The days when the Ekka Speedway ruled
Speedway racing commenced at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds on October 16, 1926, when motorcycles raced in a counter clockwise direction on a track marked out on the grass surface.
This was a couple of weeks before Queensland played its first Sheffield Shield cricket game at the same venue.
Eventually the grass surface wore away and a granite surface track suitable for the machines as they slid around the corners, was laid.
The Solos would remain an integral part of Brisbane speedway right through to the last speedway meeting at the Ekka in late 1999.
The Solos are unique in that they have no brakes and are controlled by the skill of the rider. One of the original riders, Frank Arthur, would go on to promote at the Ekka during the 1930s and then non-stop from 1946 until his death in 1972.
Over the years many world champions including Jack Young (Australia), Ivan Mauger (NZ), and Jason Crump (Australia), countless international riders and the best from around the country, would race in Brisbane.
When the Australia versus English Test matches were held, the venue would be filled to capacity.
Sidecars were also a part of the motorcycle programs racing in a clockwise direction as the passenger swung off the side of the bike to keep it balanced.
The “Chairs” as they were nicknamed, always provided plenty of action particularly in the handicap events when the back marker would come from 200 yards (183m) behind.
Epic battles between Ron Johnson and Sandy McCrae often ended in physical contact while the fast and smooth Keith Sewell would represent his state at many national events and win two national championships.
Speedcar racing started in Brisbane on February 22, 1936 with drivers from interstate and England providing the action on the Exhibition track.
After a handful of meetings there was insufficient local interest by car builders for the sport to continue.
When speedway recommenced in 1946 after World War II, a crowd of between 40,000 and 50,000 flocked to the Exhibition Grounds to see a group of interstate drivers in their small but fast Speedcars in action.
From then until the last Speedcar race was held at the Exhibition in 1998, the best drivers from around the world raced there, including numerous American stars such as the colourful Bob Tattersall, four time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt and current NASCAR star Tony Stewart.
Speedcar racing originated in America in 1914. Over the decades there were many local stars with Steve Howman, Blair Shepherd, Bill Goode, Ron Wanless and Barrie Watt capable of beating the best.
Speedway went into a downturn in the early 1950s but when the Stockcars were introduced in 1954, fans couldn’t get enough of the mechanical mayhem.
The heavily armoured cars would biff and barge each other with the aim of eliminating as many opponents as possible.
The fence would also take a heavy pounding and eventually the Stockcars gave way to the faster Hot Rods which became Super-Modifieds in the 1960s and then the light, V8 powered Sprintcars with their big aerodynamic wings in the mid 1970s.
In the latter years, the 700hp Sprintcars struggled on the slick granite Exhibition track but they were still an exciting spectacle.
Two prominent names during the early days were Peter Dykes and Keith Blicharski who were both innovators and successful drivers.
The Super-Modified and Sprintcar eras saw Bob Kelly and Ron Wanless the men to beat.
A new budget section was created in 1956 with the introduction of Gnats.
They were an oversized go-kart with a motorcycle engine in the back. They progressed into front wheel drive TQs, (three-quarter size of a speedcar) later Junior Speedcars and then Compact Speedcars.
A group of enthusiasts kept a rear wheel drive section going and they eventually became Formula 500s.
These sections were instrumental in bringing many new drivers into speedway who went on to bigger and better things in Speedcars and Sprintcars. Bob Morgan and Brian Dillon are just two drivers who moved into Speedcars and enjoyed success with the former being national Speedcar champion in 1970.
In 1964 Frank Arthur introduced Saloon Car racing to the Exhibition Speedway.
These were just that, ordinary road cars with all glass removed, an internal roll cage welded in, the doors welded shut and a seat belt installed.
Literally hundreds of cars appeared in a short period of time with the FX/FJ Holden proving very popular as it was easily modified for racing and parts were cheap and readily available.
The section flourished as it was affordable for the average working man. Eric Mitchell, Allan Butcher, Mal Hume and Jim Holden are just some of the drivers who made the door-to-door racing popular with the fans
When Frank Arthur died in 1972, former speedcar driver Bill Goode had already taken on the role of manager of the Brisbane Exhibition Speedway. He continued to promote the track until the end of the 1981-82 season when he shifted to the new track at Archerfield.
The sound of highly tuned racing engines at the Exhibition fell silent.
Many fans stopped following speedway as there was no regular public transport available to the Archerfield venue, whereas the Exhibition had both bus and train services running nearby.
In December 1986, the Exhibition Speedway was reopened with a huge crowd attending the Australia vs England Test match.
There were a handful of meetings that season with the Solos, the main section supported by Sidecars, Sprintcars, Speedcars and some minor sections.
This pattern of a small number of big meetings each season continued until the end of the 1996-97 season.
In the 1997-98 season, new promoters Lloyd, Ross and Mark Robertson attempted to bring back regular Saturday night speedway meetings to the famed Exhibition.
Unfortunately, crowd numbers had been falling and despite trying to run traditional speedway their efforts were not rewarded and they were forced to walk away.
A single meeting was run each year for the next couple of years and then it was all over.
The curtain had come down on one of the most famous and popular speedways in the world, the Brisbane Exhibition Speedway.
Over the years, the Exhibition Speedway had hosted numerous test matches, international meetings and state and national championships for all divisions that entertained the loyal fans. Nearly every Saturday night during the summer months, thousands of fans would sit under the stars to watch the two, three and four wheeled “gladiators of speed” in action.
They were now left with the memories of the thrills and spills and exciting racing.