Canberra Bulls Speedway The
Club A True "Cinder"ella Story set in 1980-1989
Bulls Roar! The beginnings......... The Canberra Bulls Speedway Club was formed during 1980 as a result of a chronic shortage of racing opportunities for New South Wales riders who had the misfortune to live outside the metropolitan area. In those days, the only way to make progress as a rider was to get onto the programme at Liverpool, Newcastle or the Sydney Showgrounds, but those tracks only put you on the programme if you were at least a B-grade rider. This catch-22 situation, together with the fact that there were no tracks offering development opportunities, apart from the once-a-month club days at the Nepean track, helped ensure that people in the capital city of Australia Canberra - rarely saw, or heard about "real" speedway. The existing track at Tralee presented only car racing. A chance meeting between local Canberra junior, Paul Turner, and speedway enthusiasts John & Karan Walker, resulted in a get-together of concerned riders at Nepean, and a decision to approach the ACT Formula 500 Speedcar Club which owned the small D-shaped track at Fairbairn. There was also a suggestion from Jim Burdfield that he would approach a neighbour - Sprint-car driver cum farmer Harry Delamont - for access to his track at Young, only an hour and a half north of Canberra. The F500s were very keen to see us using their track, and a few practice sessions showed that it was a perfectly good track for bikes. Knowing nothing of the track licencing and other laws relating to speedway racing, and well before the lawyer-insurance-agent conspiracy-inspired public liability paranoia was ever thought of, we organised a few casual practice sessions during the winter of 1980 that were very enjoyable. A bit of camaraderie emerged, with something of an anti-Sydney flavour, and talk soon started of issuing a challenge to the Sydney riders. We explored what we had to do to get a racing permit from the controlling bodies, only to be told that if there were paying spectators we had to demand payment from the promoters, and that to ensure payment, the promoters were obliged to lodge bond money with the ASCC. When we said the F500 Club wasn't willing to post a bond or pay the riders, the response from Sydney was simple - you can't ride then! The Sydney-based Riders' Association even flew secretary Arthur Eagleton down to Canberra to stop us racing one Sunday. The effect of this policy was crippling non-metropolitan speedway. Imagine if there was a MINIMUM salary cap in soccer, so that clubs weren't allowed to pay less than what Manchester United plays its players. The inevitable effect would be the death of all clubs that didn't have the massive population of a metropolitan area around them. That was what it was like then. We looked at other options. Harry was basically happy for us to use his track - which had been used occasionally for bike racing previously - as long as it didn't cost him anything, so
effectively we just had to pay our own way, which was a pretty fair deal at the time. The track had a good surface (this was before the days when the Sprintcars destroyed speedway tracks all around the country by clagging them up with clay!) and even had lights. We contacted the Sydney riders, and got an enthusiastic response. They agreed to put together a competitive team of B-graders who would come down to Young in September - well before the usual influx of Agraders back from Britain - and put us country upstarts in our place! It would be a "City versus Country" teams match, using the familiar British league seven a side format. We agreed to do it properly, with a permit, and a bit of advertising in the local papers around Young. Harry would prepare the track and someone in Sydney would round up a referee. Harry offered a sum of money that was deemed acceptable by the authorities, and we hoped we could attract a crowd big enough to make it worth his while. That was where it got complicated. A phone call came out of the blue from a Victorian rider, asking about the meet. We had to explain that it was a teams match, and that we couldn't really fit an individual Victorian rider into the programme. The caller didn't leave it there, however, and agreed to raise a Victorian team to join in the programme. That put a whole different spin on the meet, including the need to invent a completely new programme format. To make it work, we chose a three team, eight-a-side competition over thirty heats. Peter Devitt came up with the idea of the Bull race jacket design. He based it on the well-known Chicago Bulls basketball logo, but we couldn't help thinking that it would be seen as appropriate as an emblem of Canberra, the seat of Federal Government.....! We cut out and sewed up a complete set of eight race jackets based on one of Peter's old ones. The great day dawned, and a reasonable crowd assembled to watch the racing. The local paper had obligingly reported that "Never have we seen a combination of talent and class bought together in one big meeting and promises to be a speedway bike spectacular for the public". That might have been a bit over the top, considering that we were all - by definition - less than top-class, but the sight of three teams in proper team colours lining up at the pit gate for the grand parade was wonderful. They were: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
NSW Country Bulls: Jim Burdfield Steve Kurtz Wayne Arkinstall Paul Turner Peter Devitt Mark Maybury Steve Baghurst Scot McLean
Sydney: Brett Alderton Tony Abson Ian Wedgwood Andy Elliott Mick Gardner Geoff Watson Kevin Wright Mick Hinwood
Victoria: Andy Barrett Martin Johnson Les Garside Kevin King Nigel Dunn Wayne Weldon Kevin Sparks Ian Moore
Photo #1. The Sydney, Victoria and NSW Country "Bulls" line up for the parade lap at Young.
