WOLVERHAMPTON SPEEDWAY’S 70TH BIRTHDAY by Mark Rowe.

Wolverhampton Speedway celebrates its 70th birthday this year. The club staged a Golden Jubilee meeting on Sunday 27 August 1978, and the match programme featured a reprint of the racecard from the "Opening Meeting" at the stadium on Saturday 25 August 1928. However, Wolves fan Mark Sawbridge, who is researching the history of the club, has discovered that this was not the first meeting. There were actually EIGHT previous meetings in that same year!
The first ever speedway meeting in Wolverhampton was staged at the current Monmore Green track on Wednesday 30 May 1928 at 7 p.m. Advertised as the first meeting in the midlands of "Dirt Track Motor Cycle Racing", it was arranged by the Birmingham Motor Cycle Club. Major attraction was famous American pioneer "Sprouts" Elder, who would perform a demonstration of the art of broadsiding, and take on one of England’s best riders, Iver Creek in a match race. (In the advertisements for the meeting, Elder was actually described as an Australian!) The meeting would also feature 350cc and 500cc events for members of the Birmingham Motor Cycle Club. Admission was 1s and 2s.4d.

On the morning of the meeting, the two stars staged a demonstration of the new sport for the benefit of the Express and Star newspaper reporter "Phan". He reported, "Now I have seen this amazing spectacle, I am completely at a loss to describe it. To see a machine approach the bend at ever increasing speed, to see the rider practically lay it down on it’s side, and with the throttle still wide open, hurtle round the curve practically broadside on with a wave of cinders and dust flying high from the churning wheels, is something that makes one feel like the Shropshire farmer who saw an ostrich for the first time – "There ain’t no such bird" he exclaimed." I think he was impressed!

Iver Creek had ridden at the first meeting in Britain at High Beech a few weeks earlier. He had quickly earned a reputation as one of the countries top riders, and had won the Golden Gauntlet at Glasgow. The Douglas motorcycle he rode at Monmore Green was a good example of the machines of the day. It was basically a road machine with a few alterations, quite unlike the highly tuned beasts of today. The left footrest was removed, and the riders wore leather padding on their knees and a metal toecap on the left boot, "Leg Trailing" being the style of the time. Further protection was offered from a leather jacket padded at the elbows and shoulders, and, of course, a crash helmet. Iver was impressed by the new track at Monmore Green, noting that the surface was good and free of hard spots, which often caused crashes. A special fence was erected, described as two wire fences attached by spiral springs, the idea being that a "spring mattress" would cushion a falling rider. He explained to the reporter that his riding style differed from other riders. "The mistake an amateur makes is to blind hell for leather down the straight, and then slow for the bends. When I am racing, I generally get passed on the straights, and then overtake others on the corners." The local reporter stated that he couldn’t wait for the show to start, "I wouldn’t miss tonight’s show for all the petrol in Persia!" he wrote.

The Express and Star reported that the meeting was a great success. Events were run promptly, there was some good racing in front of a large crowd, with several close finishes. There were several crashes, but nobody was hurt, thanks to the protective clothing, and the "spring" safety fence. Unfortunately, the planned match races between "Sprouts" Elder and Iver Creek had to be cancelled. Elder's machine had been damaged in an earlier accident, presumably while practising for the event. Both men performed solo demonstration runs on Creek's machine.

There were two separate events for the members of the Birmingham Motor Cycle Club, for 350cc and 500cc machines. Races were run over 5 laps, a distance of one mile. There were 3 riders in each race, and races were started by an official with a flag. The 350cc class was the first event, and the results were as follows,
Heat 1 : The first ever race at Monmore Green was won by A.E. Perrigo by a full half lap!
Heat 2 : In a dramatic race, H.Wilcox won easily after W.Dallison had crashed twice. E.Cope also fell, but continued to finish second.
Heat 3 : Won by Parker, no fallers.

There was an interval before the Final, during which Sprouts Elder performed a demonstration of broadsiding on Creek's machine.
The three heat winners then met in the 350cc Final. Wilcox was hampered by a misfiring machine, and he eventually fell, but still finished. Perrigo and Parker battled hard for the lead. Perrigo won the race by 20 yards, but was then disqualified for looking behind! So A.E.Perrigo was declared the winner, with Wilcox second. Before the 500cc event, Iver Creek thrilled the crowds with a superb demonstration of riding. On board his own machine, he was clearly more confident than Sprouts Elder, and it was reported that he "literally hurled himself broadside around the corners." The 500cc event was held over six heats of three riders, with the winners progressing to two semi-finals and the final.
Heat 1 : A fierce battle between Parker, who fell twice, and the eventual winner Dallison.
Heat 2 : A wild race! L.Patrick fell on almost every lap, but refused to give up. D.H.Gittins took the lead after Cope and Patrick crashed on the first bend. Gittins and Cope engaged in a great battle, passing and repassing. Cope's wild cornering technique seemed to lose him time, whereas Gittins took the corners carefully, and emerged as the winner.
Heat 3 : Won by 350cc winner Perrigo, with Wilcox second. W Johnson crashed spectacularly, somersaulting several times, but was saved from injury by his crash helmet.
Heat 4 : Notable for some wonderful riding from Anderson. He made up for the lack of speed in his small Dunelt motorcycle by his superb cornering style. He was said to be the closest thing to the experts. Anderson passed A.Sanders time and again on the bends, only to see him power past along the next straight! Anderson led into the last corner, only to fall, handing the race to Sanders.
Heat 5 : W Read won from P.Sturridge.
Heat 6 : A.Weston passed F.Chambers for the win.

1st Semi-Final : Gittins machine failed at the start of the race, and Dallison crashed, handing the race to Perrigo.
2nd Semi-Final : Weston fell, leaving W.Read to win from Sanders.
500cc Final : This race featured the Semi-Final winners, Perrigo and Read, together with P.Sturridge, who was the fastest loser. This was a great race, and corner speeds increased as the riders got more confident. Sturridge and Perrigo fought a fierce battle, with Sturridge winning by the narrowest of margins to the cheers of the large crowd. The final race of the night, was a special "run-off" between J.Baxter, A.E.Perrigo and A.Sanders. This was another good race. Perrigo passed Baxter, and won after a furious scrap with Sanders.

Overall, the meeting was considered a great success. The organisation was good, but Express and Star reporter "Phan" suggested that the sport would look more spectacular if the riders wore brighter colours, so that the spectators could easily identify them. He also thought that a better method should be employed to make announcements to the crowd. At the first meeting, this was performed by a man with a megaphone!