Words: Andrew McHugh // Pics: Chipps
One of the abiding memories of my childhood in the early 70’s was Saturday nights with my dad at Belle Vue Speedway watching the Aces. The smell of the methanol fuel, cinder dust and fried onions. The scream of the bikes and the sting on your face from flying grit.
The Scenic Railway roller coaster in the fun fair high above and behind the stand on the far side of the track.
And then there were the riders. Peter Collins, Chris Morton and… their nemesis. A rider who had been at the Aces in the late 60’s but was now at Exeter. A rider who was better than Collins. A rider with a cool first name and an even cooler last name (his middle name is Gerald, so well skip over that).
Which brings me to a damp evening at Astley and Tyldesley Miners Welfare Club some 40 odd years later, where tonight Matthew, I’m Ivan Mauger!
Well, actually I’m not. I’m Andrew and I’m on a pedal bike. But when I nose my front wheel up to the tapes and wait the longest 2 to 5 seconds of my life I feel like the great man himself.
The concept is simple. 4 riders do 4 laps of an oval cinder track about 90m in length. First one across the line wins. That’s about it. There are no rules apart from not being allowed to kick each other, but other than that pretty much anything goes. The bikes are simple too. Single speed with a free hub, flat block pedals, very narrow bars and no brakes. 16 riders doing 5 races each with points ranging from 4 for a win to 1 for last. You get 0 if you don’t finish because you are dead.
The racing is close. A little too close at times which tended to result in at least one rider high-siding it off into the dirt or the fence. At the end of the night we were all putting in times that were comparable with the elite level* with races being over and done with in about 48 seconds. But those frantic 48 seconds would leave you blowing out of your arse, much like the Joey Holts bitter on sale in the clubhouse.
To add to the overall experience we were all wearing numbered bibs which meant that there was live commentary / mickey taking over the PA intercut with RUN DMC tunes banging out. And when the flood lights came on it was just like being back at Belle Vue in 1975 with my dad, but on the other side of the fence.
Can’t wait to do it again.