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California Reunion 2009
By Stuart Towner

The line-up of bikes from 1928

The morning of 11th October dawned very damp misty and the organisers were worried it may put people off of coming along. It didn't really get a lot better until it was time to clear up and then the sun came out - typical British weather!

They had organised a line-up of speedway machines to span the years that the sport had been in existence. This year the ice speedway racing bike was included with an engine. Also something different was a rotary engined grass track machine to compliment the display. Various machines were started during the afternoon so that the assembled throng could savour the different sounds from one era to another and the intoxicating aroma of methanol and Castrol R.

By 11am folk had started to drift in and the place began to buzz with people chatting and meeting up with friends both old and new.

Bikes from the 1970s onwards

As always the reunion was organised by Friends of Speedway and very soon their stall was busy with enthusiasts looking for a bargain amongst their goodies on display. They also had a 1970s Jawa speedway bike fitted with a reaction tester which was great fun especially for the children attending to be able to sit on a bike and do a dummy start as if at the tapes.

As part of the attractions there was an organised tour of the California Country Park by two of the park wardens. As there used to be a holiday camp there in the past it was called a Hi-Di-Hi Tour. As part of this tour, Bryan Horsnell, who used to sweep the concrete starting grid (and it's still there) told folk about the days of the Poppies as the team was nicknamed then. There was also a small display of riding apparel through the ages from two-piece leathers through to modern day Kevlars and helmets to match.

Catch them early; a young
enthusiast tries his hand on the reaction tester

Quite a few riders were in attendance from the 1950s era which included: Jim Gleed, Eric Hockaday, Eric Jolly, Len Glover, Pete Rogers, George Major, Terry Stone, Jim Gregory and Dave Collett.

The organisers were very excited when a family arrived and showed not one but five postcards of pre-war speedway racing there. It was good also to meet up with John, the son of Norman Cartlidge who was the Promoter there and whose grandfather Alfred cut the original track out with a horse and plough. Referee, Dave Robinson was another visitor who was in charge of the Elite league final at Swindon the next evening.

Jimmy Gleed is reunited with his old bike

Terry Stone was doing brisk business selling raffle tickets in aid of the proposed extension of the Speedway Museum at Broxbourne in Hertfordshire. There was also a display of Romford Bombers memorabilia.

The organisers wish to thank all those who displayed bikes, some coming considerable distances.

The feedback from the wardens was that they were very pleased with the day; so it's roll on next year.

Dave Collett, Eric Jolly, John Cartlidge, Jimmy Gleed
and Eric Hockaday pose on the old starting grid


This article was first published on 22nd October 2009


  • Malcolm Debono:

    "Hello I Saw your web site and it brought back a lot of good memories. I was born in 1947 and my parents would take me to see the poppies regularly. I always remember Jimmy Gleed as being the best rider even better than Gil Goldfinch. As I remember there was a race against Rye House and I think it was at Rye House. A rider called Vic Ridgeon (I think) rode for Rye House, it was an important race and Jimmy Gleed had to win, his bike never seemed so reliable. He came out to the start grid on Gil Goldfinch's bike and I think he won. They were good days for me as a boy. Thank you for your web site."

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