Back-tracking on speedway

The starter raises his white flag, the riders rev their engines – we're off for the great Leeds speedway races.

You've waited patiently for me to get this tale to the starting tape but now we're go, go, go because I've been handed photographs of one of the days at the speedway races by retired Fleet Street journalist John Chaplin, who could be described as being "nuts" about the sport which attracted crowds of 10-12,000 at Leeds.

Anthony Stockwell was one of the first to get in touch when I ran the speedway poser:

"My late father and I followed Leeds United from just after the war and on our many visits passed down Lowfields Road which, on the western side before the Revie trading estate was built, used to flood every winter.

"I recollect dad telling me that this was where dirt track racing used to take place in the early thirties and the stars of the time included Eric and Oliver Langton."

Michael Meadowcroft, chairman of the Leeds Club, knew speedway was staged in Leeds: "It was in the very early days of the sport. The Leeds Lions team raced at a track at Fullerton Park in 1928. They continued there until 1932 and were, I think, also in action in 1938."

Mrs Heaps of Adel was a 15-year-old when she saw speedway near the "footy" ground in 1928.

Vic Day of Belle Isle Road, tells me George Greenwood was captain of a Leeds speedway team and remembers he scored the majority of the points while Bernard Galvin of Scholes Park Road, Scarborough – a Beeston resident in the 1930s – hasn't forgotten "the dirt track" for motor cycles on Fullerton Park.

Joseph F Chadwick of Kennerleigh Avenue, Cross Gates, Leeds, used to walk from Armley across Gelderd Road and Whitehall Road to reach the speedway on Elland Road:

"Admission was 6d and programmes were 3d. Famous clubs like Belle Vue and New Cross raced at Leeds. George Greenwood and Fred Tuck, Bill Kitchin and Max Grosskreutx rode for Leeds. I loved the smell of Wakefield Castrol blue smoke and the noise of the bikes. Great days!"

Mrs Iris Liversidge of Holt Dale View, Holt Park, Leeds, saw a practice session on the track in 1936, while Ronnie Pemberton of River View, Horsforth, tells me in the 1930s he lived in Tilbury Terrace which was quite close to the speedway track and he was a regular visitor. Mr Pemberton also recalls George Greenwood and Ray Barraclough being two of the main riders in the Leeds team.

Phyllis Brooksbank lives in Adel but in the 1920s and 30s lived in south Leeds only a short distance from the speedway races: "I used to go to watch them with my dad. It was a cinder track, very noisy and dusty but exciting to a young girl.

"Oliver and Eric Langton and Jack Brett were top riders at the time. I think Jack Brett was related to Bretts who owned the famous fish and chip shop in Headingley. After the dirt track closed it became another dog racing track but I don't remember for how long.

"Yes, Leeds had two dog tracks at one time!"

Eric Briggs of Castle Ings Gardens, New Farnley, was told about the speedway at Fullerton Park by his late father, and from Bridlington Norma Idle confirms speedway races took place on Elland Road between the football ground and the railway bridge and opposite the greyhound stadium.

Mr George W Hardisty of Durban Crescent, Beeston, says: "Leeds had a team in the provincial league (Northern Section) and in 1931 were runners-up to Belle Vue (Manchester) with Sheffield in third place.

"Going from memory one of the early Leeds stars was Eric Langton who later joined Belle Vue and came second in the World Championship in 1938.

"Eric Brett, who had some connection with West Leeds Motorcycle Club also comes to mind as a speedway rider. He was a relative of Jack Brett who rode for Norton in the TT Races after the war.

"I believe he was related to the Bretts who had the Headingley fish and chip shop.

"I was an avid supporter of speedway in the 1940s, 50s and 60s attending Odsal every Saturday evening and occasionally trekking to Belle Vue for the World Championship heats and the Golden Helmet challenge."

Martin Smith of Farndale Terrace, Whinmoor, says the first Leeds speedway meeting was held on October 13, 1928, but a practice session had been staged on October 8 of that year.

"The track closed on August 13, 1932, and remained shut for five years," Martin says. "But speedway returned on June 6, 1938 and the last meeting was held on October 13, that same year."

From St James Drive, Horsforth, Ron Spence wants to pass on his recollections: "Leeds had a team racing in 1931 and they were winners of the Northern Dirt Track League as it was called in those days.

"Sixteen teams took part that year including one from Halifax.

