FOR most people the thrill and excitement of speedway will always bring back fond memories of Bradford.

Some of the sport’s legendary riders showed off their skills at Odsal and many fans would love to see its return to the city, but for now we can reminisce when Bradford’s base for rugby was the focal point for another fast paced, adrenaline filled sport.

Attending the speedway and seeing the riders, among them the late Arthur Forrest, known as the Black Prince for his gleaming black leathers - and Arthur Wright, was an exciting night out for Bradfordians and indeed the many visitors from beyond who flocked to take in the thrilling scene at Odsal.

Speedway was very much part of the social scene and long after the petrol fumes had evaporated young riders would straddle their cycles to emulate their idols.

Enthusiast, John Murphy, was one of the many young lads in the city who would get on their pushbikes and pitch up at Odsal Stadium to live the dream.

“I used to go up on my bike with a few friends. We used to ride around and thought we were riding speedway,” he recalled when I previously interviewed him in the T&A.

An article from our archives dated Wednesday May 2 1973 talks of a new cycle speedway track being opened in Bradford.

The track was the first in the city up to the standards set by the British Cycle Speedway Federation and was located on recreation ground at the corner of Manchester Road and Mayo Avenue.

According to the report, it was owned by Bradford Bees who moved there from a track in Ripleyville.

The team’s manager, Les Smith, commented in the report: “Our members have been working on the track every night of the week and all day Saturday and Sunday for the last eight weeks.”

The photograph accompanying the article showed rider Sean Bennett on his way to victory on the new cycle speedway track.

Mick Fairbairn rode semi-professionally for five years. His father, Roy Challoner, had also ridden speedway,

but juggling a business he didn’t have the time to devote to it.

Mick came out of the sport following a serious accident in which he broke both legs, but he still remembers the glory days. “In the the 1940s and 1950s the crowds were phenomenal. I grew up reading about that and it spurred me on to ride speedway,” he recalls.

“We used to ride cycle speedway in a car park on push bikes. That is what everybody did. I used to go to the speedway, we would watch it and we wanted to reproduce it. We’d mark out a track and many lads would turn up,” recalled Mick.

He talked about cycle speedway giving young lads the chance to try and emulate their idols.

“It really started around the war years because we lived in a time then when we all liked to have heroes and the romance of speedway was like the romance of the movies. There were these gladiator speedway riders risking their lives and they could really make their money,” recalls Mick.

He recalls a time when speedway was phenomenally popular. “I started watching speedway at Halifax then I started riding cycle speedway and it progressed from there.

“The great thing about it was anybody could do it. The fact is their specialist equipment was an old bike you made to suit cycle speedway.”

Mick recalls creating his own cycle. “You got a standard road bike, took off the bits and bobs, you only had one gear and what they used to do is you’d get one with quite a big frame and to make it more user friendly you’d cut them down so you’d get a local welder to cut it, bend it and re-form the frame to make it a bit more like a speedway frame and it was lower in the saddle so you could ride it better.”

Similarly to speedway bikes, the cycles didn’t have brakes. Mick recalls riding from Low Moor to Bierley trying to avoid being caught by the police because they didn’t have brakes on their bikes!

“We were looking over our shoulders going there making sure the police didn’t catch us because in those days it would have been seen to be serious if you had a bike with no brakes.”

Mick also recalls those fond memories when pedal power was king. “I remember when I was a kid racing on what is now Richard Dunn’s. We were cycling and racing anybody who turned up.”

They’d spend all day racing around and when it was home time they’d pop over to the stadium where they’d take their seats in the stands and dream.

“Sitting in the stands we’d think wouldn’t it be great if speedway came back here and that is all we wanted,” adds Mick.

The last speedway meeting was held in Bradford in the 1990s, but for many people the aim has always been to one day bring it back to the city.

Of course, Bradford wasn’t the only area to boast a cycle speedway track. Others were located in Hull, Sheffield and in Heckmondwike.

Here we take a look back at some of the cycle speedway events through photographs from the T&A archives sourced by our nostalgia writer and researcher, Odele Ayres.