NORTH OF THE BORDER Mar 27, 2009 20:04:58 GMT 1
Post by administrator on Mar 27, 2009 20:04:58 GMT 1
MIDGET car racing in Scotland is as dead as the proverbial dodo bird. The last recorded meeting was in the early 1980s when Dermott ‘Wildman’ McGivern won the Scottish Championship at Cowdenbeath.
There was an attempt to popularise midget car racing in the late 1930s, while a more serious attempt to get the formula settled in Scotland was in the mid-1950s.
In the years between 1937 and 1939, there are references to meetings taking place at Glasgow White City and at the Marine Gardens in Edinburgh.
In the 1950 Tommy Forster, who was then racing manager for Dave Hughes’ Skirrow team, told how he had raced in some of these meetings where other drivers were George Ellis, Andy Dodds, George Murray-Frame, Ace Crawford and the Sandground brothers.
The earliest reference to meeting in Scotland was in the Coventry programme dated June 6, 1937. It said: “At Glasgow there’s a speedway, it’s a midget car speedway too. At the said speedway, they also use Skirrow specials, the pilots of the Skirrows are real tough.
“Our boys have visited the Scottish enterprise and were not sorry when the show was over and they were heading for good old England once more, not that they were not well received, they were made very comfortable till they took part in their respective races; then they found their hosts were not so polite.
“At the word ‘OFF’ everyone seemed to go mad - Skirrows to the right of ‘em - Skirrows to the left of ‘em!”
The report continued: “The Glasgow drivers were like the knights of old, except they wore no armour. Crash hats were not to be seen, it was ‘Up and at ‘em boys.’ However, our boys gave a very good account of themseves and came home with laurels.”
The Coventry programme aded, “Very soon we will have the Glasgow Knights here. You must see these boys, they drive like the very devil. Scotland seems to produce good speedway drivers and riders. I well remember the days in 1929 when the Marina Gardens in Edinburgh, ran a track.
“Such names as Norrie Isbister and Drew McQueen stand out in momory. They were always a team of riders to be reckoned with. Let’s hope that arrangements can be made for an early visit of these Skirrow boys.”
Sadly, the visit of Glasgow to Coventry never took place. However, post-war driver Rod Pashley recalls his father Charlie ‘Ginger’ Pashley saying of visits to Scotland, “Glasgow treated visiting drivers as enemies - Edinburgh treated them as honoured guests.”
In the days before World War Two, midget car racing in Scotland received scant coverage in either the Scottis press or its main speedway outlet the ‘Speedway World.’ However, research shows that a demonstration meeting involving three cars ran alongside a speedway meeting at Marine Gardens, Edinburgh on June 18, 1938. The overall race winner was paid £50.
Then, on July 2, the top England-based drivers appeared in a North (‘Ginger’ Pashley, Bruce Wareburton, Eric Worswick, J McCarthy, Frank Marsh, Johnny Young, RG Goodley) versus South (Squib Burton, Basil de Mattos, Skid Martin, Frank Bullock, Jimmy Raynes, Gene Crowley) team match. The North won 36-35 before a 5,000 crowd. In a series of match races, Spike Rhiando beat Pashley 2-0.
Just what happened after that in the run-up to the start of World War Two in September 1939 has been unrecorded. What is known is that in 1939 speedway started a revival in both Glasgow and Edinburgh and a top rider in these meetings was the Australian Cecil ‘Gruff’ Garland who was also the Australian midget car champion. He drove a Skirrow.
It was more than 13 years before midget car racing again took place in Scotland when Dave Hughes took his Skirrow troupe north of the border. Pre-war Scottish drivers who returned to action were George Ellis, Tommy Forster and Andy Dodds.
In pre-meeting publicity, the following facts came to light. Black came from Motherwell and besides his midget car racing career was also a serving firefighter. Forster and Dodds - who were also Glasgow bus drivers - had started their careers in 1937 at Glasgow White City. Forster was reputed to be the fastest starter in the sport and ‘sometimes doesn’t even wait for the tapes to go up’ it was said. Dodds was described as one of the most consistent drivers in the sport.
Another Scottish driver who became involved in the 1953 revival was Niven MacReadie, who the following year also raced stock cars at Motherwell and Edinburgh. Jimmy Lang was another who tried his hand at stock cars in 1954. Mark Black started the 1953 season as team mechanic then got the urge to drive, while other Scottish drivers were Jimmy Smith, Jimmy Reid and another bus driver Eddie Brudson, but they were all outshone by Eric Liddell.
Originally, Liddell had been a speedway rider with Ashfield but started driving midgets early in 1953 and won the Scottish individual Championship. He was tipped as a starter for the Skirrow team to tour South Africa at the end of 1954, but that fell through for financial reasons. Over the years 1953 and 1954 a handful of meetings were held at Stepps Stadium (on the outskirts of Glasgow), Ashfield (Glasgow), Motherwell and Edinburgh.
The first meeting took place at Stepps on Saturday, August 15, 1953, when England defeated Scotland 47-41 in a team match over 15 heats. Races featured two drivers from each team, with race points three for first place, two for second, one for third and nil for fourth.
The scorers and teams were: SCOTLAND - Walter Mackereth 15, Johnny Young 11, Tommy Forster 6, George Ellis 5, Jimmy Lang 4, Jimmy Reid 0. ENGLAND - Wilf Davis 15, Arch Handscomb 11, ‘The Scout’ 10, Walt Perry 6, Dave Hughes 4, Frank Arran 0.
