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Lionel Maurice Van Praag born on 17 December 1908 to an Australian born father who earned his living as a tram driver and an Indian born mother in Redfern, Sydney, on leaving school he took an apprenticeship as a typewriter mechanic, an interest in things mechanical was to serve him well during the rest of his life.

His interest in speedway began shortly after the Speedway Royal opened in Sydney July 1926 Lionel started racing speedway machines having an excellent season at Brisbane in 1926/27.

By 1931 he decided to join the other Australian riders who rode in England when the Australian season was finished.  Van Praag rode for Wembley from 1931 to 1939 during which time he achieved -
1931 Southern League Championship with Wembley
1932 National League Championship with Wembley
1936 to 1939 he qualified to ride in the World Speedway Championship

The very first World Championship in 1936 was won by Lional Van Praag but not without some debate, Wikipedia states “Lionel won the run-off for the Speedway World Championship against Eric Langton in 1936 in somewhat controversial circumstances. The Championship was decided by bonus points accumulated in previous rounds. Despite being unbeaten in the final, Bluey Wilkinson was not crowned Champion. Bonus points accumulated by Van Praag and Langton took them to the top of the standings and into a run-off.  As they (Van Praag and Langton) lined up at the tapes, Langton broke them which would ordinarily lead to disqualification. However, Van Praag stated he did not want to win the title by default and insisted that a race should take place. At the restart Langton made it to the first bend in front and led until the final bend on the last lap when Van Praag darted through the smallest of gaps to win by less than wheel length.” There were rumours at the time that the race was fixed and that Van Praag and Langton had decided before the race that they would split the prize money and the first to the first bend would be the winner but this is hearsay and at this distance we can only say that Van Praag won the race with or without Langton’s agreement.

With most official speedway ceasing in the UK at the start of hostilities in 1939 he returned home to Australia joining the Royal Australian Air Force in August 1941. Perhaps not surprising as Van Praag had learned to fly in 1931 he started his military career with the rank of acting sergeant engaged on flying duties being promoted to probationary pilot officer in October 1942 rising in October 1944 to flight lieutenant.  1942 his plane was shot down over water and he was awarded the George Cross for supporting and protecting a member of his crew for over 30 hours. He was released from the RAAF in 1945.

Returning to Speedway in 1945 he lead a group of riders in promoting speedway at the Sydney Sports Ground this continued until 1948. He returned to riding in England in 1947 becoming a team member of New Cross but more or less retired from speedway in 1948 at the age of 40, then turning to commercial flying, piloting charter and freight planes also some crop spraying.

A teetotal, heavy smoker, he was apparently a man tall for his time, of slim build but athletic and strong, not one to accept fools gladly and easily provoked however admired for his single mindedness and strength of character. He died in May 1987 from emphysema at the Royal Brisbane Hospital.

Lionel  Van Praag


Photos kindly supplied by John Hyam copy Jackie Hodkinson

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