Trackin' Down 2 - Roger Mills Extract
In this extract from Ian Gill's Trackin' Down 2 book, Roger Mills talks about his early rides.
"When I started riding, there were three of us, all good friends, who all took up the sport at the same time. We'd all been keen supporters, so it seemed a natural progression to have a go at riding. Stuart Riley was one and he went on to ride for Nelson, Crayford and Wolverhampton. Ross Allen was the other, but he never made the grade, possibly because he was a really tall lad and not really the ideal build for a rider.
"I was working as a toolmaker in a factory at that time, and the three of us eventually got enough money together to buy a bike from Howard Cole Senior who had workshops close to Monmore Green. I seem to remember the bike cost us about �60. Despite the price being at the lower end of the scale, it wasn't a bad bike. In fact, I recall that Howard used to call it his own bike.
"When we went practicing, we had to share the bike and it meant that as soon as you'd done a few laps, you came back in, handed the bike over and it was straight back on the track again, so it really was well employed.
"The very first track I ever rode on was Rye House. I recall I was 16 at the time and a chap at the factory where I was working took me down one Sunday to have a go. It was quite a journey to contemplate in those pre-motorway days. You couldn't book in advance so it was a case of just turning up, paying your money, doing four laps and that was it. The adrenalin rush was over and you were on your way home again. At that time, I didn't have my own machine, so I had to hire one at the track. My first rides were pretty horrendous experiences and I really wasn't very good at all. I just managed to potter round the track for four laps, but at least I'd made that tentative start towards becoming a rider.
"When the three of us did buy a bike, our first practice sessions were up on Ainsdale Sands near Southport. There were very few tracks open during the winter/early spring for beginners to practice on, so the wide expanse of beach made an ideal practice ground and significant numbers of other riders used to turn up.
"We used to go up on a Saturday morning but you always had to be aware of the tides so it was vital that we knew when the tide was going to be "in" so we could plan our day. We'd try and get as many hours practice in as we could before the incoming tide or darkness eventually defeated us and then we'd have sleep in the freezing cold van overnight, ready for more laps on the Sunday. After another full day's practice, we'd then drive back home to be ready for a more mundane five days at work. There used to be quite a lot of riders from the Wolverhampton area on the sands and I recall seeing some of the local League riders out on the sands with the likes of Howard Cole Junior (Kid Bodie), Jimmy Bond and Dave Hemus up there at different times.
"We marked our tracks out with council bollards/cones which we 'acquired' for the purpose and our improvised tracks actually rode well as the sand was flat and hard and in that respect, were pretty similar to the characteristics of a shale speedway track.
"After using Ainsdale, the next proper opportunities for practice were presented at Kings Lynn which had recently opened and the three of us became regulars over there. When it was open, which was on Sundays, we'd be there despite the fact that it wasn't the easiest of cross-country journeys and probably took us about nearly four hours each way. Kings Lynn was where I started to make real progress as I quickly adapted to the track and I was gaining in confidence week by week. By then, I had a true passion for becoming a Speedway rider and I was thinking about the prospect every day at work.
"Unfortunately, at the tracks there were no experienced riders telling you what to do, you had to learn by trial and error and through your own mistakes and, of course, in our trio's case, the comments you got from your mates. "Away from the track, my parents neither encouraged me nor tried to stop me riding; they allowed me to make the decision. However, my Dad would always lend me money when I needed it to be able to go along to the practice sessions.
"With the progress I felt I was making, came the decision to buy my own bike and I bought a JAP engine from Rick France who was then a high scoring member of the Coventry 'Bees' and who was an established top rider. He ran a local garage at Bloxwich, which was handy. I bought a frame from Howard Cole Senior and I finally owned my own bike. We were still practicing as a trio, so that meant we had two bikes between us, which meant we could get more laps in.
"To attempt to get even more rides, I used to travel to tracks and try and get a few laps in 'after meeting'. Again, it was a bit hit-and-miss, hoping for the best by just turning up, paying your insurance money and getting some track time under your belt if you were lucky. Wolverhampton used to offer opportunities as did Cradley Heath and Long Eaton and I used to go along to all three. Sometimes you'd get a ride or two, but on other occasions, they would run out of time and you'd have a wasted evening and have to return home frustrated.
"Another track, which operated outside the League, was Brafield in Northamptonshire and they gave track time to juniors in 1966/67and it was there that I first met Peter Wrathall, a few years before we were to ride together for Long Eaton.
"At that time, the novice/junior stage, I did fall off quite a bit, but I can't recall picking up any injuries and I certainly never broke any bones. Even if I had, I was so committed to being a Speedway rider, there was no way it would have put me off."
If you would like a copy of "Trackin' Down 2" please send a cheque or postal order (payable to Ian Gill) for �7.00 to:
35 Humberston Road
All orders will be sent out by 1st class post as soon as possible.
For further details - and the background to the Trackin� Down series - please see Ian�s dedicated website at trackindown.webs.com
This article was first published on 17th June 2010
"Fantastic to read about Roger Mills who had two seasons at Teesside in 1969/1970. Even better to see a photograph of him as he is now. Many of us have never seen him since he retired at Long Eaton in 1973, 37 years ago. He was quite a character when he rode at Middlesbrough's Cleveland Park - he would often either win a race, fall off or have an engine failure! "
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