Out of the Frying Pan
The Story of New Cross Speedway
By Norman Jacobs
Published by The History Press Ltd
In 1928 two men, Fred Mockford and Cecil Smith, operating as London Motor Sports Ltd, introduced speedway racing to Crystal Palace. Path racing was an immediate draw to the general public who initially flooded to the track to witness the likes of Triss Sharp and Joe Francis hurtling around the track in the flesh. However, following disagreements with the Trustees of the Crystal Palace itself, Mockford and Smith found it necessary to relocate the team to the greyhound track at New Cross. Thus speedway had its home at New Cross for nearly thirty years and enjoyed a tumultuous but successful existence in all. The American rider, Jack Milne, was triumphant in the Speedway World Championship in 1937, and resides in the New Cross annals along with Johnnie Hoskins, George Newton, Tom Farndon, Ron Johnson and the Roger brothers -
From the South London Press, Friday, July 4, 2008. By John Hyam
I FELL in love for the first time on Wednesday, April 17, 1946.
Not with a glamourous girl but a whirlwind motorcycle sport. And we are still together after all these years. That night I saw speedway for the first time and its magic has stayed with me ever since.
I was 13 years old and knew so little about the sport that when I saw the riders leaving the pits for the first race parade, I thought they were racing. That changed in less than a minute when they lined up on the starting grid. The track lights dimmed, the tapes rose and four temporarily stationary gladiators roared into the first bend, spewing cinders as they broadsided the turn.
Ron Johnson, one of the great names of New Cross, and his partner Phil Bishop took a 5-
But my searing memory of the meeting was when announcer Cecil Smith gave the time of a scratch race as "Clickety-
For more than 60 years, I believed the race winner was Mick Mitchell, who away from the track was a school caretaker in Lewisham. Recently, I found out that Mitchell was not in that race -
For the next 17 years, New Cross speedway was a major part of my life. I was horrified when they closed in 1953 after promoter Fred Mockford was refused permission to sign the Swedish star Olle Nygren to strengthen the Rangers. Six years later, speedway was back at New Cross.
After a handful of open meetings in 1959, they raced for two seasons in the National League. The winter of 1961-
Sadly, the new venture failed to catch on with fans, and the track folded for the last time on August 2, when they lost 41-
The last team to wear the New Cross colours included established lower-
And, good as they were at this level, older fans with memories of top international aces like Johnson, Jack Milne, Cyril and Bert Roger, Barry Briggs, Tommy Farndon & Co failed to accept a lower form of racing. They wanted the very best.
And, as leading speedway historian Norman Jacobs recalls in his latest book, the Rangers had their fair share of speedway's greatest names. Originally, the first promoters, Freddie Mockford and Cecil Smith, had promoted at Crystal Palace. However, in 1933 they had a disagreement with the trustees of the Palace over the rent. So they went into an agreement to introduce speedway at the then newly-
Jacobs neatly compartmentalises the New Cross story into four sections: (1) How it started; (2) The 1930s; (3) Post-
While in pre-
On the third lap, Johnson hit the safety fence on the back straight. Farndon, who was close behind, hit his team-
The hospital was besieged by hundreds of people waiting for news. Regular bulletins about his condition were posted on the hospital gates and bus and tram drivers stopped their vehicles so that passengers could read about Farnon. The rider died two days later without regaining consciousness. Many fans outside the hospital collapsed with grief and were given medical attention. At the time of his funeral, thousands lined the route.
The book is given the title “Out Of The Frying Pan” because of the size of the original track, just 262 yards and nearly circular. It provided extremely exciting racing with riders virtually in a continous broadside. Probabably the most spectacular exponent of broadsiding was legtrailer George Newton.
His career was halted in 1938 when he suffered a serious chest infection and had a lung removed. Ten years later, Newton was back with New Cross, but just as he was finding his pre-
New Cross gave speedway its second world champion when American ace Jack Milne won the title in 1937. The team won the National League championship in 1938 and repeated the feat 10 years later.
The book also deals with the career of Johnson, the charismatic Australian who played such a major role in cementing the golden years of the Rangers. His career was of the highest calibre until a crash at Wimbledon on August 1 1949 when he fractured his skull. After that, he struggled to live up to his colourful reputation as one of the sport's all-
In 1951, Johnson returned to Australia, and after a successful comeback was briefly with West Ham in 1955, then needed the help of friends and supporters to pay his fare home. After New Cross reopened in 1959, the following season Johnson made another comeback but was outclassed even in junior events.
In 1963, when the Rangers reopened in the Provincial League, then 54 years old, Johnson was back for another trial but failed to make the team. He made his last appearance at New Cross on May 14 when he beat Phil Bishop 2-
This book is packed with anecdotes, records, and stories of the greatest names to grace speedway in an era when it was rated among the highest attended sports in Britain. Out Of The Frying Pan covers the history of New Cross in depth, outlining great team and individual performances, as well as revealing the roles of the promoters in maintaining the sport at a renowned speedway venue.