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The 1961 Midland Riders Championship
By John Fray

As we sit it out in lockdown with no sports events on or places to go perhaps now is a good time to look back and remember some of our sporting times in attempt to bring back some cheer.

For me Oxford speedway on balmy summer nights and the pop songs loud and clear on the tannoy offers so many good times to recall. Once in the stadium we would wander around the track to find our favourite spot on the terraces knowing we would find all our mates gathered there as well. The bikes were revving up in the pits and the distinctive smell of Castrol R filled the air. We waited for the music to strike up the march for the track staff to come out, riders to parade and the racing to begin. We all knew we had a good night of sporting entertainment that every age could enjoy from the veterans to the new comers.

There were so many good meetings to enjoy at the Oxford's Sandy Lane track, but one of the meetings I remember so well was not at Oxford but on our old enemies Swindon Robins track. The 1961 June 21st Midlands Riders Championship with the sixteen top riders from Oxford, Swindon, Leicester and Coventry competing, after coming through qualify rounds, for the Midlands crown. Oxford supporters had made the trip to Blunsdon and were there in force especially as we had five of our favourites representing the Cheetahs among the sixteen riders competing.

Our top man, Danish ace Arne Pander was riding and in the programme was described as the predicted winner as possibly "the first Cowley contestant to triumph in the title event". Nothing was to be taken for granted even though we had very high hopes because Oxford's star man Arne was up against strong opposition not least from his own team mates like Gordon McGregor and Ronnie Genz. Among the stars were former World Champion Jack Young with Neil Street, Ken Mckinlay and Nigel Boocock. Also in the line up and soon to be a familiar face at Oxford Aussie Jack Geran our skipper in our all winning team of 1964, but back in 1961 he rode for Leicester and was known as a slick starter with a crisp, speedy style and consistent.

The track was well prepared and the racing keen with each heat star studded so nothing was predictable, but after four races each only one rider Arne Pander stood out. He was unbeaten with 12 points. Arne's nearest rival was three points behind him before each rider started their fifth race in this twenty heat championship meeting. As is the way of speedway it can happen and no amount of riding skills can help when a engine fails and stops you mid point in a race. Arne fell foul of the engine gremlins when way out in the lead and certain of victory in heat 20. His engine just packed up. So he finished with twelve points the same as Jack Geran who had won his last ride.

So there it was, it had to be a two man run off to decide the champ and Arne had to come out on a borrowed bike not the best and probably the Oxford track spare. The race was a complete anti climax despite Arne try each way to get past fast gating Jack, but all to no avail and the 1961 Midlands Championship record shows that Jack Geran was the winner with Arne Pander the runner up and Coventry's Les Owen third.

All the Oxford supporters travelled home bitterly disappointed, but we all knew who the real champion was that night, our very own brilliant Danish kingpin Arne Pander. We had to wait a further two years when the Championship final was staged at Oxford in 1963 for Arne to get his revenge when as a clear winner Arne won the crown.

The Championship ran from 1952 to 1986 with many future all star winners among them Barry Briggs, Ole Olsen, Hans Nielsen, the brilliant Erik Gundersen and the last winner Tommy Knudsen.


This article was first published on 24th May 2020

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  • Bob Bath:

    "John, thoroughly enjoyed your post. Wasn't there myself but visited all those Midland tracks at one time or another. Your mention of the smells and sounds brought back memories for me too."  


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