Image: Kate Mason speedway rider
If you don’t follow Hackney Speedway on Facebook then you will probably have no idea who Kate McAuley is. But if you went to Hackney in 1989/90 either to watch the second halves or attended the Saturday afternoon training school you’d have seen Kate ride, she was then known as Katie Mason.
Hackney recently caught up with Kate and I asked her to relive her times at The Wick.
Kate was the only female rider to represent the ‘Earlybird’ sponsored Hackney team and I asked her
‘Why don’t you write a book about how you came to ride motorcycles and how that led you to ride at the Hackney Stadium?’
Her reply was extremely modest,
“Anyone that knows me, I don’t have time to write a book working full time and who would want to read about me?” Hackney’s reply was,
“Why then, don’t you write a brief history and we can update your page on Hackney Speedway’s website instead?”
That seemed a far better idea so here goes!
I grew up in Weymouth, my parents unfortunately divorced when I was eight. Dad moved to Poole and my brother Jonathan and I stayed in Weymouth with my mum. My mum thought ballet would be ideal for me, but it wasn’t, and I let mum know that! But, [isn’t there always a but] if I stayed on and did some Scottish dancing after ballet I was rewarded with a drink [non-alcoholic of course at that age] and a packet of crisps from the tuck shop, so I stuck with it for a while. After deciding ballet wasn’t for me I started judo and this was way more fun.
I liked playing tennis, hockey [I played for the county team], athletics, loved ice figure skating and I played netball, but I was thrown out of that for being too rough! Ever since I can remember I’ve enjoyed playing outside, climbing trees and I enjoyed doing jumps on my push bike!
My first visit to a speedway meeting was at Radipole Lane, home of the Weymouth Wildcats. I went with my dad when I was around 8 years old and little did I realise at the time it was to become a massive part of my life. Dad had always been fond of motorcycles and had been mechanic to British International and 1969 World Finalist Howard Cole [pictured below] in his early years. Howard moved to Australia when he retired, dad still kept in contact with him. I had the pleasure to meet Howard shortly after dad passed away, some of the stories he told me were hilarious!
After my mum and dad split up, every weekend, with my elder brother Jonathan, dad would travel to Weymouth on a Friday night pick us both up and take us to dad’s house in Poole. Jonathan was given a BMX bike for either a Christmas present or birthday present I can’t remember what. Somehow Jonathan got involved in BMX racing at the weekends while we were there.
My brother wasn’t content with BMX racing and decided he wanted more power beneath him and dad got him a 75cc Honda. Dad asked me if I wanted his old BMX bike, a Huffy Pro Lighting and of course I jumped [no pun intended] at the opportunity. There was a lot of rivalry between us and I thought anything he can do, I can do better! I started to race the BMX and my confidence level increased massively!
Jonathan started to do the odd motor cross meeting and again he wanted something a bit meatier. This time dad got him Kawasaki KX80 and dad asked me if I wanted the Honda, of course my answer was yes. This was the point in my life when I think I fell in love with motor cycles, although I didn’t know that at the time. I remember dad took me to Bovington where there is a tank training area and it was quite near to where he lived in Poole. The local motorcycle club had an agreement to use part of the area as a mini training area for moto cross. It felt strange at first riding a motorcycle. I initially wouldn’t take it out of first gear and dad would scream at me ‘Katie put in second gear’! If I’m honest I was scared I’d go to fast and that I wouldn’t be able to stop! Just keeping it in first gear would of course have resulted in a blown engine and that would have been very expensive to replace and I think dad would have called a halt to me riding motorcycles there and then! But I got used to going up and down the gears [much to dad’s relief] my confidence levels grew and grew, the next step for me was to enter a moto cross race meeting. But my mum was far from happy with my weekend entertainment at dads and I’m sure she told him so!
Mums idea of me was to go to my friends parties where I had to wear a dress and have my hair up in a ponytail or it had to be curled, yuk!
I entered the Inter 80’s motor cross race on the Honda. Wearing Jonathan’s old kit, when I got to the start line of my first race I felt like my insides of my stomach were going to come up into my mouth. I tootled away all day competing in every race I could. This was then I realised I was ‘hooked’ on motorcycles and motorcycle racing.
After the season had finished my brother got a KX125 and dad asked me if I wanted the KX80. Again my reaction was ‘yes please’! For my birthday in November I got new gear to wear and I felt fantastic! My brother wasn’t around as much now as he had started work. The following season I entered the Inter 100’s and I began to realise I could beat the boys! Moto cross was now mine and dads life and his garage was full of bikes and everything associated with riding.
I continued to ride motor cross and was riding with the seniors on a 125cc. I remember we went to a National Qualifier at Portsmouth and when we arrived I gulped! It was on a hillside and it looked like the size of Everest. It was a horrible wet day and we all struggled to get into the pit area.
