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Book Review: Speedway Superheroes

Speedway historian John Chaplin has teamed up with John Somerville to put together this new hardbook book which should prove a popular gift this Christmas. Chaplin is acknowledged as one of the sport's premier writers of historical prose and Somerville owns (by far) the world's largest collection of speedway photographs.

Chaplin provides the words throughout the 160 pages of this book and Somerville has raided his photographic archive to illustrate virtually every page. The result is a highly impressive publication, printed on shiny paper to ensure the photos are reproduced to as high a standard as possible.

The book is spilt into 37 different chapters, each celebrating a different speedway personality or aspect of the sport's history. Ken Le Breton, Bluey Wilkinson and Vic Duggan are just some of the stars to feature - their careers being covered in broad strokes rather than minute detail, making this book the ideal introduction to these legendary riders.

Other chapters look at the sport's reign at Wembley, starting gates, rattles and even Sex at the Speedway. This wide range of articles make this an ideal book to dip and out of, there's no central narrative that dictates it must be read from cover to cover.

Chaplin's writing is very readable, inclusive and not reliant on the reader bringing a detailed understanding of the subject matter. It's a book very firmly rooted in the past - a chapter on Ivan Mauger being the most significant incursion into what might be termed the modern era. Perhaps a follow up that delves into tales from the sport's more recent history could be an idea for some future xmas?

Some of the chapters return to well-worn stories that Chaplin and others have written about previously - The Ghost Race and Rocket Bikes in particular standing out as tales that have been oft repeated in various publications over the year. One suspects the target market for this book is the wider speedway public rather than speedway historians in particular. It's more a collection of Chaplin's best work rather than a piece that will shed significant new light on the sport's history.

Even without the words, this book would still be worth a look just for the magnificent collection of photographs littered throughout. Many of these are seen here for the first time in many years and it must have been a real labour of love to find and select those to make the final cut.

This is a book that would be equally at home on either the coffee table or the bookshelf. With a cover price of £19.99 it's not the cheapest speedway book available but the quality of the production is probably unsurpassed.

It can be ordered direct from the publisher at Halsgrove.com or from Amazon.co.uk

For a sample page and further details look at this pdf.


This article was first published on 12th November 2012


  • Dudley Jones:

    "I recently received my copy of 'Speedway Superheroes'. An excellent book, it seems to transport me back to an earlier time (long before I first saw speedway). Talking of transport another of my enduring interests is old aircraft. I read 'FlyPast' magazine each month. What is the link? Well, one item is about Lionel Van Praag and his flying career. Co-incidentally FlyPast focussed this month on the Lockheed Hudson bomber/Coastal Command plane from World War 2. It mentions that the example preserved at the RAF Museum, Hendon was delivered to the UK by one Lionel Van Praag. The magazine makes no mention of the fact that Lionel was also World Champion before the war. Happily 'Speedway Superheroes' shows Van Praag in an aeroplane - a Lockheed Hudson, probably the same one that is now restored at Hendon. Small world."

  • Ian Hawkins:

    "The Hudson was originally flown to Sir william Robert's Aircraft Collection at Strathallan in Perthshire. Lionel van Praag's name was listed as part of the display but with no mention of his speedway connection. It would have moved when the Strathallan Collection was sold at auction. I still have the auction catalogue somewhere. Pleased that this link between speedway and aviation has found a suitable home.

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