Star of the dirt track Frank Charles breaks records to thrill crowd of 5,000 at Barrow

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7 September 2017 4:56PM

THE Furness British Motorcycle Club is holding its classic motorcycle, scooter and car show this weekend at Hawcoat Park Sports and Leisure Club.

It is open on Sunday, September 10, from 10am to 4pm and proceeds will go to the North West Air Ambulance and the Pride of Cumbria Air Ambulance.

To help mark the event, here is a nostalgic look at the speedway sport in Barrow - and the town's best rider Frank Charles.

For more than 10 years he was a top international competitor before his death, aged 32, in a gliding accident in 1939.

The Mail on Tuesday, July 8 in 1930 noted a visit to Barrow by Frank Charles which was packed with records and incident: "Every one of the 5,000 people at the Barrow Dirt Track on Monday evening had enough thrills and spills to last a long time.

"In one case the spectators marvelled at the luck of one of the riders.

"H. Wilson, Barrow, skidded, and was run over by one of the riders following.

"One of the features of the evening's sport was the riding of Frank Charles, captain of the White City, Manchester team and the only real dirt track star Barrow has so far produced.

"Other star riders were Claude Rye, Eric Airey and Jack Tye, all of Preston.

"Two new records were set by Charles, the first a new record for the track held by Eric Airey with 18secs.

"Charles, however, lowered this to 17 and two-fifths, equal to 42mph.

"His other record was for the five laps, which he lowered to one minute 30 and one-fifth of a second.

"Owing to crashing, Charles was compelled to retire from the race for the Golden Helmet, which was won by Claude Rye."

Charles recovered to win the final race over five laps against Airey, Rye and Tye.

He had been born at South Row, Roose, in March 1907 and his fascination with motorbikes saw a first practical outlet at the age of 15 when he was making deliveries for a bakery on his father’s 500cc Dunelt with sidecar.

It was said that the daring young man would ride over the parapet of JubileeBridge or down the steps from Michaelson Road Bridge.

At 18 he had a new 493cc Model 90 Sunbeam and took part in the popular beach races or time trials before trying his hand in stadiums built for the new craze of dirt-track.

His success saw him compete for a host of professional teams including Belle Vue, Preston, White City, Leeds and the Wembley Lions. Even at Wembley he still commuted to London on a motorcycle!

It was a career dotted with retirements as he tried his hand at running a grocery shop and as a gliding instructor but it still saw him captain England and win the Star Championship final in 1935 – forerunner to what became the world championships.

He rode against the USA, Australia and several international select teams.

A fortnight after his third comeback in 1939 he was picked for England and helped the team to a narrow victory against the Aussies.

He turned down the chance of another international match to compete in the National Gliding Championships in Derbyshire but his machine crashed while still attached to the launching wire.

The Bridewell Museum in Norwich has a Jawa speedway bike high on one of its walls with a 1960s frame and last ridden at Kings Lynn in 1977.

Its display gives a taste of just how popular the sport was after the Second World War and into the 1950s when the Norwich Stars attracted crowds of up to 25,000 to the Firs Stadium.

It closed in 1964 for redevelopment – just a year after the Norwich Stars won the National Trophy.

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