Broadsiding Display in Surrey
Speedway Express, September 1977 (Thanks to Steve Wilkes)
Some very bold and enthusiastic members of the Camberley Club staged on May 7, 1927, an exceptionally gallant attempt at broadsiding display on Camberley Heath in Surrey, the meeting being billed and reported as Britain 's First Dirt-Track event. But it was nothing like a proper DT meeting, for the course was rough and consisted of sand which was too loose and deep and competitors raced on the circuit the wrong way round - clockwise!
Nevertheless, it was a great attempt to put into practice what had appeared in print, even if it wasn't quite the real thing, and no authentic history of British speedway racing could ignore the fact that the Camberley event was the beginning. For the record however, C Harman, riding a 349cc JAP-engined OK-Supreme not only gained the 350 Trophy but the 500 Trophy as well, and then with a sidecar attached went on to win the Sidecar Trophy! Fay Taylour, the young girl who would, in the not-too-distant-future, be making a renowned name for herself on the cinders, took second place to Harman in the 350 race, and won the Unlimited Trophy by scoring a victory on her 348 AJS over W Shearing (497 Ariel) and G Beard (493 Sunbeam) riding more powerful machines.
Later, at the end of July, the North Hants Club staged a "Dirt Track" meeting at the same venue, but over a 1,050-yard circuit with 2-lap races for all six classes. C Harman, this time on a 349 BSA, was again successful. He won the 350 event, whilst C M Harley (490 Zenith) annexed the Unlimited race and also the 500 Sidecar event. L J Archer (247 Levis) won the 250 race, F Clarke (490 Norton) won the 500 event and J Petty (497 Ariel) the Un. Sidecar race. Fastest time was made by Freddie Clarke on the Norton at an average of 40 mph.
But in between the two forementioned meetings the South Manchester Club had the honour of staging the first-ever Dirt Track meeting in Britain. This was at Dodds Farm, Droyslesden, on the outskirts of Manchester in June 25, for which an ACU permit was issued. The circuit, a trotting track, which was a third-of-a-mile round, had banked bends, and was composed of hard cinders.
One of the top stars of the day was the late Charlie Pashley, a rider destined to be an ace in midget-car speedway racing - introduced to Britain around 1937. Riding a British-made Sunbeam he won the 600cc 3-lap experts race and clocked the fastest time of the day for which he received the country's first-ever Dirt Track Cup in front of about a thousand spectators. And Charlie, nicknamed "Ginger", later he became one of the first members of the Belle Vue Aces and then captain of the BV midget-car racing team. Sadly, he died at his home in Cheadle in March, 1973.
Surprising, I have no record of Gus Kuhn competing in the two Camberley "DT" meetings as he had previously been a star rider at Camberley Club events. But maybe, now that the Crystal Palace "road race" meetings were in full swing, he was devoting more time and effort on his machines in this respect.
The third and last Crystal Palace meeting of the season attracted a record crowd of over 17,000 on September 22. The impulsive spirit of Gus Kuhn never mellowed and he was as strong as a horse and full of daring. It was certainly an inspiring sight to see him emerge as the top solo star of the day on his 348cc Velocette which in the 500cc event, beat many of the more powerful machines.
Early in the day it looked as though the meeting was doomed to suffer the fate that had attended many Brooklands meetings that year - that of being rained off. But by lunch the weather was quite settled, and the Londoners and others turned out in their thousands for an afternoon of thrills and spills, and, judging by the amount of cheering that took place, they were not disappointed. Not a single hitch of any sort occurred and the organisation by the speedway-promoters-to-be, Fred Mockford and Cecil Smith, as usual, was perfect throughout.
For Gus, it was not only a highly-enjoyable afternoon, but a highly-successful afternoon. In accomplishing the feat of being the outright winner of three events he won the Newmarket, Autumn and Goodwood Trophies to add to his own very large collection. He also made the fastest lap of the Newmarket and Goodwood races, but in the Autumn race the honour fell to Alf Foulds on a 493 Sunbeam, the fellow who was destined to ride for the Lea Bridge Speedway team.
No records were broken during the meeting, due probably to the fact that the course made times a shade slower than usual, owing to the previous rain. There was a nasty patch of mud on the stretch leading to the Maze Hairpin, while the Maze turn itself and also the Three Tree Corner were muddy and rough on the outside.
The chief interest in the opening event, the final of the Newmarket Cup race, centred on the faultless riding of Gus Kuhn, who jumped into the lead right from the start and completed the three laps 12 seconds before the second-man, Lew Lancaster, also on a "348" Velocette. Gus's time for the three miles was 6m 6s. Lew, like Gus, also became a notable Dirt Track Rider. He captained Coventry in 1929.
After the two Gatwick Cup races for sidecars and the Kempton Cup race for private owners and the Leicester Cup race for the trade, there came the big race of the afternoon - the 5-lap Autumn Cup Race for machines up to 500cc.