The match itself was terrific, with the Sydney team showing a bit too much class, and a last-heat victory by captain Jim Burdfield necessary for the Bulls to beat the Victorian team. Dennis Newlyn wrote:
Teams racing fires at Young ORGANISED league team racing took a further step forward with the successful running of a three team tournament at Quamby Speedway, Young, on Sunday, September 21. The match brought together teams from Sydney, Victoria and New South Wales Country over 30 heats. The result was not the only important factor riding on the outcome - and while Sydney won in a canter -the overall winner was speedway, or more precisely the encouraging signs and feasibility of a workable league in the New South Wales country area. What started out as an exercise to determine whether these challenge matches could become a viable proposition in the NSW country area, was answered by the end of the day, following the resounding success of the match. Promoter Harry Delamont was happy, not only with the racing, but with the crowd which responded to a heavy promotional campaign and attended the meeting. The riders, too, responded and raced the match in great spirit, with each team giving it their best shot. Following Sydney's win, another match has been set for later this month with the clash between Sydney and Canberra, to be run at Canberra. Sydney, ably led by Mick Gardner and managed by Arthur Eagleton, kept to its match plan of getting as many points on the board as possible early in the clash. The points came freely from the throttle hands of Brett Alderton, lan Wedgewood, Tony Abson and Gardner so that after eight heats Sydney was in control with 23 points, from NSW Country (14) and Victoria in third spot with ten. With less than a third of the match completed, it already looked as if the real battle was set between the latter two sides for the runner-up spot. as Sydney dominated the match. A 4-2 points advantage in heat ten (by Gardner and Watson) over NSW Country captain Jim Burdfield and Steve Kurtz skipped the city slickers further ahead. Victoria, after trailing in third spot early, got its act together and by heat 11 had pulled up level with NSW Country. Paul Turner kept Country in second spot in heat 12 with a good win. Teammate Wayne Arkinstall picked up the two runner-up points to take a 5-1 over the Victorian opposition.
The high scoring Sydney combination, Brett Alderton and Tony Abson took the heat point advantage yet again, with a 5-1 in heat 16, leaving only Peter Devitt with one point for Country. In the next heat, Wedgwood and Elliott raced in a 4-2, further preventing Victoria striking up point scoring momentum. Wayne Weldon, Les Garside and 18 year-old Kevin King toiled relentlessly for the Victorians and after 20 heats were only two points behind NSW. NSW riders Turner and Arkinstall shut out the Victorian challenge in heat 21 with a 4-2. Victoria, however, was determined to make a fight of it, and recorded a 5-1 over NSW in heat 27 through Andy Barrett and Martin Johnson. NSW suddenly needed vital points to keep the late Victorian revival in check, but its cause was not helped in heat 28 when Wedgwood and Elliott banged in a 5-1 for Sydney. This result kept NSW still in the danger zone, ensured interest right to the end, and, more important for the Victorians, left them with a chance of pulling out a last-minute runner-up placing. The final heat brought together NSW Country and Victoria, and only one point stood behind the two teams with Country in second spot. The second and third positions overall hinged on the outcome, of heat 30. NSW skipper Jim Burdfield carried out a captain's role perfectly. He responded with a win, and although King and Garside filled the minor heat placings for three points each to the respective teams, Burdfield's win kept his NSW side one point ahead and wrapped up a safe second placing overall in the tournament. Final scores: Sydney, 75: NSW Country, 52; Victoria, 51.
Individual scorers were:
Bulls: Jim Burdfield 16, Wayne Arkinstall 9+1, Peter Devitt 9, Paul Turner 7, Scott McLean 7, Steve Baghurst 2, Steve Kurtz. 1, Mark Maybury 1. Total 52. Sydney: Brett Alderton 17+1, Ian Wedgwood 17, Mick Gardner 13+1, Tony Abson 9+1, Mick Hinwood 6+2, Kevin Wright 6+1, Andy Elliott 4+1, Geoff Watson 3+1. Total 75. Victoria: Andy Barrett 12+1, Kevin King 11+2, Les Garside 9+1, Martin Johnson 7+1, Wayne Weldon 6+1, Nigel Dunn 4+1, Kevin Sparks 2, Ian Moore 0. Total 51.
Photo #2. Focus on the original "NSW Country Bulls" line up at Young Speedway. Captain Jim Burdfield is standing at the pit gate, then (L-R) Wayne Arkinstall (looking tired already!), Steve Kurtz, Paul Turner, Peter Devitt, Mark Maybury, Steve Baghurst, (mechanic - possibly Darren Maybury), and Scott McLean.
This success indeed led to an offer from Ron Ullrich, the promoter at Tralee - Canberra's local track. The proposal was to run a normal seven-a-side match between the Bulls, now to be known as the "Canberra Bulls", versus Sydney at the beginning of Tralee's regular four-wheel racing night. With the non-availability of Wayne Arkinstall (retired after one match!), Scott McLean and Mark Maybury, and Sydney indicating that they were going to strengthen their side by the addition of Wayne Sanders (Billy's cousin) the Bulls offered a place to 18 years old Victorian Kevin King, who had enquired about other racing opportunities after the Young meeting. Local ex-NZ rider Wayne Martin, who had come along to some of the practice sessions, was drafted in as reserve.
Photo #3. The inaugural "Canberra Bulls" line-up against Sydney at Tralee: (L-R) Wayne Martin, Ian Ford (standing), Steve Baghurst, Kevin King, Paul Turner, Peter Devitt, Jim Burdfield, Steve Kurtz (standing).
The result was another win for Arthur Eagleton's Sydney riders, in spite of a no-show from Sanders. Kevin King's exciting performance for the Bulls helped to keep the match alive up to the last heat, in which the Bulls needed a 5-1 to draw. But Peter Devitt and King collided while chasing Dave Kerr, leaving the Sydney pairing of Mick Gardner and Kerr with a 5-0 to make the final score Canberra 34, Sydney 43. Paul Turner had a miserable night on the bigger track, perhaps having his mind elsewhere, as he was soon heading for England to try his luck in British league at Milton Keynes. King made such a hit with the crowd and with the rest of the Bulls riders that he was offered a regular team place - requiring him to face a horrific seven hour mountain drive through treacherous logging tracks from his home in Morwell each race night. Individual scorers that night were: ď‚ˇ ď‚ˇ
Bulls: Jim Burdfield 11, Kevin King 10+1, Peter Devitt 5, Steve Kurtz. 3+1, Steve Baghurst 2+1, Wayne Martin 2, Paul Turner 1. Total 34. Sydney: Ian Wedgwood 11, Mick Gardner 10+1, Kevin Wright 7+2, Shannon Murrie 6+1, David Holthouse 5+1, David Kerr 3, Tony Abson 1. Total 43.
