Home Recent Updates Sections Contact Us

Chris Bailey
By Tracy Holmes

Chris Bailey in Halifax Colours

Former Belle Vue, Barrow, Halifax and Rochdale star Chris Bailey tells his story to Tracy Holmes.

I got into the usual scrapes as a kid but nothing too serious. I didn't go looking for trouble but it would follow me about sometimes. I cannot remember as a child the first time I went to my local track, Belle Vue, but I can remember standing against the fence many times and hiding behind the boards as the riders went past. You could get so close to the riders and bikes and the smell and the atmosphere was quite intoxicating to a young boy.

My first motorcycle was a 125 James which my brother had owned and passed on to me. That soon lost its appeal after I got my full licence and my next road bike was a BSA Gold Star. Now this bike got me into a few scrapes and my parents did not appreciate the Police escorting me home from some of my escapades!

I had started my working life as an apprentice motor mechanic and at the dealership I worked for, a Welshman called Owen Ellis Owen, [Taffy Owen] came to work. He bought a speedway bike from Reg Duval and Taffy managed to get some second half rides at Belle Vue. I was hooked and helping out in the pits was a real treat. A friend had also got me a job in the pits as a mechanic for Gordon McGregor so it was seventh heaven for someone like me. I had worked it out that my own motor bike was going to get me into some serious trouble so road riding was put on hold as my logic told me on a speedway track, nothing was coming the other way so there should be a lot less chance of accidents! How was that for flawed thinking as my speedway career was to prove?

My first ride on a speedway bike was at Wombwell near Barnsley in Yorkshire. There was a track there and you could hire a bike to have a go on. I remember my first ride and thinking 'Bloody Hell, this is a lot more powerful than my road bike!' A few weekends there and I was starting to look around for my own bike. I found a Rotrax JAP for 60 pounds with a few spares and a pair of two-piece leathers. The trousers were the old style jodhpurs that stuck out at the sides. Not really the look for an aspiring young rider!

Dent Oliver started a training school at Belle Vue which I went to. All done very professionally with Ivan Mauger doing the introduction speech and some tips and hints to get us going. Training rides in the morning, lunch at one of the Belle Vue Halls and back to the track in the afternoon. I have to admit I was not very good at all and the fence would leap out with monotonous regularity and hit my foot to the point where I couldn't walk and had to be wheeled off the track. I did persevere and with changes to my style, the light came on and I managed to get the bike sliding and the fence was not hitting me so much.

By the end of 1967 I thought I had improved enough to need better equipment , so I spent all my savings on a new Jawa Eso from Barry Briggs. My thoughts were that if I had good equipment, the rest was up to me.

Practice at Belle Vue before the 68 season was pretty cold and wet and with a brand new bike, I was a bit worried about getting it dirty! Well, the best thing that could have happened did, I fell off and the bike was covered in dirt. Once we had cleaned out the clutch and chains it was back on the track and no worries at all about falling off. I was picked for the Belle Vue Colts in the first British League Second Division match against Canterbury and managed to score a paid maximum.

68 was a reasonable year as we got used to being in a team and travelling around the country. [The Colts won the Second Division from Nelson and Middlesborough.] The year didn't end too well for me though. I had a high enough average to be in the Second Division Riders Championship at Hackney Wick. Did no good in my first ride, won my second, was leading the third and fell, resulting in a broken left forearm which had to have a steel plate inserted to join the bones together.

1969 was a similar year to 68 but as the year progressed, I started thinking about riding in other countries. We had an Aussie, John Woodcock in our team and also a Kiwi, Bill Moulin [from Christchurch] who had his wife and daughter with him in the UK. We became friends over the year.

[The Colts again won the Second Division, this time from Reading and Romford. And they beat Crewe 91-65 to win the KO Cup. Chris also travelled to The Soviet Union with a Belle Vue side along with Ivan Mauger, Soren Sjosten, Tommy Roper, Chris Pusey, Steve Waplington and Dave Hemus. Leningrad won 40-38, Chris scoring two points.]

