Speedway: One More Round

One more round image 2.Recent changes in economic fortunes have meant a rebranding of Shelbourne Park’s image to cater for the three-times-weekly greyhound racing meetings, but the venue’s oval track has a strong history of burning rubber and engine oil since 1927.

Speedway racing is the competitive motorcycling sport which involves four to six riders racing each other on an anti-clockwise circuit. Competition rules are stringently regulated by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM).

Racing bikes have no gears or brakes and the flat oval track at Shelbourne Park fulfilled the criteria needed for international racing during the sport’s heydays.

The sport still draws a healthy international following, with major competitions annually held in the US, Australia and Europe. Despite this, Irish speedway meetings have become more infrequent, with occasional meetings now usually taking place at Mondello Park or less-publicised circuits such as the Hell Fire Club in the Dublin Mountains.

Local writer and historian George Kearns is a speedway fanatic who has long laid claim that the sport is actually an Irish one. “The first ever speedway type race took place in Ireland at Tramore (Waterford) in 1900, and there were regular dirt-track speedway competitions held at Shelbourne Park and Ashtown since 1927. I’d say most motorcycle enthusiasts are of the opinion that New Zealander Jonnie Hoskins invented speedway in 1923, but that’s rubbish,” he tells NewsFour. “He wrote books about it and was interviewed once by a speedway enthusiast reporter asking if he had indeed invented speedway to which he replied ‘I was just telling people what they wanted to hear’ and the first few lines of his last book he’s basically admitted to spoofing it.”

George used to attend regular speedway meetings at Shelbourne Park and despite never having competed in the sport himself he did write a book on speedway in Dublin. Although there were a number of venues outside of the capital, the draw of some of the sport’s big names made Dublin and Shelbourne Park a huge draw.

Another local who remembers speedway racing at Shelbourne Park is former bookmaker Doc O’Connor. “I remember speedway from when I was a kid. You’d hear the engines all over Ringsend and I went to the races a couple of times, but I wouldn’t have been a regular.”

Shelbourne Park’s heyday of the sport began in the 1950s when promoter Ronnie Green would bring his team of American riders to Dublin from the UK to compete against British and Irish teams. The Sunday afternoon competitions drew large crowds from all over the country but it wasn’t long before the financial constraints on the travelling teams and fans began to be felt. The Sunday afternoon team, competitively known as the Shelbourne Tigers, consisted of some big names such as Nick Nicolaides, Don Hawley and Johnny Roccio – all regular competitors. Ireland had its own home-grown stars such as Bill Longley, Dick Shepard and Don Grey racing for the New Cross team. The sport was so popular images of the riders were sold as trading cards at the time.

The regular Sunday meetings were hugely attended at the beginning of the 1950s with other Dublin tracks opening at Santry, Chapelizod, Ashtown and Harold’s Cross. However, it was Shelbourne Park which held most of the sport’s major domestic competitions.

Sadly, by 1971 it had waned in popularity in Ireland, with just occasional meetings at smaller venues and occasional broadcasts on national TV. Despite this, enthusiasts such as George Kearns are optimistic about a return to the glory days and possibly the return of the sport to Shelbourne Park.

By Eric Murphy