A veteran of some four seasons in Auckland he had become a tough competitor at this stage of his career and had a fast car to match his ability.
First event on the program was the New Plymouth Handicap run over three heats and a final with six or seven cars in each heat. Jim Guthrie in # 32 got his night off to a good start by coming home ahead of Ian Holden and Tom Masters in # 34 in the first heat after starting from the 30 yard mark. Jack Lambie # 1 made the most of his limit starting mark in heat two to register his first win at Waiwakaiho, getting across the line ahead of back markers Fred Karlsson in car # 30 and Bert Browne in # 60 who had both come from 40 yards behind. Brothers Dave and Sherlock Holmes were now sharing the driving in car # 57 and Sherlock carried on his previous weeks winning ways in the novice races by taking out the third heat ahead of Manawatu Champion Brian Milne in # 46 and Gordon Morris in car # 47. The final produced an excellent race between Fred Karlsson # 30 and Ian Holden # 23 with the Manawatu star out driving Holden on the last lap to take the win while Jack Lambie finished a creditable third in # 1.
The six lap Fitzroy Handicap was also run over three heats and a final and provided much for the spectators to talk about. The first heat went smoothly enough with Tom Masters in car # 34 crossing the line for his first win at Waiwakaiho ahead of Bryant McIntosh in car # 29 and Ian Holden in car # 23. Heat two saw a win for crowd favorite Fred Karlsson while the second placed driver was Jack Lambie in car # 1 who advanced to his second final of the night when he finished ahead of the third placed Jack Harwood in car # 19. (shown below)
In heat three Dave
Holmes fell victim to the safety fence for the third time in as many weeks,
badly bending car # 57 and ripping down a sizeable chunk of the fence which
brought the race to an early halt. His first encounter with the safety fence
had occurred at
practice a week before opening night when he had startled onlookers with a
spectacular trip through the boards and he had also taken a pretty hefty crack
at the fence in the opening night feature race. Each time though he had emerged
from the twisted wreckage and shattered timber unscathed apart from one or two
bruises. The third heat was restarted and provided a win for the improving
Manawatu driver Gordon Morris #47 who held off Brian Milne in car #46 and Roy
Low in #99. Bryant McIntosh may have been out of racing for some time but he
demonstrated that he’d lost none of his old skill when he brought the #29 car
home ahead of the field to win the final in great style with Fred Karlsson #30
and Roy Low filling the minor placings.
A six lap novice race was next on the program which saw Bert Browne #60 and Jack Lambie engaged in a spirited battle before Bert nudged his car ahead for a win by the narrowest of margins with Jack Harwood #19 coming home in third place.
The six lap Invitation scratch race for the four fastest cars it was evident that Roy Low #99 was starting to make progress as a midget car driver and although he couldn’t manage to beat the flying Fred Karlsson in #30 he did come home in second place ahead of the experienced Ian Holden #23, which was a very creditable effort. In the six lap consolation race Jack Hinch brought the #19 car, the cause of all the fuss on opening night, in to first place, much to the delight of the crowd who hadn’t been impressed with the attitude of the Manawatu drivers the week before and George Amor #10 took the runner up spot.
A match race series between Frank Collis #23 and Dave Holmes #57 resulted in a win for Frank in the first race but following Dave’s crash in the Fitzroy Handicap Roy Low came in as a substitute in the second race and managed to put one over the wily Manawatu driver. In the third and deciding race however, Frank prevailed to win the series by a two to one margin.
The final race on the program, the ten lap Feature, brought out all the cars that were still running and it was the Manawatu veteran Frank Collis who saluted the chequered flag but his joy was short-lived when a burst radiator hose caused him to be covered with scalding steam shortly after crossing the finish line which necessitated a hasty exit from the car. Tom Masters drove a steady race to finish second in the Feature in car #34 and Roy Low #99 finished third.
It had been another great night of racing with some superb individual performances, not the least being that of Jack Lambie and Roy Low from among the local drivers. Ian Holden had impressed too, as he had set a new one lap record during the night of 22sec, and he promised to return soon with his own car. While Ray Mitchell had driven well he had failed to feature amongst the place getters which gives some indication of the quality of the local and Manawatu drivers. Fred Karlsson was once again the star of the night but the honors were being shared around pretty well as the handicappers became more familiar with the capabilities of the drivers and the spectators were certainly being treated to some top class midget car racing.
Third meeting 1951
An estimated crowd of 9,000 flocked to the
Waiwakaiho Showgrounds for the third meeting of the 1951 season. The word was
certainly beginning to be spread that for action and excitement the Saturday
Night Speedway was the only place to be.