I decided to do a season in New Zealand. The thought of sunshine compared to snow in the UK made the choice very simple. This time, my savings went on a boat ticket to New Zealand. Bill Moulin was supposed to go back on the same ship but he broke his femur at Romford in London. Murray Burt also broke his femur about the same time so they flew back to New Zealand together. Bill's in-laws, the Clarkson's made me welcome and I stayed with them whilst in New Zealand. I had also met a couple on board my ship, Bob and Tracey Cheeseman. Bob's dad had a factory making rubber products and he kindly gave me a job. Part of that was making wheels for hospital trolleys. It was a bit hit and miss sometimes and I made my share of wonky wheels. So if you ever had a rough ride on a hospital trolley in NZ, I might be to blame!!

Western Springs in Auckland was a big track so for me it was like coming home. I really enjoyed my racing and couldn't believe my luck doing what I wanted in the sun and avoiding a miserable English winter. A real highlight was a 'Big 6' race where I beat Bob Andrews, Ivan Mauger, Barry Briggs and Ronnie Moore ! I have to reluctantly admit that it was a handicap race and I went from the gate. Bob off 20 yards behind and the others 40 yards. The consolation was nobody gained on me during the race which made me feel good. [Chris was 3rd in the Auckland Champs behind Bob Andrews and Bryce Subritzky.]

Then came the NZ Champs. My bike was good but I saved a brand new tyre for this night so I had as good a chance as anyone.

[It was a 16 rider field but the format was heats, Semis and 3 Finals. Chris won his heat from Colin McKee, Lance Gandy and Gary Peterson e.f. He was then 2nd to Freddie {Rick} Timmo in the Semi, knocking out Jack Millen and Allan Brown. The 3 Finals results were;
Final 1. Chris Bailey, Freddie Timmo, Bryce Subtrizky, Bill Andrew, Colin McKee.
Final 2. Bryce Subritzky, Bill Andrew, Colin McKee, Chris Bailey, Freddie Timmo.
Final 3. Bill Andrew, Chris Bailey, Colin McKee, Freddie Timmo, Bryce Subtitzky, fall.

This meant Chris and Bill Andrew would run-off for the Title.]

The start gate was a big piece of elastic, pinned on the inside of the track and the Start Marshall stretched it out to the outside. We were ready to go and the Start Marshall seemed to flex his hand. I thought he was letting go so I dropped the clutch but was too quick. The elastic wrapped round my front forks and because it was pinned on the inside, I went round in a circle and knocked the Referee [Ian Fullerton] off his feet! He excluded me but I managed to persuade him that the Marshall had actually let go, which he agreed. Anyway, I managed to win the re-run!

[1970 NZ Champs. 1st Chris Bailey

2nd Bill Andrew

3rd Bryce Subritzky

4th Freddie Timmo

5th Colin McKee

Non Finalists; Bob Andrews, Jack Millen, Allan Brown, Jim Wells, Roger Wright, Goog Allan, Merv Hodgson, John Roberts, Tommy Sweetman, Lance Gandy and Gary Peterson.].

The biggest prize I found in New Zealand was my beautiful wife, Barbara, who I met on 25.1.1970 in Auckland. She came back with me to England and we were married on 25.1.1972 and have just celebrated our 40th Wedding Anniversary. We have two sons, Travis who lives in Auckland with his partner Stephanie and their daughter Zoe who will be 3 this year and Damon who lives in Sydney.

I had a fairly mixed career upon my return to the UK in 1970. I was made Captain of the new team at Rochdale with a new venue. We had a good year at the new track with good wins home and away. I had some good results there in league matches and second half wins. [Chris rode for Rochdale in the 2nd division. 22 matches with an average of 8.2, they were 3rd in the League behind Canterbury and Eastbourne. He also rode for 'Young England' doing 3 Tests in Czechoslovakia scoring 11-7-0. The home side won 3-0.] A highlight of the season was being selected along with Eric Broadbelt for a tour of Czechoslovakia with a Young England team. It was a terrific experience. A pretty good year for me with the bonus being injury free all season.