Photo #4. Wayne Martin
Photo #5. Wayne Arkinstall
Photo #6. Peter Devitt
Photo #7. Mark Maybury
Photo #8. Steve Baghurst
Photo #9. Paul Turner
Cooperation between the Walkers and Arthur Eagleton began to build, and Arthur would help assemble teams from the metropolitan area to come down to Canberra. Two weeks after the Sydney match, the Bulls faced a "Wollongong" team at Tralee, managed by Brian Wedgwood. To encourage the junior end of the Bulls recruits, only the top five riders (Burdfield, Kurzt, Devitt, King and McLean) were given pre-programmed team spots, while Tim Oliver, Mark Maybury, Steve Baghurst and Wayne Martin battled it out over two selection races, with the prize being the reserves places in the team. Baghurst and Maybury took the honours, with Baghurst going on to star in the meet proper. After a couple of 2-4 losses, the Bulls gradually pulled away for their first ever victory 45-33. Individual scorers were: ď‚ˇ ď‚ˇ
Bulls: Steve Baghurst 10, Jim Burdfield 9+2, Kevin King 9+1, Steve Kurtz. 8, Peter Devitt 4, Scott McLean 4, Mark Maybury 1. Total 45. Wollongong: Ian Wedgwood 13+1, Ian Robertson 10, Geoff Watson 6, Alan Smith 3, Shannon Murrie 1, David Holthouse 0 Paul Burton dns. Total 33.
With most metropolitan riders occupied, the next Tralee meeting was a "Best Pairs" over ten heats, with Jim Burdfield paired with newcomer Steve Reynolds, Kevin King with Wayne Martin, Wayne Arkinstall (un-retired again after only one meeting!) with Mark Maybury, Peter Devitt with Steve Kurtz, and Steve Baghurst with Scott McLean. The King/Martin pairing
showed they were serious in heat one, by surprisingly pushing Burdfield into third place. Arkinstall had three different bikes pack up underneath him during the night. Apart from Arkinstall's mechanical problems, the pairings worked well, and for the "heat leaders" it was probably their first chance ever to think tactically and assist their second string rider - a skill never used in the handicap races that predominated for B and C-graders in those days. Burdfield only just failed to beat Danish International Alf Busk's Tralee track record in three successive races, suggesting that his days as a B-grader were drawing to a close. Results: 1. Kevin King 12 + Wayne Martin 3 = 15; 2=. Scott McLean 8 + Steve Baghurst 6 = 14; 2=. Steve Kurtz 10 + Peter Devitt 4 = 14; 4. Jim Burdfield 10 + Steve Reynolds 1 = 11; 5. Mark Maybury 5 + Wayne Arkinstall 1 = 6. Two weeks later we saw the Bulls again as a team up against a "Liverpool" team, and again King starred with a flawless maximum. Only Mick Wilde won a race for Liverpool, while the Bulls were solid all down the line. Peter Devitt was absent at a wedding, and Wayne Arkinstall was looking for a bike that worked. Individual scorers were: ď‚ˇ ď‚ˇ
Bulls: Kevin King 12, Steve Kurtz. 9+1, Jim Burdfield 9, Steve Baghurst 6+2, Scott McLean 5+1, Wayne Martin 3+1, Mark Maybury 3. Total 47. Liverpool: Andy Elliott 6, Mick Hinwood 6, Tony Abson 4, Mick Sills 4, Kelvin Pace 3, Dave Wilkinson 2, John Gosch 0. Total 31.
Photo #10. The Canberra Bulls line-up against Liverpool: (L-R) Scott McLean, Kevin King, Steve Baghurst, Jim Burdfield, Steve Kurtz, Wayne Martin, Mark Maybury.
One of the great things about the early days was that promoter Ulrich allowed us to use Tralee for practice on Sundays almost whenever we wanted to. This would account for the fairly impressive rate of improvement some of our riders were showing, and also for the amount of interest other riders were showing in the Canberra set up. They were very casual affairs, and quite often riders would bring "wannabees" along with them to try out. They were also great photo opportunities and the team used these shots to support the match reports sent in to the Canberra Times sports editor.
Photo #11. Jim Burdfield chasing Scott McLean in practice on the old Tralee track.
International experience came next, with promoter Ullrich inviting stars of World and Australian speedway to compete in the 20-heat "International Solo Olympic" around Christmas of 1980, sponsored by Channel Seven. Jim Burdfield was given the 16th spot on the program, alongside legends including Nigel Boocock, Billy Sanders, Phil Collins, Michael Lee, Denis Sigalos, Tommy Knudsen and Bobby Schwarz. He failed to score, but then so did Ricky Day and Dave Mills, two of NSW's best riders of the era, and he was never too far off the pace. Phil Collins knocked off the track record in heat 3, but the meet never finished due to torrential rain which drowned us all after heat 15. The current World Champion Lee had been in unbeatable form in his first four rides, and would have been the likely winner of the night. In January 1981, we tried again to beat a Sydney team in front of our "home" crowd - for we were actually attracting a following around Canberra, thanks to good reports in the Canberra Times. Wayne Arkinstall and Peter Devitt this time had to win their way into the team from the reserves races. Sydney threw in Internationals Steve Payne and Phil Cain, but we were leading after ten heats, only to have Payne team up with Ian Wedgwood to take a 5-1 from which we never recovered.