“The Scout’ has never been identified but the consensus is that it was England international speedway rider Geoff Pymar.
On Tuesday, October 6, 1953, Liddell made his midget car racing debut and caused a sensation by driving undefeated to win the Scottish Individual Championship at Ashfield. The championship was raced over 10 four lap heats. The points scorers were: Eric Liddell 12, Tommy Forster 9, Jimmy Reid 8, Dave Hughes 7, Niven MacReadie 7, George Ellis 5, Andy Dodds 3, 'The Scout' 3, Alec Wylie 2, Jimmy Lang (reserve) 2, Eddy Brydson 1. In support races, Reid defeated Liddell in a match race while a six-lap handicap was also won by MacReadie from Dodds and Hughes. The other starters were Forster, Lang and Ellis.
The season came to an end on Tuesday, October 13, when the Ashfield speedway riders defeated a team of midget car drivers 47-43 in a team match. The points scorers were: SPEEDWAY RIDERS - Doug Templeton 13, Eric Liddell 12, Niven MacReadie 9, Ron Phillips 6, Cyril Cooper 4, Johnny Green 3. MIDGET DRIVERS - Dave Hughes 16, Tommy Forster 10, George Ellis 8, Jimmy Reid 5, Mark Black 4.
The only other meeting listed for the 1953 season was an International Championship arranged for Stepps on Saturday August 22. It is probable that this never took place.
It was towards the end of 1954 that Hughes rekindled midget car racing in Scotland. Again, records are scarce. By then, stock car racing had arrived in Britain and for many car racing fans this provided a better spectacle than the midgets.
On an optimistic note, Skirrow owner Dave Hughes wrote in the Motherwell programme on Friday, August 27, 1954, “We are no circus sport and our earnest aim is to establish ourselves on a league basis and we hope this will begin next season.”
Hughes also told fans, “Our times will probably be slower than the bikes, but to compensate for that we do slide longer and faster round the bends, and we feel certain that thrill for thrill we are their equal. Passing and re-passing, I am told, is more than in actual speedway.”
Motherwell and the Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh were the main venues. Edinburgh had a team match against Glasgow on Saturday, October 2. Meetings at Motherwell included Friday. August 24, when Lanarkshire raced agaiinst Glasgow, and the Scottish Individual Championship on Friday, September 24. Other dates on the Motherwell fixture list were Friday, October 8, Scotland v England, and Friday, October 15, with Motherwell speedway riders in action against Glasgow.
Jimmy Reid won the second Scottish Individual Championship. Scorers were: Jimmy Reid 12, Marl Black 10, Dave Hughes 7, Tommy Forster 6, George Ellis 6, Eric Liddell 6, Andy Dodds 4, Niven MacReadie 4, Jimmy Smith 3, Jimmy Lang 1, Alec Wylie (reserve) 0, Eddy Brydson (reserve) 0.
The only other 1954 meeting of which there is a record is the Lanarkshire v Glasgow match on August 27. The result was Lanarkshire 47 Glasgow 42. Scorers: LANARKSHIRE - Wilf Davis 15, Niven MacReadie 13, George Ellis 9, Mark Black 6, Jimmy Smith 4, Jimmy Lang (reserve) 0. GLASGOW - Eric Liddell 13, Jimmy Reid 11, Dave Hughes 10, Alec Wylie 6, Tommy Forster 2, Andy Dodds (reserve) - did not drive.
Years later, Eric Liddell gave me his impressions of two seasons of midget car racing in Scotland. He said, “It would probably have been better if races had featured more cars in a race, six or eight would have created a better spectacle.
“There were no more meetings after 1953 and 1954, with plans for the South African tour falling through because team owner Dave Hughes could not raise the capital to transport drivers and cars to the Republic.”
Liddell added, “I found few problems in adapting from a speedway bike to a midget car. They were similar to handle, mainly because they steered through the use of throttle control.”
He said, “From what I remember, we all drove for nothing. I have no recollection of ever being paid points money as I was in speedway. Apart from myself, the only other regular speedway rider driving cars was Jimmy Reid.”
In summary, Reid said, “Both years were cash-strapped, there just wasn’t Any money available. Of the midget regulars, only two of them were good drivers - and I cannot recall their names.
“The cars were very unreliable and as they were promoted, had little chance of being a success! But I will not condemn the Skirrows out of hand. They were all more tha 20 years old - they were pre-1939 cars.
“With sound financial backing, good mechanics and better drivers, there is little doubt they could have been a terrific spectacle.”
Late in 1957, there was a brief flurry of revival talk with Liddell, Dodds, Ellis, Reid and Brudson involved. There was a suggestion of a Scottish-Norhern League run on speedway lines for 1958 with Motherwell, Edinburgh. Stepps, Glasgow White City, Newcastle and Middlesbrough involved.
By then Tommy Forster, who would have been an expert on the organisation of the competition, had moved south to join Hughes at Northampton. Forster had been born in Newcstle and tried his hand in speedway in the early 1930s, but retired after a serious accident. He moved to Glasgow and raced midgets between 1937-39 and again in 1953-54. In 1958, Forster was found dead above Hughes’ bakery where he also worked.
Thus midget car racing died out in Scotland save for belated 1980s meeting at Cowdenbeath where Dermott McGivern joined Eric Liddell and Jimmy Reid on the list of Scottish champions.
(c) John Hyam 2009