Women Riders involved in Speedway, Grasstrack and Motocross, etc, Past and Present

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At first I intended to have one page on women riders of the past, but then I found too much information!  So this page deals with women involved in motocross (scrambling), grasstrack and speedway. Much of this page is the result of research carried out by Frances Popley for the Womens International Motorcycle Association's Pearl Jubilee booklet in 1980.

Amazingly there were plenty of women competing in the twenties. In 1928 Australian promoters brought 'dirt track racing' or 'broadsiding' to England, later to become known as speedway. One of the first tracks to be built in this country was at Crystal Palace.

Fay Taylour describes what happened when she decided to have a go. "I bought a helmet so that I could mingle with the English boys at the next Crystal Palace practise session. I was discovered buying the helmet by Lionel Wills. I told him my plan, expecting to be laughed at, but he said that the track was where he raced and that he would drive me there. The boys practising already were too busy falling off and trying to get the hang of the new racing to notice me, but when the promoter, Freddie Mockford, came along and yelled for 'that lad' to be called in or the track would never be ready for racing the next day, he had a shock when I, the last rider left on the track, fell off and then removed my helmet for a moment. 'Why don't you book her to race?' Lionel queried, adding that all the other promoters were booking me. Whether that fib helped or not I'll never know, but after first scorning me he ran after me as I was disappointedly descending the terrace, having washed the cinder dust off my face for the first and last time, as I thought. 'Would you like to race here a week tomorrow?' he asked. Would I! But I tried to sound casual as I agreed. 'You can practice all next week,' he told me. All that next week in a heatwave I slogged round that track till at last, after tumble after tumble, I'd taught myself to powerslide, to keep the throttle open and stay on the machine. The night before racing I was going like an expert. Fay Taylour 1929
Fay at Crystal Palace in 1929
Fay and Eva
Fay and Eva Asquith
But alas! The track was very different the next day when my race was. Although the surface looked smooth as the big rake circled it before we we lined up, the deep ruts from the previous races were still there, and my heavy 500cc Rudge, unlike the special light machines that the Australians used, was hard to handle. The races were four laps and I hung on for three and three quarters, then while out in front and not far from the finish, I went head over heels on that last bend! The following week I did the same thing. Freddie Mockford booked me once more saying 'if you fall off this time ... finish!' But this time Lionel lent me his light dirt track special and I stayed on.

I was then booked for Hove, near Brighton, where I defeated the local champion. From then on I never looked back. I went north and in Middlesbrough, Salford and Liverpool my press cuttings record many wins. I was called The Queen of Speedways and often billed as the only girl dirt track rider. But in the North I was matched against another girl rider, Eva Asquith. Giving her a good start I was able to win. She did not powerslide the bends in the streamlined fashion as was the method then. Instead of throwing the bike wide into the turn, she rode round the inside with bent knee. Three or four weomen made some rides on the speedways in those early days but did not prove fast enough to be spectacular.

It was so thrilling to new audiences that the tracks were packed just to see the Australians and a few Americans, do demonstration rides and match races. Even Royalty attended! Team racing had not yet started. Press cuttings record that I drew record crowds, and still did when spectators lessened. When that first season ended in England, the Australian riders returned to their country. Their summer and racing season was just staring. 'I'd like to see Australia!' was a thought that came into my head, and before long I found myself on a ship heading that way, complete with speedway bike, though I only hoped I might be permitted to do demonstration rides. I felt I needed a great deal more riding to go as fast as I'd like. Unlike the boys who raced in every event more than once a week, I was confined to match racing mostly, and could not race at many tracks, so I felt very much a beginner still and not too safe in spite of the many good performances I'd managed to make.
I landed in West Australia. The tall gum trees and wide open spaces were a dream land. Not so dreamy was the terrifying prospect laid before me of racing the West Australia Champion, Sig Schlamm, on his home track, the famous Calermont speedway. There was no-one else to prove an England versus Australia race. I was the only rider from the British tracks who had made the trip. It was January 1929. English riders came out the following season but now it was up to me ... and how ridiculous I thought. The speedway paper had said that everyone was waiting to see who could beat the canny Schlamm who appeared unbeatable. He held the record which had stood for over a year. It was a half mile track, twice as large as I'd been riding on. Although I'd brought the latest fast speedway bike from England, he had exactly the same model, for he had been one of the racers in England. Perhaps being scared is an advantage! I won that race. The official who drove me to the track said he didn't think I could win and that speedway fans would have their stopwatches to check it wasn't a fix. It turned out that I had equalled the long-standing record and had made the fastest time of the meeting. In Melbourne, I broke two records, defeated the champion and won two races. In Adelaide, a fast third -mile track, I broke the season's four-lap record and defeated two top riders. But in Sydney I broke myself and woke up in hospital! Fay in Munich 1930
Fay in Munich in 1930
Fay racing
Fay and unknown other
I went on to New Zealand, first going to Wellington. I won two races but crashed on the third and a doctor was called in the middle of the night to stitch up a finger on my right hand. General Motors provided a white Chevrolet so I travelled by car. I was entertained with the Australian tennis team who seemed to be touring the same route so we watched each other perform, and sometimes two or three would travel with me while we chased the train with their fellow members on board to the next city. I don't know if speedway racing had been established as long in New Zealand as in Australia but I managed to defeat some of their top riders. Admiral Byrd who had just flown over the South Pole, was on a small ship taking me back to Wellington. The Captain gave a party for us both and I was pleasantly surprised to meet a handsome man in his thirties instead of the bearded old seafarer I'd expected!
Back in London, the astute promoter Johnnie Hoskins, now running the Wembley speedway, entered me for the Cinders Trophy, a contest to break the lap record, representing Ireland where I had been born. It was a stunt to draw the crowds. The track seemed strange and tricky, so I think I was more surprised than pleased when I broke the record and circled the track with my trophy.

