During the 1970’s, solo bikes played a major part in establishing speedway as a major attraction. The sport attracted thousands on a weekly basis. A new, younger breed of riders made for an exciting era where speedway heroes of old were matched.
Highlights of each season were the major individual titles as well as international team events. These were mainly at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground, but tracks were also burgeoning around Queensland at venues like Ipswich, Maryborough, Rockhampton, Mackay, Nambour, Kingaroy, Charlton (Toowoomba), Savanna (Townsville), Pioneer Park (Ayr), Carina (Bundaberg), Lagoon Park (Mount Isa) and Edmonton (Cairns).
At most of these tracks handicap races were extremely popular. Some of the better known riders such as Bert Kingston, Jack White, Kevin Torpie and Peter Ingram chased fields from up to 150 metres behind. Kingston excelled to be Australian test match captain but retired due to injury in 1971.
As the sport grew, Brisbane riders such as John Titman, Steve Reinke, Doug White, Bryan Loakes and Tony Hart excited an ever increasing numbers of fans. The bikes, and the spectators, were supported by strong sidecar and speedcar fields. The sport took to television with a one-hour show developed by Howard Gilder on Channel Nine.
Speedway had never been so good. In 1974 Steve Reinke reached the peak of his career when he won the Australian Championship at the Exhibition Ground after defeating reigning champion John Boulger and Titman.
Barely a year passed before Steve Reinke retired as National champion. However this was countered by more riders coming through the ranks such as Brisbane’s Neil Coddington, Ron Henderson and Rob Ashton who were challenged by riders from Townville such as Mike Farrell, Steve Koppe and Merv Janke.
Between 1970-79, the Queensland championship was won by Titman three times, Reinke and Kingston twice each and once by Jack White and Koppe.
A notable event occurred in 1976 when a team of North Queenslanders ventured south and defeated the Brisbane men on their home track. Many young riders carried on to make a name for themselves making a career racing for various British league teams. Steve Regeling and Stan Bear did the same although more towards the end of the decade.
Official teams from Sweden and USA (1971-72) and Poland (1974-75) toured Queensland, while the British Lions (1970-79) proved so popular that most often they contested two test matches at the 'Ekka' each season. They also contested meetings around the state. These events were always eagerly anticipated by riders and fans as well as the daily newspapers and television news. Usually, some form of controversy saw big crowds coming back for more.
In 1977, local boy John Titman took the Australian Championship from Phil Crump and Billy Sanders undefeated at the Exhibition Ground. During September 2008 the veteran Titman donned leathers and helmet again for some memorable demonstration laps at the famous "Ekka" during the annual Vintage Speedcar Spectacular.
Visiting British Lion, Peter Collins, went on to win the World Speedway Championship. Ivan Mauger (New Zealand), Ole Olsen (Denmark), Anders Michanek (Sweden), Bruce Penhall (USA) and Englishman Michael Lee also won the World Speedway Championship title. Other famous riders to appear in Queensland during the seventies were Edward Jancarz, Zenon Plech (Poland), Bernt Persson, Bengt Jansson, Soren Sjosten (Sweden), Nigel Boocock, Malcolm Simmons, Chris Pusey, Doug Wyer and Chris Morton (Great Britain) and Rolf Gramstad of Norway.
Lives were also lost to Speedway during the 1970’s. Lex Fielding passed away at Carina Speedway, Bundaberg in 1971. Also Don McKinnon lost his life at the Exhibition Ground in 1972 along with Swedish international Christer Sjosten in 1979. Unfortunately, Brisbane rider Terry Madden passed at NSW Lismore Speedway in 1974. Their memories will continue to inspire us all.
Thank you to Barry Forsyth.