The 1971 season at Halifax started out ok but I broke a wrist, broke and dislocated a collarbone so that put me out for most of the season. I was trying to avoid another rider and ended up hitting the steel fence at Halifax which at best can be described as 'unforgiving'. [Chris rode 28 matches for 1st Division Halifax and ended the year with a 4.2 average.]

1972 [again with Halifax] saw me getting my confidence back but in one race at the end of the straight, as I tried to pass someone, his footrest went through my front wheel ripping out the spokes. I landed head first on the track and had a compression fracture in my neck. Initially it appeared to paralyze me but gradually feeling came back, very scary feeling to think you were that close to never walking again so I didn't ride again that year.

I thought I would give it another try in 1973. [Chris rode for Barrow in the 2nd Division] I had some reasonably good results early on but once again, disaster! Leading a race at Barrow, hit a hole and ended up in the fence. Probably would have been ok if the rider behind hadn't run me over! A badly damaged vertebra in my lower back was the final straw. I couldn't keep pushing my luck so walking away, gave it all away! [Chris rode 9 matches for Barrow for a 6.9 average.]

In 1975, I decided to pack up and move to New Zealand with Barbara and our sons. I got a job working for Tappenden Motors in Auckland as a truck mechanic and then worked for myself doing vehicle repairs for sometime. I also did fleet maintenance for our local Council. When made redundant, I spent a bit of time with Roy Trigg window cleaning. [Roy was still riding at Western Springs.]

I stayed away from Speedway as I knew if I got involved, the lure of riding would be too great. Ended up working for myself doing windows and commercial cleaning for 14 years and it was certainly easier on my body than the motor trade. We moved to Australia in 1998 as Barbara went into business with her brothers. I got a job as a Concierge in a fairly exclusive apartment block in Sydney, near Kings Cross. I had to wear a collar and tie, a first for me!

A back injury put me in hospital again needing continual traction to try to realign my spine. It took about 3 months to come right but had to learn how to walk again and as the job was not too physical, I continued on with that. I retired in July 2011 but there always seems to be something to do and we are making use of our senior's cards on the trains!

I still love motorbikes and have a 1952 Matchless at home and a Gas Gas trials bike and a farm bike down at my sister-in-laws farm, 4 hours south of Sydney.

We have been helping with remedial reading in schools for 7 year olds. At least my limited talents are not being wasted.

We are looking forward to the NZ GP in Auckland and catching up with old friends.


This article was first published on 25th March 2012


  • Mike Fidler:

    "Chris Bailey,Top Bombing!!! Always wondered where he went too. Watched him race for Barrow Bombers at Holker Street,very stylish,very very well turned out bikes & brave as they come!! Tipping into that first turn on a summers evening, with the setting sun making it a blind 'Pin it & Pray' job, took a lot of nerve. Glad to see the passion for two wheels has not faded, look after that Matchy."

  • Ray Jones:

    "Good to find out what happened to Chris.Was there at Holker street, the night it all went wrong (Ian Hindle was the other rider guesting for Teeside in a challenge match of all things).Barrow certainly missed Mr Bailey's scoring after that."

  • Deborah:

    "Chris Bailey used to live on Lightbowne Road when I was young. I always wonded if his mum or dad still had the house. I used to walk round and stand near Chris' house and see him revving the speedway bike. Where have all them years gone? How is Chris?"

  • Jim Gibbons:

    "I went to school with his sister Anne, I looked up to Chris because he was a biker and used to see him in the pits at Belle Vue and he would say hi. Hope he is ok and his sister too."

  • Jim Morris:

    "I worked with Chris a Hills Garages in Manchester, I also joined the Territorial Army with him, I think we both joined in order to pass our driving test. I hope he's in good health."

  • Paul Outram:

    "I was at those first Belle Vue Colts meetings and can remember Chris coming round the fourth bend at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour, missing the fence with a couple of inches. He was one of the stand out riders with his Red football jersey."

  • Paul Marsden:

    "I lived next door to Chris and his family in Lavery place Mairangi Bay Auckland from 1975 to 1979 before moving back to the UK with my parents. I wonder whether he and his family remember us?"

    [ Use Desktop Version ]


    Comment on this Article | Contact Us | Go Back to Main Menu

  •    Please leave your comments on this article