May 19 2013 Latest news:
Exclusive by Tom Bristow
Friday, February 22, 2013
An ambitious dream to build a speedway track at the Norfolk Showground is back on track after months of delays, according to developers.
Grass track racing started in Norwich in the late 1920s.
The first genuine meeting took place in 1931 when a Norwich team took on Staines. During the 1930s, proper speedway was introduced by “Mad” Max Grosskreutz from Australia who transformed The Firs and entered the Norwich Stars in a new league. Fans flocked to the stadium in Hellesdon to watch the likes of Bert Spencer and Dick Wise in full flow. After the war, Wise took over control and this heralded the start of a glory era for speedway with average gates of around 20,000. The riders came from around the world and they were local heroes who always had time for the fans. By the end of the 1940s The Firs stadium was extended to hold 26,000 and it attracted some of the best riders around – along with Aussies Bert Spencer and Bob Leverenz there were local lads such as Phil Clarke and the mighty atom himself, Billy Bales.
Then a new star arrived from Sweden. Ove Fundin went on to become the best speedway rider in the world, earning himself the nickname, the Flying Fox.
In the early 1960s the crowds were still flocking to the Firs to watch the likes of Fundin and Olle Nygren, along with rising stars such as young Trevor Hedge.
The team was finishing near the top of the table, picking up trophies and honours, and then in October 1964 it suddenly closed with the shock announcement that the land off Cromer Road was to be redeveloped.
Our photos show action shots taken over the years.
A consortium first announced its intention to revive the sport in Norwich after nearly 50 years in July 2012. The company, called New Firs Ltd, hoped to put a planning application in for the track and stadium last autumn.
But as reported in January, their dreams hit delays when New Firs and their planning consultants Lanpro had a disagreement over fees.
Lanpro said the project required “greater resources than initially envisaged”.
Steve Ribbons from New Firs said the consortium had now moved on and new planning consultants had been hired, meaning the track and stadium could be built by the summer, although no planning application has been submitted to South Norfolk Council yet.
Mr Ribbons said: “Speedway remains on course for a return to Norwich this year.
“The last few months have been frustrating and painful.
“It is a project I have pinned a lot of my own self-worth on but I can see light at the end of the tunnel.”
The businessman, who has previously been involved in speedway projects at Rye House in Hertfordshire and Wimbledon, has hired Leicester Lions Speedway boss David Hemsley, speedway track designer Clive Williams and appointed a new director, Adrian Brill, to submit the plans.
Mr Williams, an architect, designed the track at Leicester Speedway and brought the sport back to the city in 2011 with Mr Hemsley.
Mr Ribbons said: “We’ve had a tough few months up to now, but things are definitely looking up.
“With the solid backing of the showground and the enthusiasm of David, Clive and Adrian, I am still confident we will see the bikes at the showground sometime in the summer.”
When the plans were revealed last July, opinion was split over whether a track should be built on the showground’s eastern edge.
Opponents believe speedway is too noisy for a track to be built close to homes in Costessey and Easton and new housing developments at Queen’s Hills and Lodge Farm.
But supporters argue the noise is far less than opponents make out and want to see the sport brought back to the city.
The plans are for a 360-metre track with a 480-seater temporary stadium on an 11-hectare development on the site of the former golf driving range.
It would revive the sport in the city for the first time since the Firs stadium in Hellesdon closed in 1964.
The team would enter the national league, the third division of speedway, and Mr Ribbons said he hoped to establish the team over a couple of years and be promoted to higher leagues.