Individual scorers were: ď‚ˇ ď‚ˇ
Bulls: Kevin King 12, Jim Burdfield 10, Steve Baghurst 4+1, Scott McLean 4+1, Steve Kurtz 4, Wayne Martin 3, Peter Devitt 1. Total 38. Sydney: Phil Cain 9, Steve Payne 8, Geoff Watson 7+1, Ian Wedgwood 6+3, Ian Robertson 6, Dave Holthouse 2+1, Mick Gardner 2. Total 40.
Photo #12. Scott McClean (L) and Steve Kurtz (R)
The Promoter again paid out for the big names, and set us a huge logistical challenge by inviting Ole Olsen, Alan Grahame, Bobby Schwartz and Paul Stead to race the Bulls, and expecting us to find a race format that wouldn't show the gap in class. We went with a knockout formula, vaguely similar to the way the Speedway Grand Prix works now. Everyone had three rides, then the bottom four dropped out, then every race was an "eliminator" until we had our winner. Olsen, Grahame and Schwartz were "seeded" not to meet each other in their first three rides; Stead, along with Burdfield and King, was seeded in the second "rank" of riders. Kurtz, Baghurst and McLean came next, and Arkinstall, Devitt and Maybury made up the field. Unfortunately, the seeding was just too good. All of the top seeds won their first three races, all of the second seeds came second, and only Wayne Arkinstall "beat" his seeding by getting a couple of unexpected thirds. Bulls' best, Burdfield and King, could each only manage third in their semifinals, so the Internationals filled the Grand Final race, which resulted Olsen, Schwarz, Grahame, and Stead. Olsen took the track record down to 53.191 seconds. Still - it was more good experience!
Photo #13. Racing on tracks destroyed by car racing sometimes leads to interesting situations.
The penultimate meeting of the 1980-81 season at Tralee was another visit from a Wollongong team. But this time it had a real Wollongong base, with Dick Pruen as team manager and a 17 year old local Peter Edmondson. Dick liked the look of what we were trying to do with the Bulls, and was hoping to emulate it at Kembla Grange and join us in some sort of NSW Junior League. His heat leaders were Ray Dole, Ray Palmer and Steve Holden. Bulls' Averages prior to the meet were Jim Burdfield 10.43; Kevin King 10.31; Steve Kurtz 5.72; Steve Baghurst 5.30; Wayne Arkinstall 5.18; Scott McLean 5.03; Peter Devitt 3.89; Mark Maybury 3.24; Wayne Martin 3.11. Ian Ford and Mike Donnelly made their reserves race debuts, but Wayne Martin and Scott McLean won their way into the Bulls starting line-up, and this time it was McLean who showed how it focuses the competitive mind to have to fight for your place in the team with a paid maximum. The Bulls either won or halved every race except heat 11 where Dole and Kurtz were the only finishers, and we ran out 50-27 winners. Individual scorers were: ď‚ˇ ď‚ˇ
Bulls: Kevin King 12, Jim Burdfield 12, Scott McLean 8+1, Steve Kurtz 7+1, Steve Baghurst 5+1, Wayne Arkinstall 5, Wayne Martin 1. Total 50. Sydney: Ray Dole 12, Ray Palmer 7, Alan Smith 3+1, Martin Porter 2+1, Peter Edmondson 2, Dave Kerr 1, Steve Holden 0. Total 27.
At some stage during the year, we went back to Quamby and staged a meeting under lights in continuous rain the whole night. Without a printed programme, it isn't possible to say exactly when it was, what sort of meet it was, or who scored what, but the undoubted star of the night was Steve Kurtz. Steve showed absolutely no fear on the boggy track, and raced where others feared to go - even after hitting a nasty patch of drive which threw him firmly into the wooden fence. The crowd loved it when he came back for more - and he became even more unbeatable as the night and the rain wore on. Then the highlight of the year - the 1981 NSW Junior Solo Championships - was held at Tralee. Bulls riders Burdfield, King, Baghurst, Kurtz and McLean were joined by familiar faces Dole, Hinwood, Robertson, Watson, Holden and Abson, plus Peter Drury, Brian Nixon, Geoff Saggus, Kevin Wright and Paul Burton. Ray Dole broke Canberra's hearts in heat one, by relegating
Burdfield and King to the minor places. Tony Abson, who was known a little disparagingly amongst the Bulls riders as "the Spear" for his habit of spearing in under his opposition, won his first two races, but then lost out to Burdfield in a titanic heat 9. By heat 18, Ray Dole was unbeaten and both Abson and Burdfield had dropped one point, so Ray - still only 19 - just had to win that race to take the title. But Abson, whose gating was legendary, got out in front and never let him in, setting up a three-way run-off for the Title between himself, Dole and Burdfield. Burdfield - whose gating was everything but legendary - drew the inside gate, with Dole in 2 and Abson in 3. Predictably, Abson and Dole hit the front, and Burdfield had to do the chasing. There was barely a tyre-tread between the three of them for the whole three laps, with the Canberra crowd going absolutely berserk, but eventually Burdfield found a way to the front on the last bend for a popular victory.
Photo #14. The 1981 NSW Junior Championships: Ray Dole (second), Jim Burdfield (first), and Tony Abson (third) after an amazing three-way run-off.
Full results were: ď‚ˇ
Jim Burdfield 14, Ray Dole 14, Tony Abson 14, Mick Hinwood 11, Kevin King 10, Steve Baghurst 9, Brian Nixon 8, Steve Kurtz 7, Steve Holden 7, Dave Kerr 6, Peter Drury 5, Kevin Wright 4, Scott McLean 3, Ian Robertson 2, Geoff Saggus 2, Geoff Watson 0, Warren Fernance 0.