"My speedway interests were at Middlesbrough but Aldershot, Bradford, Halifax and Sheffield were popular places for it."

The Rothera family lived in Tilbury Place, Beeston, in the late 1930s and says Eustace, who now resides in Kirkdale Crescent: "We could hear them racing at night when we youngsters were in bed,"

Mary Ellis, of Bennett Court, Otley, grew up in the village of Churwell: "In the 1920s I recall both a speedway and a greyhound racing stadium being made – the speedway on what is now car parking space for Leeds United.

"I only once went to speedway and that was with my older brother and sister to see a much talked-of rider called Oliver Langton."

Ken Shoesmith of Knowles Lane, Gomersal, boasts of "being dragged up" on the Cardinal Estate from 1934 to 1954.

"I well remember with other reprobates from Beeston School climbing all over the motor cycle dirt track on Elland Road – much of which would now be under the M621," says Ken.

Mrs Lilian Rhodes, nee Higgins, of Field End, Halton, went to see motorcycle racing with her brothers, Charlie and Arthur, at Elland Road and at Post Hill, Pudsey.

From Toll Bar Road, Castleford, Lance Sutton is another who heard about Leeds speedway from his father:

"He told me about the Langton brothers – Eric and Oliver – being great speedway riders who he'd seen in the 1920s and 1930s.

"I was born in 1934 and became a speedway fan at Odsal."

Thomas E Lawrence of Holly Close, Middleton, Leeds, went a few times to speedway in the 1920s when he was a school kid and he, too, seems to think that when it closed it became a greyhound track.

"It was thrilling to see the bikes broadsiding round the bends at each end and I remember seeing one crash in to the safety net. Fortunately, the rider was not hit by any of the other riders.

"Did an American rider come across and break a record on one occasion?"

Mr Jack Raper of Thorpe Court, Middleton, said: "Race meetings were held every Saturday night. Star riders I recall were Eric and Oliver Langton, Frank Vary, Skid skinner, Billy Lamont, Max Grosskreutx and Arthur Greenwood who later became manager.

"They raced for trophies like the Golden Gauntlet and the Silver Helmet but other events held there were donkey derbys, athletics, stunt diving and greyhound racing at one time.

"We had a great time on Sunday mornings as schoolboys helping to push bikes on the dirt track."

Eric A Hill who lives in Rye Place in east Leeds has thumbed through an old sport encyclopedia and found the Langton names but other speedway riders listed include Vic Huxley, Jack Parker, Ron Johnson, Tiger Stevenson and Tom Farndon.

Paul Carter of North Lingwell Road, Middleton, has always had an interest in speedway even though it had come and gone before he was born.

Paul's wife, Jean, has been in touch to offer this titbit: "On the opening night (October 14, 1928), 21-year-old Eva Askquith was in the crowd.

"She was so impressed she joined the team as a rider the following week. Already a grasstrack and trials rider, Eva went on to ride speedway regularly at Leeds. In 1929 Leeds won the Premier League championship."

Speedway in Leeds ended in 1938 but there were attempts to revive the sport in the early 1970s by entertainment promoter Jeff Brownhut of Kings Road, Bramhope..

"My partners and I in the early 1970s tried to negotiate a deal to bring speedway back to Leeds," says Jeff, "The venues we discussed were the Elland Road greyhound track and the East End park Working Men's football ground.

"We had the idea to lay a 'dirt track' on the inside of the greyhound stadium as they've done at Sheffield's Owlerton Stadium, at Hackney, Wembley and Belle Vue.

"At the time of these negotiations I was co-promoter at Workington (The Comets) and at Ashington (The Arrows).

"Alas our efforts to re-establish speedway in Leeds were fruitless."

I think the Yorkshire Diary gang has confirmed without doubt that the speedway track was adjacent to Elland Road football stadium. Will those who compile the Leodis database now consider amending their website description which gives its location as "opposite" the soccer stadium on Elland Road?

John Chaplin tells me Max Grosskreutx was one of the early Australian speedway pioneers. A former sugar cane cutter he was one of the great internationals though he never won a World Championship.

Max was a member of the all-conquering Belle Vue 'super team' of the mid-1930s.

He quit the team just before the war and went on to promote speedway racing in Norwich and returned briefly after the war to ride for Bradford but retired in 1948 following a bad accident at Belle Vue.