The Toronto Motordrome - The Only Board Track in the Commonwealth?
While trying to gather information about happenings in British Columbia in 1914 I came across a few news items on a board track speedway in Toronto I'd never heard of. And it doesn't seem to be listed in Allan Brown's speedway history so I don't know if anyone knows much about it at all.
On Victoria Day, 1914, a quarter-mile track was opened near Greenwood Avenue and Queen East, the Toronto Motordrome. There was seating for 7,000 and all seats were taken for that opening night. 1,000 candlepower nitrogen lights were used to have evening races.
The track was built from two by two hardwood boards laid longitudinally, began at the bottom with a 15 degree pitch, twelve feet wide, used for bicycles that ran in conjunction with the motorcycles. The motorcycle track was pitched at 60 degrees and was twenty feed wide. It was often described as a "wall". Above the track proper a wire fence separated the the racers from the specators. It doesn't appear that any racer tried the strength of the fence although a few did get close to losing it up there.
Promoter of the races was a guy named Al Kraemer (or Kreamer depending on who type-set the name back then). He got about ten riders in for the opening race and then proceeded to have them work like dogs for their prize money. Races were held two and three nights a week throughout the summer.
Some of the racers included Australian "Brownie" Carslake, also referred to as the "Viceroy of Velocity", Llloyd "Clean Up" Leonard out of Cleveland, Stanley Joslin - the Texas Cowboy, and a guy name Henikman from Detroit.
The big three were Carslake, Leonard and Henikman but the promoter would try to bring in others to break up their domination. A French driver by the name of Henri Ayrault was one and had the distinction of being the first rider to have a spill at the Motordrome in July.
There had been some close calls before that. in fact the reporting of the racing seemed to note the elbow-to-elbow bumping the riders got involved in. And they were warned to cease and desist from these tactics. Not that it had any effect.
Two dead heats ocured at the track at the distances of two and four miles. One involved Harold Cole of Toronto and Leonard, the other Henikman and Carslake.
Speeds seemed fast with 80mph averages over long distances not uncommon. And the distances increased with the passing of the summer with the opening night sweepstake distance of five miles increasing to a twenty-six mile marathon and then a thirty minute race went nearly 160 laps.
One rider got so dizzy in the race after twenty-five miles he pulled off making it to the paddock before he fainted. Winner Carslake managed to not have to refuel his bike but finished with a blistered right leg from engine heat.
A one hour race went to Stanley Joslin traveling 71 miles 1230 yards. But a hundred mile, 400 laps, has to take the cake. Brownie Carslake won again in 78 minutes.
Prize money for individual races wasn't published but there were a couple of "series races" that had $2,000 up for grabs. Over the series of nights points would be awarded and the top dog would get a grand, doesn't sound too bad for 1914.
The worst accident seems to have been accomplished by Vernon "The Human Bullett" Walker. While practicing up near the wall a tire blew. Walker somersaulted off the bike and ended up in the grass field a hundred feet from where he had started. His bike was 125 yards further down. He only had slight injuries.
When the season seemed about to end in September another promoter took over, G L McKay. He ran a few races, one being another long distance affair won by Carslake. But the most interesting thing he seems to have done was to bring in rider Brigham Young, reportedly the grandson of the Mormon founder. He won a five mile race one evening.
The Toronto Motordrome captured the wire services imagination out on the west coast back in 1914. I don't know if the track was ever used again. The First World War put an end to most racing activity in the west so I imagine the same is true of central Canada. But I've learned that when you least expect it something amazing will happen in the world of motorsport.
I haven't looked at much more other than the 'Globe' of 1914 plus the west coast items and I have no access to any archives in Toronto so this is just a preliminary report on an amazing bit of Canadian motorsport history. One news report out there called the Toronto Motordrome the first board track in the British Empire. I wonder if it was the only one?
Click on the pictures below to see them in a larger size.
This article was first published on 23rd April 2017
"Sorry, but can't see the significant tie up between board racing and speedway. Board racing,to my mind, is a pure speed event focussed on straight line speed. It was probably a very good way for bike manufacturers to showcase the speed and reliability of their machines. Board tracks, saucer tracks and even the banked concrete tracks like those at Aston Villa and Celtic Park of the (pre war UK) are interesting in themselves but not, in my opinion, in a speedway .context.
I find references to events staged at trotting tracks, with their loose surfaces, mostly sand, much more interesting and think these are more significant in the pioneering days for speedway. The motor cycle magazines of the pre-war (W W 1) do gives these events a bit coverage and the odd photos often appear to show a shower of material being thrown up by the back wheels. would love to hear of any of events like this you come across in your researches Brian. Despite my comments re board tracks, do keep up the good original research work."
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