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Speedway Strikes and Bans
By Doug Macfarlane

Brisbane 1926

Before a crowd of 35,000, 4 riders went on strike for more money. The management (AJ Hunting) refused their demands and had them escorted from the track

It seems that Jones a rider from the south was promised he could make 70 pounds from the meeting, but on arrival it was discovered only 45 was possible. So with his father, who was his manager, he asked for a match race with Frank Pearce for a sum of 60 pounds to be split 40-20 or 30-30. The management refused the request. He then refused to race in the meeting.

Shortly after a written request for substantially more money was handed in from Charlie Spinks and Frank Pearce, who then refused to ride after a rise of 20 pounds was given, on account that they had given their word to stand by Jones and his fellow rider from the south Leo Melville. According to the management the total demands came to a sum of 240 pounds!! <> In another account all the riders were brought together for a conference and one, Yenson was heard to be arguing with the strikers, but they couldn't be convinced to back down and were even joined by another, Bob Gream also from the south

In an interview Spinks, Pearce and Melville said they were offered money, but wouldn't 'scab' on fellow rider Jones. It seems the crowd were voiciferously behind the strikers and shouted 'scabs' at the others and were booing the announcer and cheered a couple of riders they mistakenly thought were joining the strike

A letter from one of the spectators reads

' Sir- as a spectator of saturday night's upheaval in the Speedway's hitherto well arranged programme. I was one of a crowd of spectators loyal to the local riders, who I see in the mornings paper have been expelled from the track for good. I for one, will not be a spectator again until these boys are re-instated....'

Another wrote

' Sir,- I wish to express my admiration of the speedway riders who went on strike last saturday night. As one who has attended every meeting held and noted the steady increase in the number attending (17,000 to 35,000) I imagine the money receipts must make the thing a huge financial success. I have often thought how ill repaid the riders were for the risks they run in order to give the public a comparatively cheap thrill....'

The management held a meeting on the Monday night with all the riders apart from those banned and gave them a bonus for their loyalty and set out their financial case on all the costs they had to pay out in keeping the speedway running. They also stated that one of the strikers had actually received 4 weeks pay for an injury not involving the speedway. They also announced a rise in prize money for the holder of the Golden Helmet etc. It stated the total prize money would be 300 pounds, which was almost double what the Speedway Royal in Sydney was paying out(160)

Frank Pearce also sent a letter admitting it was a mistake and so the management lifted the ban on him, as did Leo Melville. Charlie Spinks took a while longer as he spent a month riding in Sydney before his return

 

Peace didn't last long in Brisbane and by April 1927 6 of the top riders were yet again on strike. Pearce and Spinks again involved along with Dick Smythe, Jock Hollis, Syd Bayley and Vic Huxley. They were after a new distribution of the prize money. More for the scratch riders, who they stated started at the back in the handicap races and had to go all out to get through the field, taking risks in doing so. 18 riders were on retainers of 10 pounds and 10 shillings. Their idea was that all riders should get a retainer of 5 pounds and the rest of the money given out in prize money.

The managements side was that all riders had the same expenses in looking after their bikes and they wanted to be fair to all. They also said they had a number of riders from the South who were willing to ride, if the 6 wouldn't

There was a few letters to the press including one from Huxley's father denying rumours that his son would ride and break the strike, but he had to miss the next meeting anyway due to military training and by the time A J Hunting wrote a reply to Pearce's 'tirade of abuse' it seems Huxley was no longer on strike and Hunting made public the wages the strikers had earned and Huxley wasn't included and stated Vic was taking the advice of his father and honouring his contract.....

In the meantime Hollis had also returned, but the others were finding employment elsewhere such as Ipswich and Pearce also won the Queensland 10 mile Championship at the Deagon Racecourse and not long after the season was over at the Brisbane track

 

Just about the earliest strike I have found happened at the so called, birth place of the sport, West Maitland in February 1926.

Apparently just as the meeting was supposed to start the riders left the pits and marched over to the secretary's office and demanded more money or they wouldn't ride. "We want 50 pounds or nothing", was their demand. The officials were taken by surprise and also said there was an official way to make a complaint and that none had been made and the prize money was known at the time each rider had agreed to enter the meeting, but as the crowd was waiting, after a debate agreed to up the prize money from the 'agreed 40' to 50 pounds and the bikes started up almost immediately

Just to add Mr Hoskins had left Maitland by this time

 

London 1929

Fines of 2 pounds for assault and 15 pounds for dangerous driving, with costs and his license forfeited, and disqualification from driving for 2 years, were imposed on Ronald Johnson. Evidence was given that Johnson in a sports car, drove at a terrific speed over Serpentine bridge, cutting between two cars which had to apply their brakes violently. In taking a sharp turn Johnson's passenger was thrown out and injured. The evidence stated Johnson became very excited when arrested and kicked the constable!!!

 

The Daily Mail reveals that a strike nearly preceded the 1931 speedway test between England and Australia, the riders demanding the doubling of the fiver which is the usual appearance fee. Despite the hothead's insistence on a strike, wiser counsels prevailed and the matter will be thrashed out at a special meeting of the National Speedway Association, when it is expected that a decision to make the fee for test appearances of 10 pounds, will be reached

 

Lionel van Praag was also involved in a number of controversies. In 1934 he was handed a ban for having a punch up with Norman Parker. Then just after he won the inaugural World Championship he was handed a driving ban, which caused him some problems in 1937 as he had a threatened strike to deal with and had to travel by bus for talks as he was by then a delegate on the Control Board. Seems riders were upset that 4 US riders (Manuel Trujillo, Earl Farrand, Shorty Campbell and Pete Coleman) had come over for a tour. Riders feared losing money and one appearance of the riders in the second half of a meeting at Wimbledon had to be called off. The riders in the end were only able to ride on P​rovincial League tracks or in test meetings

 

Before the first Australia v England test of 1939 in Sydney

Riders were informed that heats were to be run over 4 laps instead of the usual 3. Riders of both teams protested to officials of N.S.W A.C.U, but were told the instructions came from Melbourne and there was nothing they could do. 'Bluey' Wilkinson, the Australian captain stated the additional lap would increase the risk of machine failure. 3 laps produce harder and closer races. Jack Parker, the England captain was also worried about mechanical failure, but stated big meetings like tests had a bearing on what riders could earn from signing contracts and poor performances could cost them.

Riders started the first heat not knowing whether it would be concluded after 3 or 4 heats. In the end they got their way and all heats were run over 3 laps!!!

 

This article was first published on 19th July 2020

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