I got to the start line on my first race and my feet couldn’t touch the ground! Dad came up with the brilliant idea to discreetly put a rock [not sure how he did that] so I could keep my feet on the ground. The flag dropped and I was away, riding sensibly in the middle of the pack.
I managed quite successfully negotiate the lower half of the track. I then realised there were bikes and riders all over the place on the track, with spectators helping them back on them. I just tootled around and then the daunting site of Mount Everest in front of me! I slammed the bike into second gear with the engine screeching [dad was so far away he wouldn’t have heard] I just kept going and going into the sky, what seemed like for ever! I eventually got to the top much to my relief and it was only then that I realised many others riders in the race didn’t make it to the top of Mount Everest and I had!
Now this feat had been completed the worst bit was yet to come, getting down what looked like a sheer drop! I sat on the bike contemplating my next move! In the distance I could see my dad waving at me to come down! Now it was all very well for him, I was so worried that going down what looked like this sheer drop I would go over the handlebars if I only just feathered the brake! Dad was still waving and I took one deep breath and down I went much to dad’s relief. In actual fact it wasn’t as bad as I had feared! I completed all my races that day but at the end I was caked in mud as was the bike. While we were packing up much to dads and my delight we were told I had qualified for the national finals! Although I wasn’t as quick as a lot of the boys, they couldn’t reach the top of Mount Everest and I had, you have no idea how good that felt to me. I completed all my races with points and that’s how I qualified. I had a great season finishing 3rd in the championship beating over 40 lads and as you can see from the picture below I was delighted and so was my dad.
Later that year I was chatting to my dad at Weymouth speedway and I said I thought it looked easy. My hero at Weymouth was Steve Schofield I had loads of pictures of him and would buy them from the track shop with my pocket money. Steve of course later went on to ride very successfully at Hackney and his partnership with Andy Galvin in 1990 was awesome.
Anyway a few months later after telling dad this speedway lark looked easy, he picked me up as usual from Weymouth on a Friday and takes me to my weekend retreat. Walking into dads house I walk into the living room and hanging up in there are a pair of Steve Scofield’s leathers. Dad then takes me into the garage and there’s a speedway bike! Wow, wow, wow!
That wow factor was to get even more wow because on the Saturday morning dad and I loaded the bike, leathers and all the other stuff we may need and off we go to Iwade. I remember we picked a friend of dads on the way. We arrived at Iwade, with the track overlooking the Isle of Sheppy. We warmed the bikes up and surprisingly I had little or no nerves left, they had been shattered riding motor cross and there was no Mount Everest!
I tootled around for a couple of laps, getting used to the throttle. I remember when I opened the throttle my head flew back, the power of these bikes is unbelievable. It was a strange feeling wrapping the throttle on and the back end of the bike trying to move out. Within a few weeks I was beginning to master how to slide the bike and get the back end out exiting the corners. I think the motor cross really helped in riding a speedway bike. Dad had told me John Louis was a motor cross rider before he broke into the Ipswich team in 1970. I know the Worrell brothers (Steve and Richie) had also ridden motor cross before trying their luck on speedway, so I’m sure that’s a good apprenticeship. Dad would stand on the inside of the track at Iwade and drop his arm, which was the point I knew I had to wrap the throttle on. This speedway malarkey was fun.
Saturday was speedway day at Iwade. Then back to dads, clean the bike and get the kit all packed away. I always kept my kit and bike as clean as I could. I think if you look clean, presentable and smart you feel better and race better.
After putting the speedway stuff away in dad’s garage it was time check over the motor cross bike, get the motor cross kit ready and off on the Sunday to race. I loved my weekends. My dad really sacrificed everything for his children’s pleasure.
When I first started riding speedway I found it scary going into the corners. I was so close to breaking the slide just after the start line. This may sound odd, but I had a dream one night that I could do it and the very next day at The Wick I did! The faster you go the easier it is!
Before long I was riding speedway competitively.
I was zooming around Iwade and loving every second of it. Coming out of bend two I was chugging away down the back straight and my footrest got caught between the kick board and the wooden safety fence. The bike stopped dead. But of course I didn’t. I went over the handle bars, flying through the air, over the fence and landed in the ditch on the other side of the wooden safety fence. The next thing I remember is lying in the ambulance in the pits feeling a bit groggy and feeling the worst for ware to say the least and I had been knocked unconscious. Ray Morton popped his head into the ambulance to see how I was and I think I replied something like ‘I feel very, very second hand.’ Ray told me to put my helmet back on and get on your bike. I did what I was told, much to the displeasure of the medical staff who had taken great care of me. Putting my helmet back on over my face it hurt so much. Ray was going to ride in front of me and he told me to ride the lines he does. I was ridding extremely steady. After a few laps we went back into the pits and when I took my helmet off and the pain was immense. I went to dad’s car and looked in the mirror at where the pain was. My right eye looked like I’d done a few rounds with Tyson Fury. The journey home to Poole I don’t remember a lot about as I slept virtually all the way there. Ray’s advice on getting back on the bike after my altercation with the fence was probably the best bit of advice I could have been given. Had I have not got back on the bike that day I’m not sure I would have ever ridden a speedway bike again.
