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Protection of the
Speedway Riders’ heads

No speedway rider would be complete these days without their helmet being manufactured to the BS 6658 standard and sporting an ACU Gold sticker;[info here [1] these helmets are checked at every meeting by the machine examiner and also following any accident but it has not always been thus. At the beginning of speedway in the UK riders would wear the head protection that they wore on the road and in many cases they used the same bike, just stripped down a little for the track and then reconstructed for the journey home, the helmets although in some cases a leather flying helmet most riders had a helmet that resembled an inverted pudding basin and there always seemed to be plenty of air space at the top as seen in the image on the right, the rider is Jack Barnett. There has to be some doubt about the suitability of some of these helmets for use on the track and indeed their ability to perform anywhere except to the lowest standards.

Bert Harkins writes:   

“In the early days after World War 2, and on into the late 40s and early 50s and right through to the ‘60s, all speedway riders wore open faced “Pudding Basin” helmets with leather sides and many of the helmets were  ex-DR (Despatch Rider) helmets from the Army. A few riders such as Tommy Price and Tommy Miller wore them without peaks but most riders used a small peak to keep the dirt and the dazzle of sunshine daytime meetings from their goggles.

British helmet companies such as Cromwell, Stadium and Kangol manufactured open face helmets and these were used extensively in all forms of motorcycle sport from Speedway to TT Racing and Moto Cross (then called, ‘Scrambles’). Later, a screw-on plastic faceguard could be added to the helmet for extra protection against flying stones & dirt.

Speedway riders used Army surplus “Gas Goggles”, plastic goggles with two pop studs which shaped the goggles onto the rider’s face. Some riders used a Gas Goggle over their peak to act as an early type of Tear-Off lens which could be discarded when a rider got “filled in”. Riders used either a scarf or a home-made leather mask to protect their faces from the flying shale although some early riders such as leg-trailer, Oliver Hart of Bradford, rode without any face protection at all!

Gas goggles were used right up to the late ‘60s and ‘70s (Ove Fundin often wore dark tinted ones to combat the low sun at the end of the Norwich straights) and then the “Monkey Mask”, a panoramic goggle with clip-on soft face mask took over for most riders. (but not Ove!). Later goggles were the Ski-type ones such as Scott USA and they could be fitted with a clip-on plastic faceguard or a shorter “Beak” which covered the nose.

Meanwhile, helmets were developing in technology and the America-made Fibreglass Bell Star became the first full face helmet to be used in Speedway in the early ‘70s. Full face helmets took a long time to be accepted with UK Speedway riders although stars such as Barry Briggs wore early examples of this helmet. Many riders thought that the full face helmet, although giving more protection to the face, raised the possibility of neck injuries if the rider’s head got knocked backwards in the event of a crash. Later models were cut away higher at the back of the head to prevent this happening.  

The original Bell Star was heavier than the Carbon/Kevlar helmets of today and many riders found them too claustrophobic after using open face helmets for so many years. Bell also made the open face RT and Magnum models with different size and shape peaks so riders had a wide choice. The California Long Beach-made helmets tended to be pricier than their UK equivalents but Bell had the higher Snell [info here [2] standard on all their helmets. To quote the clever Bell advert of the day,………………”If You Have A Ten Dollar Head, Buy A Ten Dollar Helmet,….If Not, Buy A Bell!” More riders switched to Bell when the Moto Star and later Moto3 and Moto4 models came out in the 70s and remained popular for many years.

Nowadays, almost every rider in Speedway uses a full face helmet and Scott-style Motocross goggles and the choice of makes and styles of helmets and goggles are much, much higher so everyone can have a size and style which suits them.

So Speedway helmets have come a long way from the leather “flying helmets” of the early pioneer days, through “Pudding Basin” helmets, Open Face fibreglass helmets and on to the present high-tech Carbon/Kevlar helmets of today.  Progress and Technology, making Speedway safer,”

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