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A Night to Remember
By John Fray

Well who would have believed it? Certainly not the Oxford Cheetahs fans in the old National League days. Our gallant Cheetahs, bottom of the league under dogs were riding against Belle Vue on August 8th, 1963. It really was a night to remember. One of those balmy Speedway nights that so many of us enjoyed in the 60's with music and the addictive smell of dope filling the evening air.

We always enjoyed our battles against the Aces, which at the time were at their best and topping the league. The Aces marched out with a solid team with Dick Fishers, brilliant Soren Sjosten, Cyril Maidment, Jim Yacoby and an Oxford old time favourite Gordon McGregor. Their captain was of course one of our very best and all time great Peter Craven, the wizard of balance and the fastest man around the Oxford track with a 4 lap record of 63 seconds set only a few weeks earlier in a match race against Ove Fundin.

The crowd was good and the terraces full. Peter Craven always treated Oxford as his own, in anticipation we just wanted to watch him again and hold on to the memory of this Speedway genius as he out rode all that dared to think they could beat him. We knew he had no fear of anyone he was at his brilliant best. It was going to be a great night and everyone knew it.

Peter Craven in action at Oxford

Nobody could have believed how good the match would be, because we won the match 45 - 33 a real cause for celebration and revenge for an earlier match when we had points deducted for a fault on the starting line, points taken away after we had won the match. Ours was a good team, how could a solid team of Ronnie Genz, Arne Pander, Chum Taylor, Jack Geran, Colin Gooddy, John Bishop and George Major be bottom of the league.

The win while good, was not the best of it. Arne had beaten Craven in heat 2 a good race, but Arne was a brilliant rider and could always be relied upon to match the best. It was a good race, a highlight, but not the highlight of this night. No it came in the last heat when George Major our reserve came in for the out of form Gooddy. Partnered with the Oxford Skipper Jack Geran they were up against Craven and Sjosten a world class pairing in anyone's book.

Major gated well Craven was just half a wheel away with Geran not a bike lengths behind and Sjosten nipping at his heels as they went into the first bend wide with plenty of room for Craven to swoop under Major. To everyone's amazement it didn't happen as Major came out of the bend riding the high line still just ahead. He was on the outside, Craven on the inside trying to edge it for the next bend, but Major raced round the middle of the bend hardly a wheel ahead as they entered the straight. This was the race of his life and the crowd knew it shouting for all their might while others, like me, were just holding their breath, not believing our eyes.

How could this be happening? George seemed to anticipate Peter's every move even so it was very tight. Could it be that our reserve would beat the former world champion Peter Craven. With a wheel in it they passed the line and George punched the air in victory and his team mates held him shoulder high as the crowd went mad. We had just seen our reserve beat the great Peter Craven. Brilliant George Major the pride of the Cheetahs Lair that night. Who would have believed it.

George Major

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This article was first published on 25th March 2018

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