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More Memories of the “Pughole”

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”.

Photo thanks to 'Down Memory Lane With Noel O'Connor'. Driver Bob Wente takes the chequered flag at Rowley Park Speedway. And is that a young Glen Dix

Photo thanks to ‘Down Memory Lane With Noel O’Connor’. Driver Bob Wente takes the chequered flag at Rowley Park Speedway. And is that a young Glen Dix

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.

Photo thanks to 'Down Memory Lane With Noel O'Connor' "The thrill and excitement of driving on the quarter-mile oval track, paved with dirt, shell grit and other materials was worth it."

Photo thanks to ‘Down Memory Lane With Noel O’Connor’ “The thrill and excitement of driving on the quarter-mile oval track, paved with dirt, shell grit and other materials was worth it.”

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”.

Photo thanks to 'Down Memory Lane With Noel O'Connor'. “the clay in my hair, the smell of methanol fuel and the noise of Rowley Park Speedway."

Photo thanks to ‘Down Memory Lane With Noel O’Connor’. “the clay in my hair, the smell of methanol fuel and the noise of Rowley Park 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.

12 Responses to More Memories of the “Pughole”

  1. robert taylor November 18, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    i remember going to rowley park as a kid , my uncle billy angwin rode side cars and all of my cousins started riding solos there , the worst thing they ever did getting rid of the track

  2. Ross Colthorpe November 18, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    I remember being at the fence line as a kid to watch the cars, until they came around and we would run like hell to avoid being sprayed with grit. Loved the smell of the cars.

  3. Andrew Mussared November 20, 2014 at 11:50 am #

    My dad worked on the main gate, so every Friday night we as a family would be off to the track for dinner with my dad and watch the races, Yep the smell in the air and combing dirt out of your hair was all apart of the experience. Loved those days. Mel Cameron was the announcer ?

  4. Colin Penney November 21, 2014 at 10:18 am #

    Rain or shine, would NOT miss “Friday nights at Rowley” Would go there straight from work, down the Coglin Street Ramp, turn right and up the ramp and park alongside the Torrens Road fence, then down to “the pits” and join in the B-B-Q’s with the riders/drivers.
    Yes, the old Greyhound Track was put to a far better use.

  5. Dianne Walker November 24, 2014 at 9:59 pm #

    I grew up at Rowley Park due to Dad aka Frank Midgley photographed there, we had the same seats every year and always joined in the barbeque in the pits after the racing had finished, such a shame its gone the atmosphere was awesome

    • Ashley Roocroft March 18, 2021 at 3:53 am #

      Dianne, you Dad is a lovely bloke. I have lots of memories of chatting with him at Speedway City and also Murray Bridge speedway. I hope hes getting over his injuries and is doing well.
      Kind regards, Ashley Roocroft.

  6. Gordon Benny February 10, 2015 at 4:52 pm #

    I was looking for info on Bob Wente and Noel O’Connor’s name came up.
    Glad to hear he is still around.

    Yes Rowley has a lot of memories for many people.

    Bob Wente put in a 138 mph lap driving the # 15 Pizza Hut midget on the 1.5 mile Trenton Speedway. the car is now fully restored and here in Sydney. And I didn’t know he drove over here.

  7. Brian Lamprell November 14, 2016 at 4:46 pm #

    From the time I was old enough to jump the back fence at my mate’s place in Blight St. Croydon, I was a regular at Rowley Park. Loved it, and became hooked on the senses assault – ears, eyes nose and skin. Soooo good! The smell of the bikes was like a high and the sound of the HRD was fabulous. Idolising all the speedway stars as a youngster, listening to Mel Cameron announcing and playing “Look for a Star” every time there was a bad crash (some irony there), then 15 years later I was track announcer there with Rob Kelvin. Something in speedway died when Rowley Park closed

  8. Ron Dickson March 18, 2017 at 6:31 pm #

    I missed the last years meeting at Rowley Park.i used to live in Kilburn and I used to knock around with Bob Hammond who,s father was the great Harley Hammond,I was their at the Ziilburn speedway whenHarley a Wally Watson had a accident on the straight near the broadcaters box I think then the announcer was Mel Cameron it is a pity that so many good drivers had to perish in something they loved doing.
    I was there when Arny Sunstrom was killed as well as Gerry Hussey.
    There were so many driver who were killed in a accident that I think was not neccasary but who knows what the future is coming.
    And I stil love the speedway.

    Ron Dickson

  9. Pam C. September 10, 2018 at 8:09 pm #

    I never got to Rowley Park unfortunately, but just wanted to add that there were also ‘pug holes’ in Hindmarsh and Bowden back in the 1950s. I used to pass them on my way to Hindmarsh Primary School.

  10. BARRY PORTLOCK October 28, 2020 at 8:19 pm #

    I have written my memories of Rowley Park some where else on ADELAIDE REMEMBER WHEN. I just want to correct what appears to be an error. I was at the track when Arn Sunstrom died. I don’t think the race had even started. He was just warming up his car and sped down the back straight and it appears his accelerator became stuck and he crashed into the gate at the end of the back straight BEFORE THE RACE STARTED.

    • Graeme December 20, 2021 at 9:25 pm #

      I think Arn Sunstrom crashed during the feature race. I think the accident you are thinking of involved someone else (maybe Ron Wood or Murray Hoffmann?) whose throttle stuck opened on the back straight before a race and he crashed into another car (or two cars?) at the end of the straight near the ambulance gate. That was in the 1960s. Arn crashed in January 1959.

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