I made another trip to Australia and New Zealand, a few more rides in England, and then promoters, finding their crowds dwindling and searching for ways to get extra publicity, decided to stage a women's race and then announce a ban on women riders. Apart from the northern girl, Eva Asquith, the few women riders whom some promoters had used occasionally were too slow to interest spectators, and it was a race between such riders that was now staged as a forerunner to the ban announcement. Conveniently one rider fell on the approach ramp before reaching the track and broke a collar bone. Next morning came the big announcment: women banned from speedway racing. It gave the promoters headlines. They'd put women on the tracks to get publicity, and now they were banning them for the same purpose.

I was on my way back from Australia at the time, and when I arrived a friendly promoter said 'I'm sorry, girlie, but it means you too.' His offer of a free ticket to watch the racing was galling. I was permitted one last race, this time at Southampton against the northern girl, Eva Asquith. Press cuttings record that I won easily in a faster time than that recorded by many of the men heat winners. I came within a split second of the overall record. I was sad that I couldn't have a second ride there for I felt I could then reduce that split second.

As well as Eva Asquith mentioned by Fay above, Dot Dawson (nee Cowley) was another speedway competitor. Speedway kept it's ban on women until near the end of the century. When the ban was lifted, Julie Cross, sister of speedway rider Simon, who had been competing in grasstrack, and Maxine Hill, a junior rider, were the first two females to take to the speedway track.

Edith Foley took part in scrambles and trials (possibly on the same machine). In 1927 she was riding a 500 Triumph.

Allyson Mead wrote: "I was first intrduced to bikes and scrambling at about the age of eight. My dad was Lofty Lucas, the commentator, so he went around the pits asking the riders things like what they did for a living, how long they had ridden, etc. I used to have the job of collecting the results from the lapscorers, adding the riders' names and taking them to Dad. Then I started to take an interest in the riders more than their bikes. One in particular caught my eye. Plucking up the courage to say hello without Dad was a different matter altogether. In the end the family dog helped by sort of pulling me in the right direction! I apologised and said hello and that was that until a couple of months later at the Sidcup dinner and dance. We met, talked and danced. I hadn't even known his name until then but we started seeing each other more often than at scrambles and the name Terry appeared all over my school books (I was fifteen and a half then).

Marriage followed a two year engagement. All the time Terry continued racing despite parents' comments about having to give it up because of responsibilities. Three children followed and racing continued. Terry was making his own chassis by now and also dabbling in sidecars. He had problems getting a passenger. Now was my chance but no, the children were too young to leave while we both raced. Then an old friend of Terry's said he would give it a go. We went of to Aveley practice track. The friend lasted two laps - he wasn't very keen on the idea any more! I asked if I could have a go. That was it! The friend looked after the children for the rest of the day while I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Problem was that I had to wait about a year till I had another go as Terry went back to solo racing. Then we built an outfit for a customer who couldn't pay. The children were older so we decided to give it a go and entered the scramble at Brighton in September 1989. We crashed in practice and I broke my writst. We went practising quite a lot throught he 1990 season and entered the Bill Turner Memorial meeting. We did well and enjoyed it. The children didn't mind (just as well!) so we entered as much as we could the next season.

I can't say it was easy. I had thought I was fit but you discover muscles you didn't know you had. Blisters and bruises were also a common problem but after a few meetings I learnt what not to do and how to use the holes and bumps to help me move from one side of the outfit to the other. I fell off a few times but nothing too serious. Parents tried to persuade us to give up but I enjoyed it and the children said 'carry on' so I did. The outfit had been updated a few times when we decided to build a new modern (single shock, etc) outfit. We only used it a couple of times in the 1993 season as the Bill Turner meeting was in August that year. We do the pre-85 class. We had a very good day: three good but very dusty races. Then we decided to ride in the handicap race. All went well for a couple of laps then we had a collison with someone trying to overtake us. I can't clearly remember much until that Monday night when I realise I was in hospital. I had a few breaks and internal injuries. I know it will sound mad but I never gave a thought to stopping racing. Both sets of parents tried really hard to talk us into packing up. Being a very stubborn person I wanted to prove everyone wrong who said 'you can't do that again.' I wasn't too sure if I really wanted to do it again when we were waiting to go out in the practice session of our first meeting of 1994, but after two laps I shouted to Terry that everything was fine and he stopped worrying about me and concentrated on the job in hand. We had our best season yet.

