The Speedway Track at Alphington
When Exeter Speedway started up again after the Second World War the County Ground was unavailable for speedway so a temporary track was constructed on land just off Alphin Brook Lane. The track, which was completed in about a fortnight was a circuit of 250 yards covered with dry cinder. It was built by Bill Eastwood. The Exeter Speedway Motor Club, the promoting company, was threatened with a 'ploughing up' order from the War Agriculture Committee, as it was officially wartime with England still at war with Japan. Fortunately, this was averted but any more work on the track was forbidden.
Due to the wartime shortages the safety fence around the track was constructed from the soil and turf that was taken from the track's surface during its preparation. There were few facilities for the spectators but some seats could be bought for 4/6d this was the top admission charge, with the Alphin Brook providing washing facilities for the riders. As you might expect there were no electric starting gates.
The first meeting took place on Thursday 5th July 1945. The racing started at 7pm and was scheduled to finish before 8:30pm. Because of petrol rationing the last bus to the City Centre left at 8:30pm, if you missed that one you walked home! Double summer time made up for the fact that there were no floodlights available, once again because of wartime shortages. Ron Johnson won all his heats except for his fourth when his bike reared up at the start and he fell. In his final heat he set the trace record at 63.2 seconds. The track was extremely dry and clouds of dust were produced during the racing. There were no hose pipes or other equipment available to water the track and even the National Fire Service could not bring a pump with which to obtain water from the Alphin Brook. Some of the other riders taking part were Fred Tuck, Mike Erskine, Roy Clarke, Vic Warlock, Bernard 'Bronco' Slade, Reg Robins, Fred Brown, Alex Grey, Art George and Roy Zeak.
A week later on Thursday 12th July 1945 the Pairs Championships were held. Eric Chitty made his first appearance for Exeter. Ron Johnson suffered bike problems and mostly rode Reg Robin's. Bronco Slade took a heavy tumble in his 4th heat and suffered concussion and a broken collarbone. The track record was broken no fewer than five times and finally Oliver Hart set it at 61 seconds in the last heat. During this final heat the 'Fliers Final', Ron Johnson, Bill Kitchen and Oliver Hart were neck and neck for much of the race. Oliver Hart was first and Bill Kitchen second. Other riders at this meeting were Ron Howes who partnered Oliver Hart. Ken Harvey and Frank Lawrence. Ron Howes, Ken Harvey and Frank Lawrence had to travel from London and on their return journey they suddenly realised that they had no back lights on their bike trailer so they 'borrowed' a couple of red oil lamps from some road works to hang on the back!
The following week on Thursday 19th July at the England v. Dominions Challenge Match Oliver Hart set yet another new track record of 58.2 seconds.
The Devon v. The Rest meeting set to be held on 26th July was called off due to heavy rain.
For the second meeting between England and the Dominions, a Return Challenge Match, which took place on Thursday 9th August Colin Watson was persuaded out of retirement. He had retired in 1936 after breaking his leg. At Alphington he achieved a score of 12 points for England helping them well on their way to the 39-12 win. Many of the spectators climbed trees for a better view of the racing.
The penultimate meeting of this short Summer season was the North v. South, which ended in a 39-39 draw.
The final meeting on 16th August was the best ever racing seen at Alphington on several occasions the riders were three abreast. The meeting was the ACU Southern Championships and it attracted a crowd of between 7,000 and 8,000. The furious racing did not come without incident with Colin Watson suffering concussion. In heat 14 Ron Clark and Wally Lloyd collided and Oliver Hart who was following close behind had to take avoiding action. Bill Kitchen took advantage of the situation and nipped through to win the race. In the final heat nothing could separate Bill Kitchen, Eric Chitty and Ron Johnson for three laps. Then Eric Chitty over slid and sent Ron Johnson into the fence, Bill Kitchen raced away to win the championship.
After this meeting the Alphington Speedway Track was never used for public racing again but the Exeter Falcons continued to practice there on Tuesday mornings until the early 1950s.
Copyright © Rowena Kirkpatrick