Mark Sawbridge compiled an in depth article on the first FIM inscribed Speedway World Championship.
The article appears by kind permission of Graham Fraser who is joint editor of The Speedway Researcher.
In 1936, the Autocycle Union (ACU) decided that it was time to introduce a world championship for speedway racing.
It was considered by many that the existing 'Star' Championship had run its course and that the British Individual Championship, in reality a match race title, was so unpopular that its replacement was inevitable and this innovation would be embraced by supporters and riders alike.
The ACU approached the FIM (the world governing body, then called the FCIM) which decided at their Madrid Conference in April 1936 to approve the scheme. There were some dissenting voices amongst its 18 nations represented but they were over-ruled by the approving nations. The event was called the 'World's Championship'.
This was not the first 'world championship' that had been held, but it was the first FIM sponsored event. Previous attempts at running a 'World Final' included an effort by Australian promoter A. J. Hunting to run an event in Buenos Aires, which had been sponsored by the National Tobacco Company. In 1931 a similar event was held in Paris, sponsored by the Brampton Chain Company which was won by 'Cyclone' Billy Lamont. In the same year an event billed as the World Championship was staged in the UK and has been reported in The Speedway Researcher.
For the 1936 championship there was £3,256 prize money on offer - an enormous amount at the time when the country was in the grip of a depression. The winner was to receive £500 with second and third receiving £250 and £50 respectively.
There were two rounds - a 'qualifying' and a 'championship' round. The ACU decided that in the qualifying round there would be three riders in each race. The rationale was that the amount of money on offer would make the racing too cut-throat for four riders races. This was an enormous mistake as supporters and riders alike universally derided the qualifying meetings. If a rider fell or had an engine failure, the others in the race were happy to tootle round for some easy money. Thankfully, four riders races were allowed for the championship rounds.
Another controversial item was the bonus point system. Points from the qualifying and championship rounds were added together, divided by the points available, and then divided again by seven and then taken to the nearest whole number. This system was modified for the 1937 and 1938 championships but the bonus point system was discontinued after the war. The championship generated much interest in Britain and abroad. One man from the USA applied for 500 tickets to satisfy demand from supporters from the club he was running.
The championship took on a cosmopolitan look right from the outset. As well as a large number of English and Australian riders, there were two New Zealanders (Jack Hobson and Wally Kilmister), two Romanians (N. Ionescu-Cristea and Ovidiu Ionescu), the Milnes (Cordy and Jack) and Putt Mossman from the USA, the Hansens (Morian, Kalle and Baltazar) from Denmark, Ferdinand Meyner from France, Jose and Juan Vinals from Spain, B. Carlsson and Torsten Sjöberg from Sweden, Alfred Rumrich and Gerhard Ahrens from Germany, Canada's Eric Chitty and the delightfully named Cecil de La Porte from South Africa. There was also a Welshman, Syd Griffiths of Harringay. There was considerable talk that the USA touring team would take part, but only the aforementioned stuntman Putt Mossman made it in the end.
The qualifying rounds were staged on each First Division track, with no rider being drawn at home. As I mentioned earlier, the meetings were generally duller than ditchwater. To compensate, the promoters rather astutely booked all-star second halves, which provided more entertainment that the main event. This did, however, lead to two terrible accidents.
The first at West Ham, where Jack Milne suffered a severed thumb. An apocryphal story at the time is that Milne was told by the doctors, whilst he was lying in his hospital bed, that he would never ride again, as the colourful American would be unable to grip the handlebars. Milne was in a cast iron bed and told the doctors that if he could grip the end of the bed, he could grip the handlebars, and would ride again. After a few weeks, the bed was indeed grasped and Milne was soon back on a bike again.
The other accident was quite appalling. In the Wimbledon round the young Fred Tate stunned the crowd by winning the meeting beating such notables as Dicky Case, Morian Hansen and George Newton. However, in the second half Tate fell and suffered severe facial injures. Tate spent months in hospital and had to have plastic surgery to rebuild part of his face. It was the end of a promising career, as Tate never rode again.
Following on quickly from the Dusty Haigh tragedy at Hackney Wick and with memories of Tom Farndon's death in people's minds, these accidents resulted in calls for a review of the safety of the sport.