On the Sunday the swelling around my eye got bigger and bigger. Now as I said earlier mum wasn’t too pleased to say the least with my weekend activities and how on earth I’m going to explain this altercation was going to be very difficult. Could I say I’d got into a fight or perhaps I fell over and hit a door handle? My mum would be able to see through those so I decided to go down the route of I got hit while playing hockey with a hockey stick. As I had played hockey this seemed the obvious ‘white lie’ and to this day mum thinks that’s what happened.
Anyway my face looked horrendous, the swelling seemed to be getting bigger and bigger and eventually mum took me to hospital. After a lot of prodding and pulling and an X-ray I was told I had fractured my cheek bone! Now I would have been around 15 and the doctor advised that I had an operation to reset my cheek bone and that would mean having the side of my head shaved. That was a big no no as far as I was concerned and my mum wasn’t happy I declined the operation. Ironically a few weeks later I got glandular fever and I was laid up for a few months anyway and no one would have seen my shaved head if I had the operation.
During this spell of recuperation I did lots of thinking. I was more determined to get back on a bike more than ever.
The following year I did motor cross again to build up my strength and I was soon back on a speedway bike. Dad would pick me up from school on a Friday and we’d travel to Hackney where I got a couple of second half rides. We slept in the car overnight in the pits and Saturday afternoon did the world famous Hackney training school.
I was lucky enough to have started riding when video cameras were reasonably easy to hire/rent and even buy! It’s amazing now to think your smart phone you can use as a video camera and is so small compared to those from 30 years ago, and no video tapes to put in. There’s some footage below of me at Hackney tootling around and of course I had to include a mishap as well.
Some video action of me in my early days at the Hackney training school can be found by clicking this link
Its wasn't only at Iwade I fell, here you can see me practising laying the bike down at Hackney by clicking this link
After Hackney on a Saturday it was home to prepare for motor cross on the Sunday. On the speedway front we did a few other tracks for me to get a bit of experience, my favourite track was Swindon. By now my name was getting about in the world of speedway I did a few second halves at Poole, this was ideal as the track was on our doorstep. Pete Ansell the Poole promoter told my dad the mascot at the track was far from happy that I was getting riding time in the second halves and he wasn’t! So a deal was struck with Pete, if I could sell over a £100 worth of raffle tickets each week I could continue with my second half rides, guess what? I smashed it, much to the displeasure of the mascot!
I also had second halves at Kings Lynn, Eastbourne and Arena Essex.
I had the local television people contact me, a young girl who rode a motor cross and a speedway bike about doing some filming at Matchams Park at nearby Ringwood, wow, wow, wow! John Davis was there and they asked me to pretend that John was coaching me. It was broadcast on the tele but I never got a copy of it so if you’ve a copy or know where I can find it please contact me…..
Going back to the speedway I was offered a contract by Colin Meridith and one other club, but Hackney was mine and dads first choice because it fitted in so well racing on a Friday and I didn’t have to miss any education.
I answered the phone at Hackney on a Friday night before the meeting. Once that role was done I became a speedway rider! I had a brand new bike and leathers and during and after the meetings kids would come up and asked me to sign pictures they’d bought in the track shop of guess who, me!
Getting changed in the changing rooms in the pits at Hackney was shall we say, interesting…..
I had to walk through where the riders would have been getting changed to get to my broom cupboard of a changing room. I have to say for a 16 year old girl walking through a male changing room I did get some things said but I can honestly say it was done in good humour and it was good banter. The guys who rode never treated me any different to a feller, they never saw me as just a female. I made some good friends there and I still keep in contact with them today.
My career ended riding a bike when I met my husband to be. I had to concentrate of getting a job so we could afford our first mortgage. I went on to have two lovely girls who unfortunately had no interest in motor cycles at all.
I ran MFS [my first skid] a few years ago and I really enjoyed that.
In 2012 me and my motor cross bike were reunited, this time in Scotland at the sadly closed Tinto Motor Park. It gave me a chance to be able to get back on a bike and have a play because this was to get me fit for my next and probably biggest adventure, traveling to Africa to compete in a 3,200 mile enduro and that was an amazing experience.
To see me ride around Tinto Motor Park in Scotland click this link
This season I had been sponsored to ride in the British Twin Shock Championship on a Honda 250cc, but the Corona virus has put a stop to ride this year. I’ll work on my fitness and see what happens in 2021.
I've enjoyed every minute riding motor cross and speedway. Without my dad's patience and perserverance none of this would have been possible. Although my mum dissapproved initially without her cooperation again none of this would have been possible.
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