Speedway Express, July 1977 (Thanks to Steve Wilkes)
In 1926 Gus Kuhn and his 348cc Velocette were still winning many successes. A Gold Medal in the London to Exeter Trial; A silver Medal in the Colmore Cup Trial; and a Bronze Medal in the Victory Trial
But "Lady Luck" was not always with sportsman Gus, and he failed to feature in the results of the Camberley Club's Southern Scott Scramble although two riders who, in the not-too-distant future, would be hitting the British Dirt Track Racing headlines - Eric Langton and Alec Jackson - gained notable successes. Eric on a 498 Scott was runner-up to the winner Eddie Mainwaring (596 Scott) and won the Southern Trophy while he also featured as a member with W H Cough and F Dean (all on Scotts) of the E O Spence Team, who carried off the award for the Fastest Private Team. Alec Jackson (347 Sunbeam) won the Three-Fifty Cup, and as a member of the Sunbeam Trade Team with George Dance and Graham Goodman won the Blackdown Cup.
Year after year, the London to Exeter to London Christmastide Trial of the MCC maintained its hold on the competition-riding section of the movement, and the number of entries increased steadily as each year's end came round. The '25 event was outstandingly memorable mainly on account of its record entry of an amazing 427 vehicles! All the Velocette team made up of Gus Kuhn, H J Finden and W V Beach won Gold Medals, and it was reported that in the Salcombe Timed Half-Mile Special Test Gus was the fastest, and, incidentally the quietest. His beautiful climb was noted as certainly one of the best in the 350cc class.
Other Dirt Track riders-to-be who featured in the Awards List were: - Triss Sharp (680cc Zenith combination) Silver Medal; Eric Spencer (348 Douglas) Gold Medal; Len Parker (596 Douglas sidecar) Gold Medal and Gordon Norchi (980 Coventry-Eagle sidecar) Silver Medal. Len Pellat also driving a similar model to Norchi's won a Silver Medal - he rode in that first-ever event at King's Oak Dirt Track in February 1928 and took second place in a sidecar event won by Arthur Noterman. On this occasion Len was on a 344 OK Supreme combination.
Still very fond of road racing, Gus Kuhn entered his same redoubtable 348 Velocette in the Isle of Man Junior TT and on the first day's practising topped the fastest speed with a 38min lap. He was the second-fastest on Tuesday; the fastest on Wednesday (37m 45s) and the fastest again on the Friday with a faster speed in the time of 35m 33s. Everything therefore augured very well for the actual race itself. It was really incredible that his Velo that had been "flogged" round the tortuous Camberley Club courses; had competed in many of the big National Reliability Trials and taken part in the great British long-distance competitive events would create the fastest speed in TT practice. His machine was so good that he was unhappy on one particular day as there wasn't any work at all to do on it, but he did physical exercises to pass the time and was endeavouring to acquire the "boyish figure" so much in vogue at that particular time!
In "The Motor Cycle" a double-page was devoted to head-and-shoulder pictures of all the riders who would take part in the illustrious TT races (76 of them) and Gus (number 51) looked "all the part" with his round face and brushed-back hair.
There were 62 riders in the International Junior Race which included Len Parker (348 Douglas) and Freddie Dixon on a similar machine. And from lap one the riders started to put up phenomenal speeds of around the 65 mph mark. By lap three (one lap equalled 37 miles) of the 264 mile race, Gus had pulled up from 9th place on lap one and 8th place on lap two, to sixth place on lap three, but at the start it was reported that his Velo was a trifle sulky. On every lap Gus was "pulling out the stops" for, on lap four he was placed fifth. Lap six saw him in fourth place behind Freddie Dixon, and he finished fifth behind Dixon, Wal Handley, Jimmy Simpson and the winner Alec Bennett riding a similar model to Gus. In the 7 lap race Alec broke all records; he had won his third TT race, and this one at an average speed of 6.7 mph, making the fastest lap at 68.5 mph. Gus Kuhn's speed was 62.75 mph - a brilliant performance.
Gus Kuhn and Freddie Dixon in the fifties.
Born in Stockton, Durham, in 1892 Yorkshireman Freddie Dixon started his career on motor cycles but later turned to car racing. He was known as a smart engineer and entrepreneur and became famous for his expertise in tuning Rileys. After the war Dixon worked on the Ferguson transmission system. He died at Reigate, Surrey in 1956.
Alec Bennett, Gus Kuhn and Geoff Povley who came in 10th on a Velocette had lifted this make of machine into the select list of models which a super enthusiast was proud to own.
Two days later after his magnificent success, Gus rides a 498 Douglas in the Senior TT race - total distance (as the Junior) of 264 miles. These events were extremely tough - much tougher than they are today [written in 1977] on the like of modern machinery; and the old-time riders were real heroes in the true sense of the word.