The 1981-82 Season Discussions through the winter of 1981 between the Walkers and Arthur Eagleton focused on plans to set up a mini-league for the 1981-82 season. Arthur had the difficult job of selling the idea to promoters at Liverpool, Newcastle, Wollongong and the Sydney Showgrounds, and a search was mounted for sponsorship so that these promoters could be offered a tempting deal. Eventually, the managing director of the Canberra Motor Insurance company (CMI) came to the rescue with a modest package which involved the riders being required to distribute CMI leaflets. Launches were arranged in both Canberra and Sydney, and the League kicked off with a visit of the Canberra Bulls to Wollongong's Kembla Grange track.
Photo #15. The October 1981 launch of the CMI Solo League. Standing: managers John and Karan Walker, Scott McLean, Steve Kurtz, Tony Abson, Jim Burdfield, Wayne Martin, Sponsors' representatives; kneeling: Garry Turner, Steve Baghurst and Peter Devitt.
The Bulls had lost Wayne Arkinstall to yet another retirement during the winter, and Kevin King was having problems getting to race nights due to the demands of his apprenticeship, but old enemy Tony Abson had come along to the winter practice sessions and become a keen member of the team. That wasn't the only change. During the winter, Paul Turner's younger brother Gary - a useful local motorcross rider - had been trying out, and he turned out to be our secret weapon. Riding at Wollongong, on a track he'd never seen before, in his first official speedway races, Gary was unbeaten in his three rides, and the Bulls won their first away match of the CMI Solo Speedway League 43-33. The season opener at Tralee was billed as the Canberra Bulls versus Sydney City, and the Bulls were determined to show the Sydney riders that they had learned a thing or two during the winter break. Four consecutive 5-1 wins to the Bulls opened the scoring, and while Sydney's number 1, Ian Wedgwood, and youngster Neville Tracy tried hard throughout the night, they weren't well supported. Even Ray Dole failed to fire. Individual scorers were:
Bulls: Tony Abson 12, Jim Burdfield 10+2, Kevin King 8+1, Steve Baghurst 8+1, Peter Devitt 6+1, Steve Kurtz 5, Gary Turner 3+1. Total 52. Sydney: Ian Wedgwood 9, Neville Tracy 7, Mick Gardner 5, Ray Dole 3, Ian Robertson 2, Geoff Watson 0, Dave Holthouse 0, Geoff Dole 0. Total 26.
After a rained off meet against Liverpool, the Bulls faced the Newcastle Miners, mostly from the mid-north coast region and managed by Pat Fernance. With both Kevin King and Steve Kurtz unavailable, we were pleased to welcome back Paul Turner from a stint in British speedway, and bring Scott McLean up into the team. Newcastle started strongly, with Mark Bullivant, Peter Drury and Brian Nixon showing their liking for the track. A fall by Jim Burdfield and a tapes-break exclusion for Tony Abson didn't help the Bulls' cause, but great riding by Gary Turner kept them in the hunt. After seven heats it was 21-21, but thereafter it was all Canberra with three 5-1s in the last six races. Individual scorers were:
Bulls: Gary Turner 12+1, Peter Devitt 7+2, Jim Burdfield 7, Tony Abson 6+2, Scott McLean 6+2, Paul Turner 5+1, Steve Baghurst 2+1. Total 45. Newcastle: Mark Bullivant 13, Brian Nixon 6, Mick Hinwood 4+1, Peter Field 4+1, Peter Drury 3, Warren Fernance 2, Steve Schaefer 1. Total 33.
The following weekend we spent Friday night at Newcastle in the return match, winning even more handsomely 46-29, with Gary Turner again the star with 11 points. We then moved to Liverpool for the Saturday night where we had the local crowd very nervous going into the last heat. After heat 5, the Bulls were getting flogged by 21-9, and Liverpool's internationals Brett Alderton, Bob Baker, Wayne Sanders and Steve Payne were dominating on their tricky home track. Some judicious substitutions and some great riding by Tony Abson and Paul Turner in particular, brought the scores back to 37-35 with just one heat to go. Brett and Steve made it safe for Liverpool with a 5-1, but they knew we'd given them a run for their money! Next up at Tralee was the "November Classic" Trophy meeting, with a knockout formula similar to the previous season's international meet. Both Jim Burdfield and Tony Abson were away racing at Newcastle in the NSW State Championships, but Kevin King was available, and he made the most of it in no uncertain terms, with an unbeaten race-night. The format gave racing
opportunities for Bulls' newcomers including Ian Ford, Mick Donnelly and Barry Johnson. The two semi-finals sent King, Geoff Saggus, and the two Turners, Gary and Paul, into the Final, which King duly won from Paul and Gary. Full results were: ď‚ˇ
1 - Kevin King 15, 2 - Paul Turner 13, 3 - Gary Turner 9, Brian Nixon 9, Geoff Saggus 8, Mick Gardner 7, Steve Holden 7, Herb Willems 5, Steve Baghurst 3, Scott McLean 3, Geoff Watson 2, Wayne Martin 2, Ian Ford 2, Ian Robertson 2, Geoff Dole 1, Mick Donnelly 1, Barry Johnson 1.
Photo #16. Kevin King's very tidy style
Steve Magro has kindly contributed photos of Tony and Jim at the NSW Championships at Newcastle, which was won by Billy Sanders. Both are wearing the "away strip" colours of yellow on red.
