Book Review of Keep Turning Left by Ray Lambert

Not to be confused with the excellent blog with same name, Ray Lambert’s recently published Keep Turning Left is an affectionate romp down memory lane. It’s a bargain priced must for any self-respecting speedway fans’ bookshelf. The book is a compulsively readable treasure trove of facts, photographs, stories, tables, letters, quirky observations, transfer fees, poetry, wisecracks and quotes. Ray knows his speedway onions – having reported on Canterbury and Crayford speedway clubs in the 1970s – and isn’t afraid to ride his hobbyhorses in some style.

The material is presented in bite-sized chunks and covers the span of time from the arrival of speedway in Britain to the present day. Ray selects his words and photographs with care. He invites us to laugh at idiocies and delight in triumphs. Ray clearly has his favourites and many stories transport us to a simpler speedway world that, nonetheless, faced and resolved many of the issues, concerns and problems that beset our own contemporary shale world. Some lessons could be drawn but Ray avoids dogma and biting criticism instead – through his selections – preferring nuance, humour and oblique critique.

Much more rich tapestry than shabby carpet, Keep Turning Left has something to appeal to every type of speedway fan. Whether it’s tales of on-track or off-track daring do, cock ups, sponsorships, records or run ins with the Police. Reading this book, a career in the police force sounds the way you’ll most likely meet off duty speedway riders or have the time to enjoy a career as a speedway referee! Equally, the existence of a speedway trade union indicates a speedway universe keen to disagree but happier to rub along together rather than resort to litigation.

Many black and white photographs break up a text (that doesn’t need breaking up). Ray includes such joys as shots of Dave Jessup at home (what a sideboard) or Dave perched on tyres on his brand new 350cc Bultaco trials bike outside Norman Flurry’s Watling Tyre Services in Gravesend (with great, evocative background signage) as well as a natty jumper worn by Rob Mouncer. So many things about the varied world of speedway shine through in the snippets selected for these pages by Ray Lambert. Some of the things you’ll discover in this book include:

Johnnie Hoskins referred to his new enterprise as “speedway” though the Australian authorities insisted upon “motorcycle racing” and the British “dirt bike racing”

“There are only two kinds of people in speedway – the ones that don’t know the rules and break them and those who do know the rules and bend them.” Johnnie Hoskins

“When I think of all the let downs I’ve encountered and the people I would never like to meet again, I wonder if I have wasted two years out of my life. I refer, of course, to the two years I spent securing funding for the Speedway Museum.” George Barclay

Riding for Belle Vue at New Cross in 1952, Ron Johnson wrecked four bikes in four races. His own and those he borrowed from Denis Parker, Ken Sharples and Jack Parker.

Jock Sweet – possibly the first rider to adopt the foot forward racing style (in 1938)

“I won both races but it was tough going up there against Paddy [Mills], particularly as I have never been on the old Firs track before.” Tommy Price

“This will not be my lucky night” Wimbledon rider Ernie Roccio after breaking down on the way to a meeting at West Ham on July 22nd 1952

Guy Allott’s post meeting parade at Owlerton Stadium Sheffield in May 1963 ends painfully when he falls off the tractor and is trapped under the heavy metal grader. Guy sustains a punctured lung, broken arm and facial injuries.

[Rosco] “That’s the worst decision I’ve ever seen [Referee Jim Lawrence] “Well give it time, after all it’s only heat four!” Televised Belle Vue v Swindon meeting in 2008

Vaclav Verner discharged from the Prague police force in 1980 “for scandalous talk against the communist regime”

By the end of the 1978 season, seven riders – Keith Evans, Phil Collins, John Jackson, Kelvin Malarkey, Phil White, Nicky Allot and Bob Garret – jointly held the Quibell Park, Scunthorpe track record of 76.8 seconds.

“Shirra managed to get from the pits to my box. The first thing I knew was hearing the door being kicked in. The door was always locked but the doorframe was smashed and the door flew open. Within a moment I had a great pain in my right ear and I felt myself plunging to the floor off my stool. Shirra had hold of my ear and was shouting obscenities at me and in front of the startled announcer, timekeeper and my wife, who always acted as my scribe, filling in the five programmes I was obliged to complete.” Referee Bill Bowles recalls a post heat 14 incident at Foxhall Heath Ipswich that led to Mitch Shirra fined £10 “for an unauthorised approach to a referee (SR176f) and the maximum £50 for dissent (SR176e)”

“This is one way to get on television” David Gagen is guest of honour at the grand opening of the new premises of Radio Rentals in King’s Lynn

“It’s hard to slow down and keep up your speed” Bjarne Pedersen

Fred Monkford invents the original starting gate in 1932 for use at New Cross. It stays in continuous operation for 46 years when it ends up at Canterbury in 1968.

Tony Svab loses an eye ice racing “when his goggles came off and one of his eyes froze”.

Reading rider Dave Jessup starts the 1977 campaign wearing a brand new set of leathers chosen from “around 60 designs” submitted by the fans.

Tall riders: Graham Miles (6ft 6 inches), Arthur Browning (6ft 4 inches)

Alf Weedon’s green Mercedes has “an equally distinctive number plate ALF *****”. Wonder what ***** stands for?

“The referee is the authority and it would be beneficial if he knows the rules” Jan Staechmann at the 2009 Speedway World Cup race off in Leszno, Poland

[Ronnie Russel] “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you like me?” [Terry Russell] “No, I don’t like people with ginger hair!” Bizarre exchange between Rye House boss and temporary referee

“I didn’t know what nitro was until it was banned” Nigel Boocock

“It seems my two years in Germany were not exactly wasted!” George Barclay

“There are only two corners that matter – the first and the last.” Jack Parker

Keep Turning Left by Ray Lambert. From RAYL Publishing in Paperback at £6.99

110 pages with 18 black & white photographs

Send UK orders with a cheque for £7.99 (includes UK P&P) to RAYL Publishing, 13 Weedswood Road, Chatham, Kent ME5 0QR. Please include your name, address and postcode. For overseas orders, please write to the address above to find out additional overseas postage costs.

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