Monday, 18 June 2018

16 3 2017 AMCA layered 2017


How Ken Brown fell in love with the speedway is probably a familiar story.

When he was a kid, he got his hands on some free passes to a meeting at the Claremont Showground track, which were being handed out at school. He and one of his three brothers caught a train in from Bayswater one Friday night to check it out.

12-year-old Ken liked what he saw – the fast and furious stock cars gunning it around the 586-metre track, the roar and fumes from the engine, and the mud falling on those of the crowd brave enough to sit on a bend.

While the sport has now relocated to the Perth Motorplex, a now 74-year old Ken still loves the sport just as much.

"I don’t remember too much (from the earlier days) other than the crashes," he commented.

"In those old days, the Speedcars would have just a rollbar, so when there was an accident and someone rolled over, or their car would go up the wall, there was silence. No one spoke.

"The doctor would go out on the back of a ute and he'd wave a torch to signal for an ambulance. There was a deathly hush until we knew the driver would be okay."

Ken Brown

When Ken got a licence of his own, he could head down there every other week. He celebrated the wins of his heroes, such as American Speedcar driver Bob Tattersall, who would “give our guys a half lap start in a four-lap race and still beat them”, and Ivan Mauger – the multiple world champion on the bikes.

Locally, Chum Taylor, Ron Krikke and John Fenton were among his favourites. He'd follow them and enjoy their victories the same way many others do now with AFL stars and teams.

Ken never had an inclination to get behind the wheel of any of the speedway vehicles and compete; but that doesn’t mean he didn’t get heavily involved with the sport.

"I used to sit under the speakers on the back straight at Claremont and write down all of the results," Ken recalls.

"Then in '66 I picked up a newspaper and read that it was looking for people to cover their local tracks. So, I sent something off and I have been doing it ever since. From something that is still a hobby; I have been lucky enough to write about it for 50 years.”

The places you would have read Ken's words about Claremont Speedway's results and about the drivers of the different types of cars and bikes has changed over the years – as newspapers have come and gone.

They include the many papers, magazines and websites that dedicate space to the sport from around the world, especially in the US. There has always been a need to update people with what is happening in this extremely popular sport.

Ken became the official historian for Claremont Speedway and still fills the same role at the Perth Motorplex.

If you have anything stashed away that was written about speedway in WA, including ‘The All-Time Claremont Speedway Fact-File – End of An Era’, it was probably written by Ken. And you can still purchase some of his old and new publications through his Facebook page.

He was inducted into the Claremont Speedway Hall of Fame in 2000, the last year that it was held at the showgrounds (having started in 1927). Ken was also honoured with the Award for Outstanding Contribution to the Sport in the Australian Sprintcar Poll, which was organised by the National Sprintcar Hall of Fame in Knoxville, USA (2005-06).

There have been some changes over those years.

Ken remembers, pre-internet and email days, having to read his stories from a pay phone at the back of Claremont Showgrounds to a copytaker at whichever newspaper he was writing for.

He recalls one night when a local hounded him for 15 minutes while he carefully spoke out every word and spelt every driver's name as a local resident banged on the door of the phone booth because she wanted to make a call.

That would have been half way through a meet and he would have had to go back at the end of the feature race and update the top of the story with the main information and headline.

In the very early days, he would have been reading from his long hand notes and then later with pages from his big ‘clunker’ of a typewriter, which had no delete button – but plenty of xxxx through errors.

In the sport itself, safety is the notable change over the years.

"Now if there's a crash, it's usually just another crash," he said.

"People still get hurt, but safety has gone nuts compared to those early years. You go to Kwinana now and the top Sprintcar teams have huge transporters with probably $500,000 in spares.

"It's always been a rich man’s sport. They say that if you want to make a small fortune in speedway, start with a big one."

Words came easy for Ken. He was a primary school teacher and was fortunate enough that he didn’t have to go country and miss out on going to Claremont Showgrounds during the speedway season.

His two marriages have ended in divorce and he admits, semi-jokingly, that the speedway might have been a factor, but he still spends time with his grandkids on weekends and still goes to the speedway.

This season is a cracker, with the World Series Sprintcars featured on 11 February.

If you can't get there, you'll probably be able to learn the results from Ken's Facebook page.
Speedway information –

Article supplied by Brad Elborough

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