Photo #17. Tony Abson (L) and Jim Burdfield (R) prepare for the 1981 NSW Championship at Newcastle
In December, we were invited to Undera Park, near Shepparton (Vic) to race the Goulburn Valley team in our very first interstate foray. It wasn't our best night, to say the least. The Walkers' car let them down on the highway, and they arrived late. Scott McLean had invested in a brand-new Godden motor, which promptly blew up in the pits, and worst of all, a GV rider fell in the first turn of heat 3, Kevin King promptly laid his bike down to avoid him, but the following GV rider hit Kevin hard, breaking his leg and effectively ending his very promising speedway career. The 1981 year was to end with the Boxing Day Test Match between Australia and "Young England", which turned out to be the decider in a five-Test series. Promoter Ullrich had successfully lobbied the Australian selectors to put Jim Burdfield in at reserve against an England side boasting two future World Champions in Kenny Carter and Phil Collins. Unfortunately for Australia, Phil Crump, Phil Herne and Danny Kennedy were unable to ride on the night; Dave Mills and Brett Alderton were drafted in to join Billy Sanders, John Titman and Gary Guglielmi, Burdfield was shifted into the number 5 position, and - to the surprise and delight of the locals - Gary Turner was named as reserve. The match was won by England 5949, and Burdfield got the scalps of Andy Grahame and Neil Collins to prove he was there on merit. Turner unfortunately didn't get a programmed ride.
Photo #18. The Australian Team: Guglielmi, Burdfield, Mills, Titman, Alderton, Peter White (Team Manager) and Sanders.
Photo #19. Jim Burdfield on a high, representing Australia against the Poms at Tralee. During post-match celebrations later his brand-new leathers were stolen from the back of his ute.
Individual scorers were:
Australia: Billy Sanders 15, Gary Guglielmi 12, John Titman 11, Dave Mills 7, Jim Burdfield 2, Brett Alderton 2, Gary Turner dnr. Total 49. Young England: Kenny Carter 18, John Davis 14, Phil Collins 10, Andy Grahame 7, Alan Grahame 6, Neil Collins 4, Kevin Smith 0. Total 59.
The excitement of the day was spoiled when we left the post-meet socialising at Weston to find that Burdfield's new leathers - bought for the occasion - had been stolen from the back of his ute during the evening. In January, the Bulls finally hosted the home return match against star-studded Liverpool - the only CMI League side that had beaten us so far, and what a cracker it was! Both teams were effectively at full strength, although Kevin King was unavailable for the Bulls, but the difference was at reserve where neither Steve Baghurst nor Steve Kurtz really fired for the Bulls, while youngster Kelvin Pace scored two good wins for Liverpool. Brett Alderton was supreme, with solid backup from Bobby Baker and Steve Payne, while Burdfield, Abson and Paul Turner all had an up and down night. After a 5-1 win in heat 2, Liverpool retained a narrow lead, which was pegged back to two points after the penultimate heat. Then in a repeat of the previous match between these teams, Brett Alderton and Steve Payne proved too good for Tony Abson and Paul Turner in heat 13 to give Liverpool the double. Individual scorers were:
Bulls: Jim Burdfield 10+1, Tony Abson 9+1, Paul Turner 6, Peter Devitt 4, Gary Turner 3+2, Steve Baghurst 3+1, Steve Kurtz 1. Total 36. Liverpool: Brett Alderton 12, Bobby Baker 10, Steve Payne 9+1, Kelvin Pace 7+1, Steve Holden 3, Dave Kerr 1, Wayne Sanders 0. Total 42.
And so, unfortunately, ended the CMI NSW Solo League. Canberra was the only one of the original five teams to complete their commitments, with the promoters at Liverpool, Newcastle, Sydney and Wollongong pulling the plug. It couldn't have been the racing they didn't like. Maybe it just didn't bring in the crowds - but then maybe they just didn't promote it properly. Perhaps it was their on-track commentators, who rarely bothered to keep track of the team scores or inform the spectators how the match was going. In keeping with the "one-race-at-atime" presentations typical of Australian speedway, they focussed only on the race on hand. The teams match at Liverpool was a case in point - when it came to the last heat decider, the riders in the pits were standing on tiptoe to see how the race was going, but the commentators simply presented it to the crowd as the last solo race of the night - thank you very much and goodbye let's get on with the car racing. In Canberra - thanks to a great relationship with the motoring editor of the Canberra Times (Paul Gover) and their sports editors - we had regular story and photo features that kept us in the public eye. Jim Burdfield and Peter Devitt both gave interviews to the local television channels. We had a benign promoter (thanks Ron Ulrich - it all went downhill after you left!) who dealt with the difficult business of programming mixed bikes/cars race nights, and gave us enough scope to develop through the season. The Canberra public took to us - we still get people saying "Canberra Bulls - those were the days!"
Photo #20: (L-R) Jim Burdfield, Peter Devitt, Steve Baghurst and Tony Abson enjoy some serious practice on the "new" Tralee track.
The season ended with Jim Burdfield joining Paul Turner in British League racing, where, with some help from John Titman, he found a spot in the second division Stoke "Potters" team and won an award for the "most promising new rider of the year". Tony Abson also travelled to England to assist his mate Brett Alderton, who was regarded as Australia's likely "next" World Champion. Alderton died in a tragic racing accident that season, and Abson was never seen again on a solo. The Bulls had one final meeting that year, when they were invited to race a Victorian side at Melbourne's Brooklyn track. With Burdfield, Turner and Abson on the plane to England, we drafted in old friend and rival Ian Wedgwood to fill the number one position, and we travelled down the Hume Highway hoping to put on a brave show for the Victorians. Unfortunately, no-one told us they had recently put large quantities of clay in the Brooklyn track surface, and only the very bravest of solo riders can get the bikes to turn on this disgusting "porridge", which was then being introduced all around Australian speedway tracks specifically to suit the Sprintcars - and no-one else. After a punishing start to the meeting, where we suffered several 5-1 defeats in a row, it became clear that Wedgie was the only rider we had who could seriously compete with the locals, who at the very least had ridden on this stuff before and had worked out the best set up for the bikes. Peter Devitt hit a patch of clay on turn one and ended up retrieving the bike from over the safety fence. Others simply couldn't turn the bikes and were well off the pace. We began substituting Wedgie in at every possible moment, to the extent that Peter and others were lining up at the pits gate with a new bike for him to ride - he raced three in a row at one stage! Wedgie was magnificent that night, and must have been absolutely exhausted when it all ended.
