Post by administrator on Mar 27, 2009 13:02:17 GMT 1
MOST followers of short circuit car racing accept that a 1970s F2 stock car promotion by Trevor Redmond was the first full-scale car event to be staged at Wembley Stadium. In fact, the F2’s were way behind another small oval car sport in showing their paces on the old motorcycle speedway track.
In the mid-1950s, the 500cc JAP-engined midget cars raced there, going on as a support event to the bike stars and even they were 18 years behind Wembley’s previous venture into car racing.
After running the Skirrow midget cars as second-half backing to speedway in 1937 and early 1938, a full-scale midget car meeting took place on Saturday, July 16, when 16 drivers contested the Wembley Gold Cup. Among the many spectators that day was a baker from Northampton, Dave Hughes, who post-war was to attempt a revival for the formula as both promoter and driver.
Wembley’s interest in midget car racing had followed the sport’s development since 1936, which was largely due to due the promotional expertise of Jimmy Baxter, who had also promoted at various motorcycle speedway tracks.
By 1938, there was a struggling National League in operation and although London’s Lea Bridge had dropped out of racing, there was regular racing at Belle Vue, Coventry and Stoke.
Various speedways also staged midgets as second-half events to speedway. At Hackney, two regular drivers were their bike stars Morian Hansen and Dickyy Case. The latter was an Australian who bought the Rye House track in Hertfordshire, which had a speedway behind it. Besides running bike races, Case also staged midget car race with the woman star Fay Taylour often in action against top men drivers like Spike Rhiando and the White brothers Les and Lane.
The field for the Wembley Gold Cup was Ron Wills, Vic Patterson, ‘Bronco’ Bill Reynolds, Les White, Walter Mackereth, Johnny Young, Frank Chiswell, George Turvey, Charlie ‘Ginger’ Pashley, Eric Worswick, Spike Rhiando, Stan Mills, Frank Bullock, Basil de Mattos, Squib Burton, Skid Martin, with the reserve drivers Val Atkinson and Gene Crowley.
At this time, Wembley was a 378 yard track with a four lap distance of 1,512 yards. Walter Mackereth held the four lap rolling start record with a time of 82.6 seconds (37.46mph) while the one lap rolling start time was held by Harry Skirrow at 19.6 seconds. Both had set their records at the second half of bike meetings, Mackereth on August 5, 1937, and Skirrow on June 17, 1937.
Wembley were keen to play up the chances of Vic Patterson, a member of the Wembley team, who had won the Championship of Great Britain at Belle Vue during the 1937 season. He competed despite a serious injury at Coventry where he broke three ribs and tore a knee liegament. The other top Wembley driver was Ron Wills, the team captain, who had been badly injured in an Easter crash at Southampton.
The favourite of the fans was Walter Mackereth, then undoubtedly the formula’s leading driver and winner of the national titles during the 1937 season, the British Championship and the Dutch Championship.
The main challenger to them all was Spike Rhiando, who had done much to popularise and promote the Autodrome track at Greenford, Middlesex, in the early 1930s.
The ‘baby’ of the meeting was 19-year-old Johnny Young, the adopted son of Mackereth and his wife.
Making a nostalgic appearance at the Wembley meeting was Cyril ‘Squib’ Burton, Leicester garage owne. he had been a pioneer speedway rider when the sport started in Britain in 1928 and went on to race for England and several leading clubs. His speedway career was halte in the mid-1930s when he crashed broke a leg and accepted medical advice not to race again.
When midget car racing came to Coventry in 1937 he started in the sport and was quickly to becaome a leading driver. As a speedway rider, he had appeared many times at Wembley and this car meeting gave him the chance to prove he still knew his way round the Empire Stadium track.
Once racing was underway, it became evident that the Gold Cup was destined for either Rhiando or Young. Rhiando was surprisingly beaten by Worswick in the first race, but after that rapped off four wins. Young also started well, winning his first race, but then being pushed into second place by Mackereth in heat seven, then Rhiando in heat 13. This was a crucial phase in the meeting for Rhiando, who was also out in the next race. But he made no mistakes to lead home Wills, Val Atkinson and Mackereth to ensure the trophy was his.
One interesting sidelight to the meeting was the dead-heat in heat 12 between Atkinson and George Turvey who equally shared the first and second place, with Basil de Mattos third. De Mattos was a 23-year-old who said that away from midget car racing he liked to ride horses.
Generally, the meeting did little to enhance the prestige of midget car racing - at least so far as Wembley was concerned. No more main meetings were held and the formula went back to being used occasionally for second half events on speedway programmes. After 1938, it was nearly 18 years before midgets appeared in any strength when the 500cc JAP-engine cars were booked.
A general opinion on the failure of midget cars to attract Wembley’s interest was because the cars were slower than speedway bikes, although a point in the cars favour was that when broadsiding the bends they created more spectacle - but it was this broadsiding unfortunately which stopped them from matching the speed of the motorcycle racers.
The fastest times in the Wembley Gold Cup were set by Gene Crowley in heat three and Rhiando in heat eight who were both timed at 81.6 seconds for the four laps. The slowest time was 87 seconds when Turvey and Atkinson dead-heated in heat 12.
Wembley Gold Cup points scorers: S Rhiando 14, J Young 13, S Burton 12, V Atkinson (reserve) 9.5, R Wills 9, W Mackereth 8, L White 8, C Pashley 7, V Patterson 7, E Worswick 6, F Chiswell 6, G Turvey 5.5, S Mills 5, S Martin 3, G Crowley (reserve) 3, B de Mattos 2, F Bullock 1, B Reynolds - did not start.
(c) John Hyam 2009