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Book Extract:
Tom Farndon
The Greatest Speedway Rider of Them All
by Norman Jacobs and John Chaplin

1930

Once the practising was over and the season proper started at Brandon on 4 May, Tom rode in second half events. Such was his improvement that he finally made the team on 1 June, in Coventry�s fourth league match, a home fixture against Wembley. In front of a crowd of 6,600, Tom rode with Lew Lancaster in the first heat, coming in third behind his partner and Wembley�s Len Reeve to score his first league point and help secure his team a 27-14 victory.

A fortnight later, Tom took part in the Brandon Open Handicap and found himself up against another young newcomer, Jack Parker�s brother Norman. Norman had started out as Jack�s mechanic but then decided to have a go himself. Both Tom and Norman won their preliminary heats to find themselves in the Handicap proper. Tom was drawn in Heat 2 against his more experienced team partner, Lew Lancaster. In spite of his greater experience, Lancaster could not shake off Tom as the two tore round the track in a neck and neck struggle. It was only when Tom�s chain came off on the final bend that Lancaster was able to pull away. Tom started to push for the finishing line as the first two went through to the next round, but as he did so his chain suddenly gripped on the sprocket again and, as the engine was still running, the machine made a dive forward and spun round onto the grass, dragging Tom after it, putting him out of the race altogether.

Tom�s first recorded victory in a league match came on 13 July when he won Heat 5 of the match against White City. Tom also went on to win that evening�s scratch race final. Even better news was to come when, two weeks later, somewhat ironically as events were later to turn out, he scored his first maximum, winning all three of his races in Coventry�s 46-17 annihilation of Crystal Palace.

 

1931/32

At the end of the 1931 season, Tom, together with his Crystal Palace colleagues, Roger Frogley and Nobby Key, and Wembley�s Jack Jackson, visited New Zealand to gain more experience.

Tom returned to Western Springs on 30 January where he met the great Australian star, Vic Huxley. Tom and Huxley were in the first heat of the International match. Tom got an excellent start and drew ahead round the first bend. Huxley could do nothing and was unable to catch the Englishman. In the second heat, Tom once again showed his mastery over Huxley, winning by a considerable margin. They met for a third time in Heat 3 with the same result, although it has to be said that this time Huxley�s motor failed as the two were going in to the first bend on level terms.

They then took part in a special Match Race. This time Tom fell on the first bend but the race was stopped and restarted with both riders. At the second time of asking, Tom gained a lead of about a length going in to the first bend. Huxley worried away behind him and drew level on the third lap, but once again his motor failed and Tom finished alone.

They met once more in the final of the Big Twelve Handicap. This time Huxley was left at the start, while Tom (on 60 yards) took an early lead from J. Gower (on 30 yards). He extended his lead throughout the race and won by half a lap.

The next meeting of Tom and Huxley on 6 February was advertised extensively in the local press, "Champion defends his title! Huxley v Farndon. Two Challenge Match Races! Vic Huxley, champion of the world today, and Tom Farndon, regarded as the coming champion, two of the greatest riders who have ever been seen at Western Springs Speedway, will fight out two special match races�Not satisfied with his display last Saturday night, Huxley has challenged Farndon...Watch a champion defend his title...Watch him endeavour to outwit and out-manoeuvre the brilliant Farndon.�

Before the match races, Tom took part in the Big Twelve Handicap and showed he was in top form once again. In the second heat he put up a brilliant performance, establishing a new track record of 1 minute 22.2 seconds from a standing start. Not only did he achieve this from a 60 yards handicap but at one point in the race his machine left the track and broadsided on to the grass but he managed to regain control quickly and carry on.

Tom then followed up his new standing start record by setting a new four lap rolling start record of 1 minute 17.4 seconds in the first of the challenge match series against Huxley. Tom went ahead at the start and was never in trouble. In the second leg, Huxley had the advantage of the inside berth and took an early lead. Tom made repeated attempts to pass him and both men rode wheel to wheel for two laps. Tom once again rode up on the grass but recovered well to take the lead and, in the end, won by a comfortable margin to take the series 2-0.

In heat two of the International Match, New Zealand v. Australia v. England, Tom fell leaving Huxley to win the race in fine style. Fortunately, he was not injured and in Heat 3 he managed to beat his main Western Springs rivals, Mattson and Huxley easily.

 

1932

In spite of his many successes on the track in 1932, Tom would no doubt have felt his greatest accomplishment of the year was marrying his teenage sweetheart, Audrey Gledhill, at the Register Office in Little Park Street, Coventry, on 30 August after a year�s engagement. The reason for getting married in a Register Office was that Audrey was very shy and didn�t want to be married in a traditional white wedding gown in a church ceremony because she didn't want any fuss.