The 1982-83 Season 1982-83 started badly and got worse. The new promoter at Tralee - Rick Otton - had no appreciation of the bikes, and didn't even programme us for racing until his third meeting of the year. Practice facilities were no longer available. The Bulls riders were back to square one, with Steve Baghurst and Peter Devitt trekking to Liverpool City raceway which was, again, putting on its usual repetitive solo handicap racing apparently as a filler between the car racing. Otton
took his lead from this, demanding that we also programme handicap racing, and - better than nothing - we were obliged to comply. We devised a "progressive handicap", in which all riders raced their first race from the gate, then each time they won they were handicapped 40 metres. Each second place earned a 20 metre handicap. In theory, a rider unbeaten in the heats and semis would start from 160m in the Final. Burdfield arrived back in Canberra just in time for this meet, and other survivors from the Bulls were Steve Kurtz, Wayne Martin, Peter Devitt and Ian Ford. They were joined in a 12-man field by veteran English rider, Clive Featherby, Neil Ashman from Newcastle, Robbie McGregor, Scott Stevens, Frank Rotherick and the brothers Peter and Geoff Saggus.
Photo #21. Ian Ford
Given the inherently dangerous nature of handicap speedway, it was no surprise that there were crashes. When the previously unbeaten Burdfield himself crashed out in the semi-finals, it was left to Neil Ashman (100m), Peter Devitt (100m), Scott Stevens (80m), Frank Rotherick (60m), Steve Kurtz (40m) and Wayne Martin (Gate) to contest the Final. Peter couldn't get his bike to fire, and didn't start. Rotherick - a nice guy who started racing unusually late in life - took the race from Kurtz and Ashman. After that, with Liverpool (the only active speedway in New South Wales) preferring the Agrade riders returning from Europe, only Burdfield was able to find a place on the programme. Other Bulls' riders drifted off into dirt-track racing or just gave it away.
The 1983-84 Season The 1983-84 season looked a bit better, with yet another new promoter at Tralee - Alan Olive, who was a nephew of the great Australian solo rider Ken le Breton (the "White Ghost", for his white-painted leathers in the days when leathers were mostly black and sometimes even brown). To resolve the conflicts of the past, where the cars had created huge, rubber-coated ruts in the track surface, making it dangerous for the bike riders, Olive assisted us to construct a
300m track on the infield of the main circuit. This allowed us to have flatter, unbanked turns, which are easier for beginners to slide on, and two "proper" straights, where the main Tralee track was "D"-shaped. We basically had the opportunity to start again from scratch. Occasional practice sessions were again permitted, and we were at last free of the constraints of having to share a track with the big cars. Bulls Burdfield, Ford, Martin, Devitt, Baghurst and Gary Turner, were joined by Allen and Dave Paget and Aboriginal rider Warren Taggart, all from the Singleton area, and Sydney-based riders Kelvin Pace, Ian Wedgwood and veteran Barry Flanaghan. We repeated the "November Classic" format, which was basically three rides each, then semis and a final. Burdfield and Wedgwood dominated the heats and semis, but surprisingly Warren Taggart won the final from Wedgie. Burdfield failed to finish. It was a promising start to the year, although several riders notably Gary Turner - had trouble staying on the track owing to the lack of a well-defined outside line. Kelvin Pace agreed to stay with the Bulls in the hope of further regular meets, after an altercation with a Liverpool referee limited his racing opportunities there.
Photo #22. Kelvin Pace
The December meeting recreated the Canberra-Sydney rivalry, and a Bulls team of Burdfield, Pace, Devitt, Baghurst, Ford, Gary Turner, Wayne Martin and Mick Donnelly was to meet a strong "Sydney", led by Ian Wedgwood with Mick Wilde (then the NSW Club A-grade champion), Herb Willems, Martin Porter, Frank Rotherick and the two Pagets. Unfortunately, we have no record of the results for that night or even for the rest of the 1983-84 season (if anyone can throw some light on it, please email us!). Steve Olive, the promoter's son, recalls that the poor weather was responsible for the speedway failing to flourish that year, and the track changed hands yet again the following year.
The 1984-85 Season The new promoter, Brian Holbrook, gave every impression of not giving a damn about the bikes. When we were finally offered a spot on the program, we found ourselves with ankledeep water across the startline, from the excessive watering of the sprintcars' mud on the banked outer track. Complaints were met by a "who cares?" shrug of the shoulders by the promoter. It
was highly dangerous for the riders, a pathetic travesty of speedway for the spectators, and after that one meeting there was no enthusiasm for any more. The Canberra Bulls were effectively a thing of the past.
The Aftermath.................. A few riders from these later years tried hard to keep the dream alive. Harvey McGrath and Jason Neiberding both deserve a mention, and would always turn up if we could find a track. Harvey had ridden some dirt-track and adapted well to speedway - and even better to long-track racing when the speedway scene died, while Jason moved from a successful junior dirt-track sidecar racing career into solo speedway as soon as he was old enough to race. Tony Glennon came over from Wagga. Steven Mesic tried it out. We occasionally had informal practice sessions and rode "demonstration" events at the tiny Fairbairn track that had been an important part of our beginnings. As always, a number of Sydney-based riders joined us enthusiastically, including Frank Rotherick and Barry Flanaghan, and we had some good times. Even John Walker had a go occasionally, lining up against Peter Devitt and Ian Ford for his first-ever "race" at the age of 39 and a half, and finishing a distant third. We supported Bob Sharpe's short-lived practice track at Appin (photos - recently re-discovered - below), while it was operating during 1987. But that dream also died! Photo #23:
International Roll of Honour Undoubtedly, the most successful product of the Canberra Bulls era was Jim Burdfield, who raced successfully for several years in British Speedway and was credited with a memorable performance from reserve in Middlesbrough's 4-Team Tournament win, but Jim wasn't the only one. The list below is based only on the fading memories of the club founders, and any corrections or addition are welcome: Paul Turner: - Milton Keynes (1981), Oxford (Western Reserve League, 1981) Jim Burdfield: - Stoke (1982-83); Middlesbrough (1984-86) Ian Wedgwood: - Middlesborough (1985) Steve Baghurst: - Middlesborough (1984?) Jason Neiberding: - ?