We may not be as good as some, or in the top 30, but we have a very reliable bike (shouldn't tempt fate by saying that!) and normally finish a race in a good position. Above all we enjoy it. When I stop enjoying myself then will be the time to stop. I still have problems with the injuries I had but I shall continue all the time I can. Our eldest one Michael has now started to race also. He has been passengering but wants to drive. Our middle son Dan is itching to start. He wants to passenger Mick on his outfit. As for Sue our daughter she wants to passenger but might also become a female driver. She has a few years till she is old enough.

Paul and Sue in an enduro
At the end of the 1994 season, Sue Kemp wrote: "It all started at the end of 1989 for me. I had been swimming competitively for around fifteen years and it was time to move on to something different. And something different it was! I met up with my boyfriend and driver, Paul Pelling, at the beginning of 1989. He was riding enduros quite a lot as a solo rider both locally and nationally. Unfortunately after purchasing a new motorcycle he seemed to have nothing but problems which rather disillusioned him for the season. Paul also went trail riding quite a lot with the Trail Riders Fellowship. He either rode solo or on occasions took out his mate's sidecar, a Honda XL500 with chair. This resembled a trials outfit more than a motocross one. As I didn't have a motorcycle at the time Paul asked me to have a go passengering him: I didn't hesitate to say yes. There was an instant attraction to this. It was hard work but at the same time bundles of fun. We went out quite a few times decided that we worked well as a team and Paul suggested if I was interested, we could do an enduro. Paul sold his solo and a couple of weeks before the Tim Ward Enduro purchased a motocross outfit and converted it to enduro trim with lights, horn, etc. We went out on it the week before the enduro and it took me a while to get used to the different positions on the chair after being confined to the limited space on the trials outfit. We had a couple of hours practice and that was it before the big event.

Our first enduro was quite successful despite not finishing. I was pleased that I lasted for three hours on what was quite a tricky and tiring course. We were a little out of control in places and were seen upside down many a time by passing riders! A lot of people that I knew at the motorcycle club thought that I was mad to go on an outfit with Paul as he did have a reputation of being quite a madman when he was racing. But I didn't feel unsafe as I have bags of confidence in him and still do now. Paul is a natural at sidecarring and I believe I had the best start possible in this sport.

We improved a lot in a short space of time and by December 1989 we had won our first enduro, the clubman class at a Southern Centre event. What made it memorable was the fact that we also beat the expert class winner as we completed all the laps and the best expert didn't! From that event onwards we became one of the top crews in the Southern Centre. But our biggest achievement in the first full year was our national title when we won the British Sidecar Clubman Championship by quite some margin. Quite a few of the events were six to eight hours long and I feel that my swimming training in previous years helped me immensely with my stamina and fitness.

In 1994 we were upgraded to the Top 30 which caused quite a stir with the men! Motocross has been hard work for me. I believe you need to be that little bit stronger than for enduros. In the first Championship round we were sixth overall. I was glad that I was proving that women can compete at this level and hope that it encouraged others to start competing. But I know that I was probably lucky in having the perfect start with Paul. But 1994 turned sour when we had an accident in our first international in France. On the penultimate lap of the last race our chain snapped going up a steep hill. Unfortunately I came down backwards with the outfit and was showing a badly swollen foot within seconds. We still finished 14th overall though. On arrival back to this country my foot was all colours under the sun and although it wasn't broken the hospital said it would have been better if it was. This kept me out for six weeks. The next motocross I rode in I could only compete in two races as it was too painful. A slow recovery followed. After some more rest we took part in another international in Italy. Again through no fault of our own, in the practice session we had one massive crash off one very steep drop-off. This was caused this time by a tyre laying in the middle of the landing area and it tipped the outfit over and we both tumbled down the hill. Paul damaged his ankle and I hurt my shoulder and twisted my back. Needless to say we didn't last too long in the racing the next day but we had to give it a try. Interesting though, at the same meeting, there was the Ladies Italian Motocross Championship races. Some of them were moving a bit quick and there were plenty of them. In November when the wounds were better we took part in the Natterjack Enduro with teams over from Germany. This we won and the season ended a little better for us, although we then blew our engine up at Weston Beach Race." Sue is the only woman to have passengered in a World Championship Qualifying Round. She is still involved in practice and training days.


© Marianne Walford