Runner up spot
This Senior Race was won by Stanley Woods on a Norton at 67.54 mph with Wal Handley (Rex-Acme) taking the runner-up spot. Gus Kuhn's luck was really out this time! Running really down in the place-list after completing his first lap in the rather slow time of 40m 19s he was forced to retire on lap 2. And this was his "final fling" at road racing.
Backtracking to the Camberley Club's "Scramble" in March, now held annually, and this for the third time, Gus had supported this foremost event for some time and not without success. It now served very forcibly to illustrate the growing interest which was being taken in this type of competitive event. More encouraging still were the signs that conscientious motorcycle manufacturers were at last realising the value of success in such a strenuous test. That 67 of some 110 starters finished the course on the renowned Camberley Heath, testified to the fact that it was not a freak trial; especially, this was proved when among the survivors could be numbered three girls and a number of tiny 172cc machines (one with a rider weighing more than 15 stone!). But that fewer than 20 finishers gained awards showed for how much riding skill and reliability counted, and what value was attached to the smallest success in a truly modern rough-riding trial.
Mechanical trouble was certainly widespread, and affected gears, chains, brakes, forks and footrests, but not to any great extent, engines. This served to illustrate the widely held theory that British engines were the best in the world, and had been developed to an extraordinary extent in comparison with the cycle parts and transmission systems.
The fact that the average British machine was produced for service on the best roads in the world, largely accounted for this fact. Camberley Heath reproduced on a small scale the every-day conditions in many countries where British motorcycles were sold.
Dirt Track Racing had been going on in America since around 1909 where it was extremely popular, and the late R M Samuel, more affectionately known as "Sammy" and former Editor of "Speedway News" who was in close touch with the sport, thought it could have been going on even earlier. Exceptionally keen competition existed between such renowned motorcycle manufacturers as Excelsior, Indian, Peerless, Harley-Davidson and Cleveland companies. Professional riders were retained by these and other firms and race meetings were big attractions at the State Fairs which were flourishing in the extreme. As to the circuits, these were very large and no attempt was made to surface them - thus the term "Dirt Track Racing" was instigated.
The immense popularity that the sport gained in the United States was, of course, due to the very fierce competition on half-mile dirt tracks. They were oval tracks dotted around the country from Maine to California.
The circuits drew fantastic crowds of gigantic proportions, but their loose, dusty surfaces and dangerous fences, inevitably caused many fatalities, although a later rule restricting engine capacities tended to decrease the sad accidents.
During the American 1921 racing season, it seemed as though sentiment favoured having the big machines (1,000cc) barred from competition, except on Dirt Tracks of more than a mile to the lap. That the big motors had developed beyond the safety limits was proved on the Syracuse one-mile circuit when Fred Ludlow on a Harley-Davidson won six short distance Championships at over 80 mph! - in races under ten miles, and 78 mph, in the 25 and 50-mile events! Hardly believable but, nevertheless, true.
While Gus Kuhn was enjoying his merry-go-round of winter trials and scrambles, Dirt Track Racing was still "on the up" in Australia. Over forty-four thousand enthusiasts had attended Newcastle 's first meeting on November 14, 1925. Many world records were toppled there, and some illustrious names to be remembered are the Americans Cecil Brown and Eddie Brinck; the New Zealanders, Spencer Stratton and Stewart St. George; the Sydney riders, Conaulty, Jim and Charlie Datson the renowned Douglas stars; Billy Galloway, Irvine Jones, Paddy Dean and a score of others.
At this fabulous Newcastle circuit, Billy Lamont was one the the thrill-makers on his high AJS; then there was Cecil Brown with the big Indians and also Spencer Stratton. Magnificent racing also took place at the Deagon track - a mile round - 14 miles from Brisbane. Johnnie Hoskins was managing the Speedway Royale at Sydney. It was here that Paddy Dean, who later came to race in England, did a certified lap on a 750cc Douglas at 72 mph! Really an incredible speed when you consider it was clocked over fifty years ago [written in 1977].
Charlie and Jimmy Datson were the first riders to use Douglas machines for Australian D T Racing, and Charlie's original engines were later housed in the Douglas Works Museum at Bristol, which has unfortunately since been abandoned. Sadly, both riders died of heart attacks in 1968.
Among the many riders that Hoskins recruited for the Sydney track was Eddie Brinck, an illustrious American, famous as a rider on the big tracks in the States. He too, was a great showman, and whenever Johnnie put him in a programme, a packed stadium was a certainty. But Eddie knew his worth, and appreciated that infrequent appearances was the way to maintain it. Consequently he would not race more than only every three weeks at Sydney's Speedway Royale .. and then only after Johnnie had put £50 in his hand!