A Postscript........ since 2005 The Walkers spent 2001-2004 living and working in Melbourne, where they joined the Speedway Sidecar Riders Association of Victoria (SSRAV - www.ssrav.org.au). The SSRAV had kept speedway alive in southern Victoria after Melbourne's Brooklyn closed, and had built a track at the Victorian State Motorcycle Complex at Broadford, an hour's drive north of Melbourne. Running club days and practice days, the SSRAV catered for young riders trying to break into the sport, and older riders just doing it for fun. They introduced a computer system to generate a race programme within minutes of closing nominations, and generally helped out in the pits and control tower. Just occasionally, they floated the idea of teams racing, which was received with enthusiasm by club members, but found difficulty in fitting such an event into the SSRAV calendar. They even knocked up a new set of "Bulls" race jackets in anticipation, but returned to live in Canberra before their efforts could bear fruit. John continued as SSRAV website manager, and work excuses were found as often as possible for trips back to Broadford to help out at club days. Then one day in early 2005, a chance visit to a Nepean club day, and a chat with Neil Brett and the veteran riders from the Sydney area, led to a serious proposal for a teams match between Sydney and SSRAV riders. If the Sydney vets were to race as a team, they needed race jackets, and one thing led to another .........................
Photo #23. The 2005 "NSW Bulls"
The Myrtleford track offered us a date in late November 2005, and the idea developed into a two-level interstate challenge, with seven-a-side teams from NSW and Victoria racing at both Open and Veteran levels - possibly a world first. The NSW Bulls were Jack Stevens (Capt), Barry Morgan, Dave Clifton, Neil Brett, Andrew McDonald, Ray Macarthy, Lee White and Kel Hannon. The "Broadford Brumbies" were born, as the Victorian open team, and the racing was keen at both levels. John Walker found himself in the new position of being team manager of the Victorian teams, racing for the first time against the Bulls. It is amazing how representative teams racing transforms individual riders into team members, working together and cheering on their team mates. The Victorians in particular, riding a track that most of them had ridden before, were racing their collective socks off, and convincingly won both matches. The night would have been truly inspirational, were it not for the tragic accident in the individual "rider of the night" final that claimed the life of the Victorian Open team captain, Ashley Jones, who had been in outstanding form all night. Yet the dream of regular teams racing in Australian speedway lives on - a return match between NSW and Victorian teams will happen sometime! What remains is to find a track suitable for bikes in the Canberra area, which is starved for motor sport and potentially a great venue for speedway. If anyone knows of a possible site, please contact us!
Reunion in January 2009! At last, a reunion was held at the Club Macquarie, Boolaroo, Newcastle, on 3rd January 2009. We used the occasion of the first round of the 2009 Australian Solo Speedway Championships
held at the Newcastle Showgrounds. Most of the original core members of the Bulls from the 1980s managed to attend, with others sending their apologies. Apart from some grey or misplaced hair, expanding waistlines and other evidence of good living, it was hard to believe that twenty years had gone by since we were last together as a team. The photo album, scrapbook and battle-scarred race jackets helped to jog the memories. Just like in the good old days, everyone was mercilessly bagging everyone else, but the overwhelming theme of the day was the pride in actually achieving something special, something against the odds, in spite of officialdom, in spite of clay tracks. And, having had a great time doing it!
Photo #24. The 2009 Reunion Team: L-R Back row - John Walker (Team Manager), Ian Wedgwood, Tony Abson, Scott McClean, Jim Burdfield; L-R Front row - Mark Maybury, Steve Baghurst, Steve Kurtz.
Photo #25. The 2009 Reunion: - John Walker presenting (L) Tony Abson, (R) Scott McClean.
Photo #26. The 2009 Reunion: - (L) Steve Kurtz (wearing one of the original Bulls T-shirts!), (C) Mark Maybury, (R) Terry Ricketts and Mick Hayes.
Photo #27. The 2009 Reunion: - (L) Jim Burdfield, (C) Steve Baghurst, (R) Karan Walker & Mick Poole.
Photo #28. The 2009 Reunion: - (L) Ian Wedgwood, (C) "Friends" of the Bulls - Mick and Terry Poole, (R) Janelle Abson.
Photo #29. The 2009 Reunion: - Group scenes #1.
Photo #30. The 2009 Reunion: - Group scenes #2.
Photo #31. The 2009 Reunion: - Group scenes #3.
Photo #32. The 2009 Reunion: - Group scenes #4.
Photo #33. The 2009 Reunion: - Caption competition #1. Kurtz - "It still fits, after all these years!!" Baghurst - "I outgrew mine years ago!" Burdfield - "Yellow's not really my colour!".
Photo #34. The 2009 Reunion: - Caption competition #2. McClean - "Australians all, let us rejoice....." Wedgwood - "I always used to just close my eyes and twist the throttle as far as it would go..........."
Photo #35. The 2009 Reunion: - Caption competition #3. Baghurst - "OK, after me - you put your left leg IN ...."
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History of the Canberra Bulls Speedway Club