Crashes, broken arm and a spectator fainting – the opening night of midget car racing in Wales

As Newport speedway prepares to add car racing to its programme for 2012, Andy Weltch looks back at the history of four-wheeled competition in Welsh stadiums.

Cars crashed through the fence, lighting fell close to the spectators, a driver broke his arm, and a spectator fainted with shock.

That was the catalogue of mishaps that heralded the first motor racing on a Welsh speedway track almost 60 years ago.

The track was Cardiff’s Penarth Road Stadium and the occasion was Wales vs England at midget car racing.

Cardiff Dragons riders joined regular touring drivers in these 1,000cc four-wheel-drive racing cars, which proved quite a handful.

While Wales won 32-27, the report in Speedway World suggests the 6,000 fans who came to watch on that October night in 1952 were unimpressed.

But there was plenty to talk about on the way home: England’s “Lofty” Peart made contact with Wales’ Charlie May and was sent smashing through the fence, hitting a lighting stand and breaking his arm.

Later, Peart’s substitute, Trevor Evans, went through the fence at the same point, and brought the lighting down inches from spectators.

Evans was reportedly thrown clear (no seat belts in those days) and was unhurt, despite landing on his head, while a woman in the crowd fainted with shock.

It may sound like an entertaining night, but the stadium managers who had to pay for the damage apparently thought otherwise, for the Midgets never returned.

By 1954, when stock car racing arrived in Britain – from the USA, via France and Belgium – Cardiff speedway had closed, but the aborted speedway track project at Neath Abbey was hastily completed for this new boom sport, and in 1955 the track hosted 16 meetings.

In those days, stock cars were large saloon cars – mainly American imports – with big engines and big bumpers. Unlike the midgets, contact was a legitimate part of the action.

Top drivers from across Britain used to race at Neath, among them a certain Bernard Ecclestone, described in the programme as a “famous formula 3 racing motorist” and now better known as Formula 1 supremo Bernie.

The sport was hugely popular for a while, but the bubble soon burst and the cars left the Welsh speedways again.

In the 1960s, Newport had become Wales’ premier speedway town, and Somerton Park held at least two meetings featuring four-wheeled racers.

In June 1964, kart racing was added to the Wasps  vs Weymouth speedway fixture, earning the meeting the tag “Cavalcade of Sport”.

Two years later, in September 1966, the midgets were back in Wales for a meeting dubbed a “Cavalcade of Thrills” and also featuring speedway, sidecars and scrambling.

The midgets were actually billed as “speedcars” but, according to the South Wales Argus report at the time, local speedway fans were again unimpressed and gave the cars, which had recently toured the continent, “a cool reception”.

“The biggest impact of the three races was made on the safety fence,” wrote Leslie James in the following night’s Argus, also reporting how a spectator was drenched in water “presumably from the car’s cooling system” – though that would, presumably, have been scorching hot.

These speedcars, run by renowned speedway and stock car promoter Mike Parker, never returned. But Parker returned to Wales– promoting stock cars at Prestatyn in 1969.

The North Wales track hosted six meetings for the unlimited-engined formula 1 stock cars and three for the smaller formula 2 cars, as well as races for hell drivers.

The meetings attracted the sport’s top stars of the day, but local opposition ensured the cars lasted only a single season.

Wales has long been a hotbed for grass-track racing and there have been races for various stock car and hot rod classes at the circuits at Pembrey and Llandow in the past couple of decades, but stadiums have missed out on four-wheel action.

Now Newport is set to see the return of car racing to a Welsh speedway venue for the first time since the 1960s.

Fasten your seat belts – history suggests it will be eventful!

This is a version of a feature by Andy Weltch, senior consultant at Weltch Media, published in the South Wales Argus on December 24, 2011.

This entry was posted in Historic motor sport, Motor sport, Oval racing, Speedway, Sport and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Crashes, broken arm and a spectator fainting – the opening night of midget car racing in Wales

  1. peter says:

    Fascinating

  2. Pingback: Oval track racing – motor sport’s best-kept secret | Weltchmedia's Blog

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