Boosting the line up of cars and drivers were several from Auckland including Ian Holden who was making a good the promise he had made the previous week, for this time he had brought his own car, number 38. This car had been built before the war by Aucklander Ron Roycroft and had originally carried his familiar #88. Also making his first appearance at Waiwakaiho was Frank Clarke, who had won the New Zealand Junior Championship in 1948, with the #77 car which had been built before the war and had carried Snow Morris to victory in the New Zealand Championships some years earlier at Western Springs. Ross Goonan made his Waiwakaiho debut at this meeting driving the #74 car that he had built himself and had driven to first place in the New Zealand Junior Championship in 1949 and Merv Sutherland with car #17 who had been racing in the rough and tumble Western Springs midget ranks since the 1944-45 season was also a starter. The fifth member of the northern troupe was Bill Teixiera who had made his first appearance at Western Springs back in the 1948-49 season but it’s not known which car he drove at Waiwakaiho. He had been driving the ex Danny Mason #96 at Western Springs but under the Jack Cormack promotion there was a lot of drivers hopping from one car to another so it may have been this car or it could have been Ray Hardy’s #22.
With more than twenty cars wheeled out for the Grand Parade it promised to be the most exciting night yet seen on the Waiwakaiho oval. The huge crowd didn’t have to wait long for the thrills to commence for in the early stages of the first heat of the Waiwakaiho Handicap. Aucklander Frank Clarke struck trouble when he flipped and somersaulted on the road bend coming to rest pinned beneath his #77 car. The crash resulted in arm and shoulder injuries which unfortunately sidelined him for the rest of the nights racing. The opening race was restarted and resulted in a fine win for Jack Hinch in #19 who booked his place in the final as did George Amor #10 who took second place ahead of Brian Milne #46.
Popular Theo Dodunski #13 (shown at left) scored his first win at Waiwakaiho in the second heat, much to the delight of the spectators, and Lex Wilson brought #39 through the pack to grab second place ahead of Wellingtons Bill Evans #37. This race was also brought to an early halt when three cars collided and went careering off the track in different directions but as the incident occurred on the fifth lap the places at the time were allowed to stand . Thankfully the third heat was run without any stoppages and saw Jack Lambie #1 continue his splendid form of the previous week as he romped home ahead of Dave Holmes #57 and back marker Fred Karlsson in #30. So the finalists for the Waiwakaiho Handicap had been found and it was significant to note that only Lex Wilson of Palmerston North stopped it from being a clean sweep for the Taranaki cars. It was Theo Dodunski #13 who drove to victory from the rest of the evenly matched field in the Final, with George Amor #10 and Jack Lambie #1 filling the minor places.
George Amor #10 and Gordon Morris #47 squared off against each other in the best of three match race series run over three laps but it was George, having a superb night, who came out on top in the first two legs which negated the need for a third race. The now vacant spot in the programme was filled with a match race between Frank Collis and Lex Wilson #39 which resulted in a somewhat surprising win for Frank Collis, who was at the wheel of Bert Brownes #60 when he saluted the judge, in a new four lap record time of 1min. 27sec.
The starters for the six lap Huatoki Handicap Final were decided in the normal manner of three heats with the top two finishers in each heat progressing to the final. It was George Amor #10 who set a blistering pace in the opening heat to distance himself from the rest of field and he crossed the line in the new record time of 2min.13 1-5sec. and ahead of the minor place getters Noel Bird #93 and Bert Browne #60. Like George Amor, Theo Dodunski was also showing superb form in this meeting, and he carried on his winning ways by taking out the second heat ahead of Les Eagles #45 and the steady John Arthur. The Auckland supporters finally had something to cheer about in the third heat which was won by Ross Goonan #74 with Jack Hinch #19 in second and Tom Masters #34 in third.
The Huatoki Handicap Final saw another excellent race which saw the very much in form Noel Bird #93, who had struggled a bit at Waiwakaiho, take the top spot from Ross Goonan #74 and Jack Hinch #19 The Holmes Brothers had a fairly quiet night by their own standards but Sherlock took the #57 car to victory in the consolation race ahead of Tom Masters #34 and Brian Milne #46 and in the Invitation Four Fastest race Merv Sutherland #17 prevailed over George Amor #10 and Frank Collis #60.
Eleven cars were still running and able to face the starter in the final race, the ten lap Feature, which managed to be run without too much incident. Gordon Morris #47 took the lead early in the race and must of thought he was going to repeat his opening night Feature win until, with just yards to go, Ian Holden #38 came storming through to take the victory on the line by inches, with Roy Low in third place.
Stars of the night had undoubtedly been George Amor and Theo Dodunski as between them they had taken six wins and three seconds against some very experienced drivers. The only problem for the club, it would seem, was how to do better the following meeting as it had been a night of brilliant racing and would be difficult to top.
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