BRAFIELD 1948 AND ONWARDS... Nov 13, 2009 11:33:51 GMT 1
Post by administrator on Nov 13, 2009 11:33:51 GMT 1
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Treasure Trove! Probably the earliest photo in existence of the dawn of Brafield Stadium, 1948. A big thank-you to Russ Thomas, the long-time Brafield announcer / deejay, and driver # 286 for the following: here are Russ's words:.
It is a photo of Dave Hughes' Irish brother-in-law, who with a friend have dug out the start straight at Brafield Stadium in 1948. One of the two young lads is the son of midget racer Arch Hanscombe.
Dave Hughes was a baker at Cogenhoe. [ If you go to Northants, say "COOK-KNOW" ] He was mad keen on speedway and pre-war would organize coach trips (via Yorks coaches no doubt) to major events. In doing so he got a lot of local people interested in the sport.
After the war he saw the midget racing cars, thought they had potential and bought a 'set' of Skirrows to race as a team.
They started practicing and holding their own very unofficial meetings in a field near the village of Whiston. This wasn't very successful as the field was only accessible across other fields, so they started looking for something better. A local character was running dogs on the field that is now Brafield stadium/NIR and they approached him to try and run the cars there. He was reluctant and thought they needed planning permission.
They applied for this and were turned down at first, but eventually were given permission and, I believe they then bought the field from the "dog man". This is where the photo comes in. They dug the first layouts by hand, then their star driver, American ex GP driver Spike Rhiando was given the job of commissioning and overseeing work with mechanical plant. I think the track was first up and running properly in 1949.
The midgets never attained the success that was hoped for and I think Dave had to organize a lot of the team events and then try and sell them to promoters as a 'package'. They did race all over the country, however, through until stock cars took over.
Two early pictures of the Brafield Midget Racing team. In the closer-up photo, the driver standing on the left is Aubrey Leighton's old 'partner in crime', Wilf Davis (whose ruthless team tactics got Aubrey's cars banned, and led to one of the sport's most infamous on-and-off track skirmishes at Brafield, involving drivers, mechanics, and spectators ----).
The fella that started it all, Dave Hughes, is in the car.
More "March Midget" info from Russ Thomas, found from elsewhere on the 'Net: "Old-time midget car driver Dave Hughes, who pioneered the British revival when he built the original Bradfield track in 1949, helped by American driver Spike Rhiando, blames the early post-war attitude of speedway promoters for the sport's decline from then onwards.
He bought his first Skirrow midget car during the 1939-45 war, thinking that the pre-war build up of the sport would continue when hostilities ceased. But the speedway bosses effectively blocked midget car racing's come-back in Britain, including warding off an American attempt in 1948 to establish the cars.
In 1948, Hughes met pre-war driver Gene Crowley who hoped to re-establish the sport, but then lost interest in promoting the sport. Hughes then bought a dozen Skirrow midgets, and besides running the company also drove in meetings. In 1982 Hughes was intending to revive his interest in midget car promotion."
In 1948 film-star Lana Turner, with her millionaire husband, helped ship 20 (twenty) midget racers from the States for an English tour. Among the tracks they visited were Charlton Athletic's Valley ground, Walthamstow Stadium, and Stamford Bridge. The whole story is told and illustrated on this website.
I have found a press photograph of Lana Turner on a parade lap of Stamford Bridge stadium (Chelsea FC's home). The arrival of the midget racers (with V8-60 motors) brought in 50,000 fans on the day! One of the directors of this tour was listed as Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, a name we all remember popping up as producer on the early James Bond films! The midget tour brought with it 8,000 gallons of methanol and 500 tyres.
Midget racer, courtesy of Clayton Sampson, who raced this "Skirrow" car. The midget was built in the 1930's and was one of several midgets owned by a man named Hughes, a baker from Cogenhoe. It had a JAP 1100cc air-cooled V-twin motor, giving four-wheel drive, no differentials, through TWO clutches -- one at each end -- (but only one pedal).
The motor ran on alky fuels, with a wicked 15:1 compression ratio, which engine-braked the thing so fiercely with the gas off that no brakes were required. Some people may recall these motors needed careful "pull-it-back-off-compression" before attempting a hefty push-start. Clayton fondly remembers the very high performance (and the unforgettable din) of these tiny cars, which he raced mostly on shale tracks (Coventry).
Sadly, USAF veteran Clayton Sampson is no longer with us, but his wife Margaret has kindly sent these three snapshots from those days. First, Clayton in the Skirrow: Second, Clayton "needing a shoe-horn to get in" as he used to tell Margaret. For any USAF viewers, here's Clayton in uniform with wife Margaret and baby daughter Marie.
(c) DAVID KIPLING'S WEBSITE 2009
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