Heat 1 saw Lew Lancaster getting into a wobble when approaching the Maze Hairpin and come off. Heat 2 provided four riders in a tight bunch in the initial stages, but Gus Kuhn was a long way ahead at the finish; he had beaten many 500cc models on his "350" Velo. Heat 3 was identical, but with Alf Foulds winning. Race 7 provided one of the biggest thrills. On the last lap A H Willimott (490 HRD) who became a Crystal Palace Speedway contract rider the following year, and W G Chable (490 Norton) came tearing along the Stand stretch in that order. When Willimott started to brake for the turn down the bank Chable really showed what he was made of and left his throttle wide open until he had overtaken the HRD.
By now he was almost on the corner and everyone held their breath and waited for the inevitable crash, that didn't come! Wrenching his machine round, the Norton rider wobbled amazingly down the steep bank among the flags, hit an enormous bump at the bottom, and eventually came to earth almost in front of his rival's front wheel. By a superhuman effort and with wrists apparently of steel, Chable managed to stay on, and, swerving out of Willimott's path, he crossed the finishing line a yard ahead. What a race!
The final resulted in a win for Gus Kuhn and a very popular one too. But Gus was very, very hard pushed to accomplish it, for Alf Foulds (Sunbeam) having allowed the Velocette rider to gain a 50-yard lead on lap 1, settled down to some of the most daring yet skilful riding ever witnessed at the Crystal Palace. For the whole of lap 2, Alf held the "Velo" and didn't lose an inch of ground. On lap 3 he actually gained five yards and on lap 4, pulled up another 10 yards, with the crowd yelling itself hoarse. Then, when rounding the Lake Stretch bend on the last lap, poor Alf really overdid things in his superhuman effort of an almost impossible task, and he and his faithful machine crashed down the bank.
And the great Gus Kuhn didn't look too happy at the end of that memorable race; he knew full well that someone was gradually overhauling him, and that he had been doing all he knew to prevent it. But hero Alf Foulds had one consolation. He had deprived Gus from making the fastest lap. Incidentally, Gus's time for the five-mile race was 9m 57s.
The Doncaster Cup Race was won by Gordon Norchi (346 Coventry-Eagle) who also put up the fastest lap in 2m 10s. This was, of course, a sidecar event. Second man was Len Pellatt (346 OK-Supreme) and these two riders were to become notable sidecar drivers "on the dirt".
Event 9 - the Goodwood Cup Race - was for 350cc machines only. On the starting line, Gus Kuhn was calmly waiting with folded arms, but slightly in the wrong position, and "Mockford v Kuhn" in a machine-lifting competition ensued. Fred approached from the rear, and, using both hands, managed to raise the Velocette's rear wheel two inches from the ground. Feeling his "tail" go up and seeing what was indicated, Gus unfolded his arms, placed one hand under the saddle, and heaved the rear of his machine sideways at least a yard, and then left-dressed the rest of it: Gus was adjudged the winner!
When the flag fell, the notable and enthusiastic Gus thumped the road really hard with his feet and shot away well ahead of the remainder of the field. The Velo's acceleration was quite amazing. And, he stayed ahead, with an ever-increasing amount of daylight between him and the next man Cyril Williams on a New-Henley. The intrepid Gus not only won with a remarkable 20 seconds in hand but also put up the fastest lap in 1m 57.4s.
There followed the Lewes Cup Race for sidecar machines (private owner section) up to 600cc, which was won by R V Newman driving a "495" Matchless combination. J G Richards (596 Scott s/c) won the Lewes Cup Race for the Trade (five miles) in 11m 7s with Triss Sharp on a 498 AJS sidecar taking second place just two seconds behind the winner. During this exciting race Triss had a great duel with Len Pallatt (346 OK-Supreme) who was third, but Gordon Norchi made the fastest lap. Triss, however, became the captain of the Crystal Palace speedway team in 1930.
The last event was the Nottingham Cup Race won by A H Willimott who took 6m 32s to complete the three laps on his HRD. Now came the grand presentation of awards and surprisingly all the winners' names had already been engraved thereon! Yes - Mockford and Smith were superb organisers.
When Gus Kuhn received his first trophy - the Newmarket Cup - he handed it to a little girl to hold for him. Next time up Gus brought the little girl to receive it for him; it was the Autumn Cup. After receiving the Goodwood Cup, a delighted Gus was well loaded up, and so for the remainder of his visits to the table he had to borrow a second little girl. [At this time Gus's two eldest daughters would have been about 7 and four, so at least one of these girls could have been his daughter.] Gus proved extremely popular, and he was always the first to give an enthusiastic clap to the other award winners. One of his characteristic traits was his great love of children; at a later date he was to have four lovely daughters, whom I'm glad to say are all still alive. [At the time of writing in 1977]
After the award distribution, Gordon Norchi - a London motorcycle agent - drove his two-wheeled sidecar outfit home with a skid in place of the sidecar wheel!
Thus ended a series of three highly-successful Crystal Palace road-race meetings attended by over 42,000 spectators. Gus Kuhn's solo record had not been beaten. Even at the end of 1928 it was still intact!