FAREWELL TO THE CLAREMONT SPEEDWAY By Ken Brown
It is hard to believe that the Claremont Speedway has gone the same way as the Sydney Speedway Royale and the Brisbane Exhibition Ground.
The 'Big Three' Showground tracks all started within a couple of years of each other back in the 1920s and all played a big part in the long history of dirt-track motorcycle racing in this country.
Now around four years after the closure of the famed Sydney Showground the west coast Claremont Speedway has switched off the lights for the very last time.
John S Hoskins came out west after a brief stint at the Sydney Showgrounds and was in charge for the very first 1927-28 season at Claremont. Two daylight meetings were held on May 14 and May 28, 1927. A report of the day stated that the last dray-load of ashes was laid at 2:29pm and the first race commenced at 2:30pm.
For the record - the handicap final winners at the daytime shows were two riders who were to dominate that initial season of competition - in Sig Schlam and the great Ron Johnson.
The opening meet also saw the Silver Gauntlet won by Harry "Cannonball" Baker with Ron Duke successful in the Silver Sash a fortnight later.
Following the installation of a lighting system the first nighttime show at Claremont was held on Saturday September 10, 1927 and attracted a huge crowd to the Showgrounds.
The following newspaper reports from that era help us recall those far-off times
THE WEST AUSTRALIAN, Thursday September 1, 1927
Expensive Lighting Scheme
On Saturday week the public of Perth will be introduced to a new sport - motor cycle racing under electric light. Some months ago a cinder track was laid down on the Claremont Showgrounds and Saturday afternoon meetings were held with success. Next Saturday evening's meeting is to be the first of a series of weekly events and elaborate precautions have been made to ensure success.
To install the electric lighting system complete for the grand opening will have cost only a few pounds under 2,000. The track lighting alone will take 70,000 candlepower, and there will be lights along all roadways, in the grandstands and other buildings, besides the parking area. A transformer sufficient for the needs of the show, as well as the speedway, has been erected, and about 40 electricians and wiremen are hard at work preparing everything for a trial night early next week.
The scheme adopted is the same as that in use at the Royal Agricultural Society's grounds in Sydney, and at the Cessnock and Maitland Speedways in New South Wales. It should be possible to see clearly the colours of all riders all the time, and as there will be a white background the riders should show up as on a moving picture screen.
For the opening meeting on September 10, the management has secured the services of Charlie Datsun, one of Australia's best known motor cyclists, whose practice runs have caused a great deal of comment. He rushes the corners as if going straight into the fence, and then with a twist of the wrist he seems to throw his machine into a broadslide and takes the corners as fast as he rides the straights. He seems to make a square of the track. Datsun is matched against the spectacular Western Australian Champion, Stan Catlett, who besides holding the local track record, has won races in Adelaide.
Another visiting rider is Jock Anderson, from New South Wales, who has ridden for the last two seasons, mostly in Newcastle. His best performance was a second to Brinck, the famous American who later met with a fatal accident at Penrith Speedway. Anderson will be riding in all events and his presence should add interest to the scratch race.
The Silver Gauntlet will be competed for again, and there will be a large number of competitors. Many of them have been practising assiduously and are showing great improvement. The trophy at present is held by Harry F Baker, who will defend his title if he should be sufficiently recovered from a foot injury sustained at his work.
It is difficult to say yet who will be the selected riders for the Silver Gauntlet event, but judging by performances on the training track it would appear that the selection will be from Datsun (NSW), Anderson (NSW), Catlett, Schlam, Kinnear, Duke, Coleman, Chick, Johnson, Wilson, Tchan and Medcalf. The selection will be in the hands of the newly appointed handicapper, Mr L Rogers, who has been watching and timing the practice runs.
The first event will commence at 8 o'clock and the programme should be concluded by 10:15. Special tram and train arrangements are being made and a varied programme of motor cycling, sidecar and novelty events should provide a good evening's sport.
The West Australian - Saturday September 10, 1927
GRAND OPENING TONIGHT AT 8
C DATSUN, WORLD'S RECORD HOLDER IN GAUNTLET
THRILLING SIDECAR ACTION
SEE THE RECORD BREAKING CHRYSLER CAR
Speed Thrills Brass Band Fun
Admission: 2 shillings Children sixpence
Grandstand 1 shilling
Gates Open 6:30
THE DAILY NEWS, Tuesday September 13, 1927
SATURDAY NIGHT'S OPENING
A pall of blue smoke rising from a little knot of machines and men; a tense, silent crowd of huge proportions that lined a circular ring of light; the distant throbbing of motor cycle engines; a waved flag; a cry of "they're off"; and half a dozen motor cycles, ridden by an equal number of daring young men, each carrying a distinctive jacket, jump into top speed around the speedway to the sound of machine gun fire. A couple of hundred yards and they were going at breakneck speed. Thrills!
When the gentle throb of the engines broke into a roar at the commencement of each race, each of the 15,000 people at the Claremont Speedway on Saturday evening instinctively stood up. Every time the riders - who frequently were cheek by jowl - swung around the corners at such fearful speed, every onlooker held his breath.
Many people wonder what there was to excite in the old gladiator contests of Athens or at the bull fights of Madrid. To witness a speedway contest is to be reminded that the farewell to the ancient gladiators from their parents and lovers "Return with your shields, or upon them" holds equally true today. The marvel of the thing is that no one apparently gets seriously hurt. There were several falls during the evening, but in every case the fallen competitor was able to struggle out of the field of battle. Crash nets have been erected around the track, offering some security from serious accident.
What is in Store
Although the handicapper has not quite got the measure of some of the competitors - it was the opening meeting on Saturday - the thrills provided during the evening were enough to indicate what is in store when the conditions become stabilised. It is suggested that some further means of making announcements, other than the megaphone, be introduced, as the voice was hardly audible in many parts of the ground.
The sidecar handicap provided the greatest interest of the night, with its fluctuating fortunes and close finishes, while in the solo events the Silver Gauntlet won by Sig Schlam was another thriller. There is every promise that the next meeting will be equally interesting and attract as large a crowd.
Following that very first season Hoskins and Brisbane promoter A.J. Hunting sailed from Fremantle aboard the RMS Oronsay on Tuesday April 10, 1928 with riders Frank Pearce, Billy Lamont, Vic Huxley, Dick Smythe, Frank Arthur, Noel Johnson, Charlie Spinks, Hilary Buchanan, Jack Bishop, Ben Urwin, plus WA competitors Ron Johnson, Sig Schlam and Charlie Datsun to introduce the sport to England.