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Midget Troubles

By John Hyam

SPEEDWAY riders have long had a grim fascination with midget cars. And for two riders there were serious repercussions.

Gerry Hussey, then just 26 years old and hailed as being speedway's greatest find of the 1950s, died racing a midget car at Rowley Park Speedway in South Australia on March 6 1959. In the crash, Hussey was pinned under his car and died from his injuries the next day. His nearest rivals in the race were programmed as L Inwood and R Talbot. Before that, in December 1957 Hussey had his first major speedway accident at Rowley Park, sustaining concussion and a back injury.

Hussey was an English international who had ridden for West Ham, Norwich and Leicester.  Although racing in the British season, Hussey had moved  to Australia at the end of 1956 season and planned to switch from solo riding to midget car racing. Hussey had burst on the British speedway scene in 1953 when, after a serious of top performances at junior track Rye House, he signed for West Ham. His first match for the Hammers was in a 42-42 drawn challenge match at Leicester on October 2. He won his first race and had two second places, but fell in his last outing.

Fatal midget car accidents were not unknown at Rowley Park. A few weeks before Hussey died, two other drivers lost their lives there in 1959. Steve Howman died in a crash on January 2, then on January 23 Arn Sunstrom lost his life in a midget car pile-up.

Besides his love of speedway bikes and midget cars, Hussey also rode in the 'Globe of Death' at Australian fair grounds wearing his England international race jacket.

Seven years before Hussey's fatal crash, the legendary Jack Parker sustained serious injuries when he ploughed Frank 'Satan' Brewer's midget into the safety fence at the Sydney Sports Ground in New South Wales - a track Parker once described as "the best speedway track I have ever raced on."

Hussey was a charismatic personality, who soon endeared himself to the fans. With his handsome looks, he was the speedway pin-up of the mid-1950s.

When West Ham closed, Hussey moved on to Leicester and was equally a big favourite with home and opposing supporters. To put it frankly, you just could not help but like him. At West Ham, he came very much under the influence of twice world champion Jack Young, while another who helped him on the road to fame was veteran Leicester rider Jock Grierson.

Young and Grierson were influential in taking Hussey to race at Kym Bonython's Rowley Park. He soon struck up a friendship with Bonython who, besides holding the promotional reins was also one of Australia's top midget car drivers. Hussey was fascinated by the powerful four wheel racers and made it clear that his ultimate intention was to switch permanently from to two to four wheel racing.

Jack Parker had been fascinated by midget cars since pre-World War Two years, and was a regular visitor to Coventry when meetings were staged on the Brandon oval between 1937-39. But he always resisted the temptation to get behind the wheel of one until February 13 1952.

Then, Parker got into what was probably the fastest car in midget car racing at that time. It was a Ford V860 owned and raced by Frank Brewer, was a top performer not only in his native New Zealand but Australia, the USA and England. Brewer was also a keen speedway bike race fan. He knew Parker especially well  from the post-war Australian seasons when meetings featured races - separately - for bikes, sidecars and midgets,

Parker eventually bowed to temptation and decided to try his hand in a midget car when offered the chance to compete in a mat ch race against leading driver 'Bronco' Bill Reynolds. Brewer agreed to help Parker prepare for the event. It ended in a crash that nearly cost Parker his life. Australian historian Brian Dalby gave me these details of Parker's ill-fated crash at the Sportsground.

Dalby said, "The crash happened during a test run. There was a momentary lapse of concentration by Parker and it caused the V8 powered midget to  pitch into a series of rolls and end up buried in the fence with the driver still behind the wheel, but seriously injured.

"Parker was expected to die and remained critical for some time afterwards. The inadequate helmet of the times left him with a fractured skull as well as a badly broken arm and scalding from the burst radiator."

Darby added, "In time, Parker recovered and returned for three more  seasons at Hyde Road in 1953 and 1954 but his edge had finally been blunted and he retired at the end of the 1954 season. Hardly surprising really for a man approaching 50 in such a physical sport."

Another speedway rider who had a serious accident driving a midget car was Wimbledon and New Zealand star Ronnie Moore. He overturned a midget during a practice run at Wimbledon in October 1955, and suffered a broken collar-bone.

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