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30th August 2006

Fay Taylour, Queen of Speedway by Brian Belton

FAY TAYLOUR: QUEEN OF SPEEDWAY by Brian Belton  - From Panther PublishingFay was the most successful woman speedway rider - ever. Her short but meteoric career spanned just a few years in the late 1920s until women were banned from the Speedway in 1930.

In these few years Fay made a name for herself first in Trials riding, in which she won several Gold Medals, and then in Speedway, one of the toughest of all sports on a motorcycle.

Fay competed against, and beat, most of the well known male speedway riders in the UK, Australia and New Zealand and became something of a legend - the Queen of Speedway! That would still be an achievement today, but in the male-dominated world of the 1920s Fay needed to be extremely determined to stay ahead of the field…

This book is a biography of Fay and especially her motorcycle years in trials and speedway, but it follows her career from her comfortable family background in Ireland through speedway and motorcycle racing to car competition at Brooklands and endurance racing. From the opening pages you understand that Fay was a natural rider and a ferocious competitor - the first picture shows her in a full broadside slide, the rear of the bike obliterated by a plume of dust and the huge front tyre dwarfing the figure behind the bars. Fay started riding in speedway at the age of 24 and 'took to the cinders like a duck taking to water. She rode all the tracks… and it was not long before she astounded everyone… Physically she was as sound as the average male and in addition she was a highly skilled mechanic.' Apparently she could strip an engine in 10 minutes, if required!

Brian Belton's text follows Fay's riding life, from her early days when she sneaked onto the tracks, frequently being mistaken as a 'young lad', to riding in Australia and New Zealand, through meeting and beating her great rivals, to the moment when women were banned from competing in the sport - a ban which lasted some 50 years…

The research behind this book must have taken many, many months to complete. It incorporates plenty of first-hand material from Fay's own diaries, along with recollections of conversations from the time, and plenty of news and magazine reports. When you read any of the interviews of the time you get the impression that Fay couldn't wait to start talking about the technicalities of speedway riding. If she was chatting over a cuppa at the café then in no time at all the salt-cellar, serviette and sugar tongs were turned into the starting line, safety fence and screaming motorcycles!

Belton has gone beyond cataloguing Fay Taylour's achievements on the track - he also tries to explain them: '…Taylour's obsession with the track seemed to be a compensation for her seeming inability to sustain any meaningful relationship with others. She needed racing as it was a reliable means of acquiring the adoration she seemed to crave.' For trivia fans there's also a comprehensive list of her achievements - gold medals a-plenty, first British rider to compete in Australian speedway, fastest laps all over the shop - and detailed notes which fill in the backgrounds of the incidental characters we meet along the way.

There are also some rare and rather wonderful photos, normally showing Fay or her main rivals kicking up dust, but here are some stills which show her posed with her brand new Douglas, built especially for the dirt track. Look closely and you can see a distinct glint of impish anticipation in her eyes!

Belton has obviously winnowed Fay's diaries down to select the most revealing passages, and has produced a readable and engaging biography. There are some sections which were into more depth that I was interested in - these were normally Fay's accounts of long conversations which served to illustrate a point but took a while to get there… No matter; the book is structured so that you don't have to read it end-to-end; it's perfectly possible to dip in and out. It's also a rewarding read, even if you don't have the faintest interest in speedway!

Rowena Hoseason

FAY TAYLOUR: QUEEN OF SPEEDWAY by Brian Belton costs £16.99 plus delivery from Panther Publishing (01494 534778), hardcover, 224-pages, 18 photos, ISBN 09547912 4 X

Buy direct from Panther Publishing via this link and a small commission will go towards the running costs.


If Speedway is one of your interests then you may also like to try these, available through Amazon:

Buy from NATIONAL: America's Golden Age of Motorcycle Racing by Joe Scalzo, which covers the series' early days of the 1950s, heydays of the 1960s and the high-end bikes of the 1970s, is published by Motorbooks ISBN 0 7603 2064 0. Hardback, 192-pages, normal price £24.99, hundreds of mono and colour photos

ST AUSTELL SPEEDWAY: THE EARLY YEARS 1949-1954 by Jeremy Jackson which normally costs £14.99; 158-pages, 85 monochrome illustrations.

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