Audrey was very supportive of Tom�s speedway career, accompanying him to most of his matches. Like Tom she was also a very keen dancer and they would go out dancing on many evenings. They even entered dancing competitions and were successful on a number of occasions. As Tom became more famous he began to be mobbed by girls both at the track and at the dance halls, but he didn�t take any notice of them as he was devoted to Audrey.

After they were married they moved into a house called the Glade on the Bondi Carpio Manor Estate in Shirley, Surrey, to be near the Crystal Palace track. Tom hated housework and Audrey would get up at about four o'clock in the morning, do all the washing, get it cleared away and get everything spic and span before Tom came down for breakfast.

 

1933

The final of the Star Riders Championship was held on 14 September at Wembley�s Empire Stadium. Twenty of the best riders in speedway, two from each National League team, lined up for this prestigious event, then the equivalent of the World Championship.

Tom�s first round ride was against Norman Parker, Walter Moore and Frank Varey. Parker fell early on and Tom beat Moore and Varey by a distance. His time was only three fifths of a second outside the track record, which, considering he had an untroubled ride, was quite remarkable.

Tom then met Les Wotton in the first semi-final. Wotton had actually beaten Tom�s time in his first round ride by two fifths of a second so it looked as though Tom was in for a real race this time. Also in the race were Eric Langton and Harry Whitfield. Tom made a brilliant start, and Wotton was last away. By the end of the second lap, Wotton had passed the other two and was chasing after Tom, but Tom was far too fast for him and he came home some 12 lengths in front.

Tom was now in the final against Ron Johnson and West Ham�s Bluey Wilkinson. As the tapes went up, Tom and Wilkinson got away together and for two laps they literally fought for the lead. There was no quarter asked and none given. Gradually however, Tom began to edge in front and by the third lap had taken a substantial lead. Behind him, Wilkinson lost a tyre and had to retire. The championship now belonged to Tom. He had finally fulfilled his potential and was at last crowned Star Riders Champion 1933.

Many commentators said after the meeting that it was definitely the best Star Championship final they had seen and probably the most exciting meeting ever to take place at Wembley.

Tom thoroughly deserved his victory. He had been threatening to break through into the realms of speedway superstardom all season and now he had well and truly arrived. His victory was due to a combination of three things. He started faster than anyone else, he was faster during the race than anyone else and his control of the bike throughout was superb. He never once looked to be in any trouble. At 23 Tom Farndon was king of the speedway world.

 

1935

In a special match race after the interval, Bluey Wilkinson beat Ron Johnson. Then, in the New Cross Scratch Race series, Ron Johnson and Stan Greatrex knocked out the Harringay pair Jack Parker and Phil Bishop in Heat 1. In Heat 2, Tom finished ahead of Bluey Wilkinson with Norman Parker third and Bill Pitcher failing to finish. So the night's main final was between Johnson, Greatrex, Farndon and Wilkinson, who all lined up on the starting grid.

One spectator gave this eyewitness account of what happened. He said: "From the tapes Ron took a slight lead with Tom second, but with fewer than two yards separating his back wheel from Tom's front. More than a little halfway down the back straight on the third lap, the New Cross skipper touched the fence and fell.

"So close was Tom that there was never the slightest possibility of his avoiding the crash or laying down his machine. Tom and his machine were thrown into the air, and he was flung an incredible distance before falling on his head. It looked from the terraces as if Tom deliberately turned, to try and hit the fallen machine instead of the man.

"You have to remember that Ron and Tom had virtually carried the team for several months; they were, in less than a minute, put out of action at a single blow.�

Both riders were removed from the track and taken to the Miller General Hospital, Greenwich. Tom's wife Audrey was in the crowd and had seen the crash.

Bluey Wilkinson, the fourth rider in that fateful race, had seen it all right in front of him. He said later that he had sensed "something was going to happen" and had deliberately stayed out of the way. Bluey, of course, was also in the following night's Star Final, and may well have decided on a prudent approach to what was, after all, an unimportant race compared with the big night to come. The race was re-run and Speedway News magazine, the leading speedway journal of the day, in its account of the meeting, reported that "Wilkinson finished alone...." His time: 63.8 and Greatrex had pulled out after being filled up.

Ron Johnson escaped serious injury - no broken bones, but he was badly bruised and had severe lacerations to an arm. It was enough to keep him from the next night's Star Final at Wembley. But Tom's injuries were far more serious.

Such was his following that regular bulletins on Tom's condition were posted on the hospital gates. Passing tram and omnibus drivers stopped their vehicles outside so that their passengers could read the notices....

 


How to buy "Tom Farndon: The Greatest Speedway Rider of Them All"

Published February 2010, £14.99 in softback

144 pages with 40 photographs

Order your copy by sending a cheque or postal order for £14.99 (including P+P) to:

Norman Jacobs
101 Farmleigh Avenue
Clacton-on-Sea
CO15 4UL

(make cheque out to Norman Jacobs) or PayPal to normanjacobs@hotmail.com

 

This article was first published on 4th February 2010

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