Following my column in the Advertiser ‘Boomer’ magazine recently on Rowley Park Speedway, Advertiser photographer Barry O’Brien wrote in to the paper with his own memories of “those adrenalin-pumping nights at the dirt track”.
Barry started photographing Rowley Park, also known as “the pughole”, for the newspaper in 1958 and attended the track on regular weekly assignments. With huge crowds each week and massive interest in the sport, his weekly role was firstly to produce a picture of one of the early events, the motorcycles, both solo and sidecar.
“A waiting taxi rushed the first photos back to the ‘Tiser for the first edition while I remained at the track. About 9.30pm I would return to the office with the first of the speedcar events. In those days we used standard-issue flashlights without telephoto lenses. On many occasions, vehicles would collide and spin off the track, missing us by just inches, while we stood stock still hoping they would see us and avoid us. With no fence or protection of any description between us and the track, how we weren’t killed or seriously injured goodness knows.
The duels between arch rivals Harry Neale and Arn Sunstrom were fierce and legendary. Neale was near unbeatable in the big races with numerous Australian Speedcar Championships to his name.
American Bob “Two-Gun” Tattersall joined the competition and the racing soared to another level. Tragedy struck when Sunstrom’s car flipped on the northern end of the track after colliding with Neale in the Speedcar Feature Race of the night on January 24th 1959. The resart saw Tattersall edge out Neale in a thrilling finish. Sunstroms injuries from that crash proved fatal. Less than a month later, on February 6th 1959, Harry Neale was killed while racing at Perth’s Claremont Speedway.
There are many happy but also sad memories of the “place where the champions gather”.
We received a record number of letters after that article, filled with wonderful memories of nights spent at the track. Beryl Drummond wrote to say how she still remembers “the clay in my hair, the smell of methanol fuel and the noise of Rowley Park Speedway. My late husband, ex-husband and I rode at the speedway.
I almost lost my life driving in the Powder Puff Derby in 1966. I was 28 and had two children; my son and husband witnessed that night. We knew many of the drivers personally, including Jack Self and Alf Shields as we lived in Coglin Street near the entrance to the speedway”.
Peter Glassenbury recalled the countless hours spent on building and repairing speedcars “but the thrill and excitement of driving on the quarter-mile oval track, paved with dirt, shell grit and other materials was worth it and I sill relive those fantastic memories. This was a boom time for speedway in Adelaide and is now often referred to as “The Golden Era of Speedway”, and I’m proud to have been part of it”.
So many memories. As I said in the original newspaper article and blog, whenever I pass the housing estate where Rowley Park used to be, on Torrens Road, Brompton, I’m immediately taken back to those summer nights with the huge crowds, the smell of the petrol fumes, the cars flying around the track, the noise and the sheer excitement that was Rowley Park Speedway.