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Jack ‘Jackie’ Hart born 26th February in Wellington, New Zealand, his son Graham tells me that he was named by his parents “John Cobray Hart” but Mum asked Dad to register the birth and he managed to forget the Cobray part and his birth registration certificate is in the name of John Hart, I’m told that his father had high hopes that his young son would become a famous footballer, soccer being a favourite pastime of his not sure if this had anything to do with Dad forgetting “Cobray” when at the registry office but may be. Later the name John became Jack and later Jackie - the change from John to Jack is quite common why it changed from Jack to Jackie I don’t know but perhaps it was because this young man was of small stature.

It was whilst Jack Hart was still at school that speedway started at the local Kilbirnie Stadium, his parents took their sons, elder brother Bill and the young Jack on a regular basis and I’m told that following these outings the lads would practice the moves they had seen the professionals use on track in the yard on their push bikes.

For a time Jack became a Sea Scout, it would seem like so many who live on an island he was born with an inbuilt love of the sea, there is a record of his excellent grasp of the art of communication by semaphore, so good in fact that he won a Cup for his skills two years running, start of the competitive spirit, may be, but the Scout master thought it was due to a studious nature and asked him to stop his studies, he did, but stopped his association with the Sea Scouts as well.

He next turned his thoughts to perhaps being a pilot stimulated by posters extolling the adventurous nature of flying, he joined full of hope for his future career. It seemed for a while this would indeed be the way the young man would go for having passed all the primary exams and becoming a sergeant he was told that he could never actually be a pilot because his eyesight was just not good enough – not happy with the idea that he would never be a pilot no matter how hard he tried he decided to look elsewhere for a career with some excitement.

The brothers Hart became aware at this time of the interest being shown in three young men at Taita Speedway and it would seem the brothers decided to get themselves a slice of this action because it was not long before Bill and Jack had acquired a ‘speedway machine’ well a converted road bike actually and were on their way to the track to see if there was a way for them to gain some of this excitement and hopefully a good amount of money as well. Following the first meeting the Hart brothers soon learnt that their machinery was not up to the job, as luck would have it a benefactor in the guise of Ted Young stepped in, took the bike to his workshop and being a Rudge expert he stripped the engine down, machined unwanted weight from the flywheels and returned it to the brothers a much improved machine. However it is not that easy for two people to hit to top with just one machine and apart from additional wear and tear on the engine and no time to sort it between heats when they both won their heat they had to toss a coin to see who could ride in the final.  

The following season Jack continued riding the Rudge but Bill had managed to purchase a JAP from Bruce Abernethy courtesy a local sponsor and it would seem with one machine each they completed a very successful season by sweeping the board at the Stokes Valley Grass Track. The next year Bill decided to retire from speedway which allowed Jackie to ride the JAP, in some ways a mixed blessing as although Jack was a qualified mechanic he needed an expert to keep the engine running reliably, he found his expert in the shape of Dick Lawton. Jack is quoted as saying “with a superior bike performance over others I made good money”

At the beginning of the 1951 season Jackie Hart was swapped with Alf Clarkin of Palmerston North and so began a season where Jackie Hart was seen to improve week on week, this is not surprising as during this period Jackie Hart was getting a good deal of track action, moonlighting well double moonlighting if we are to tell the truth as apart from his regular team place with his home team at Palmerston he was also riding for the Auckland team and managing to still ride for his old team Taita, this lucrative state of affairs was not to last however as a complaint was made to the ACU and he was stopped from riding for more than one team. This diminutive rider had the sort of never say die attitude that endeared him to the fans and by the time he had finished this season he was no longer the talented novice but a fully-fledged competitive rider able to match up to the best competition available and as a reward he was offered a reserve place in the New Zealand test team.

Jack Hart was ready to travel to England, and although he had been offered a place at Ashfield by Jonnie Hoskins he accepted a place at Exeter and was expected to do very well which I am sure he would have if fate had not stepped in to spoil it for him. On his first meeting as an Exeter Falcon during the second half of a meeting against a Swedish touring side he laid his bike down to avoid a fallen rider and had the misfortune to be hit by another rider from behind this caused a break to Jackie’s leg that would see him out for the rest of the season before he even started league riding, feeling embarrassed about his inability to ride he offered to return his fare to the Exeter promotion, they declined, knowing a good thing when they see it they wanted him back for the following season.

Jackie did return to Exeter the next year 1952 and remained with them for three more years until they closed although he was suffering in his final year with a knee injury. 1956 saw him riding in Holland with, I understand, a good deal of success before returning to his home country where he continued to ride with merit for many years I am told that even as late as 1969 he was representing his country in un-official tests against England although he says about 1965.

Been chatting (virtually) to his son Graham who now owns his Dad’s old bikes and he has loaned three of them to be exhibited at Les and Harold Sergent’s museum, something I am sure that Dad approves of having worked at some stage for the Late Sir Len Southward who pioneered the world acclaimed car museum near Paraparaumu. he told me “I was only 10 years old when Dad retired but still recalls family trips (plus the border collie) in the Commer van with the JAP 500 on the trailer. I remember one instance when we were booted out of the new Plymouth motor camp for trying to smuggle in the dog. i had a ride on Dad’s bike at Meeanne track (Napier) and, as you do, I got covered in dirt, I used dads washing kit to clean up and left it in the back of the van underneath a blanket. a couple of kilometres down the road I knelt on the cleaning kit and sliced my knee open on his razor, a trip to the emergency department and 15 stitches later we were on our way home, I still have a distinctive scar to remind me. Dad is a motor mechanic by trade and we always seemed to have the roughest vehicle around, on a trip to Wellington speedway the van clutch blew up, we were rescued by my uncle who got us to Te Marua (Wellington) with minutes to spare. Officials were reluctant to let him race so a brawl nearly developed, Ronnie Moore came to the rescue and a compromise was duly found.”

Graham went on to tell me that his Grandfather, his Dads Father, was a wiry East Londoner with a wild history. He said “i knew nothing about him until 2 years back when i did some extensive research. Dad never spoke of him and always diverted away from any questions. Granddad Hart died in the most bizarre circumstances in 1946 when Dad was 18, so his speedway achievements were all his doing as he had no back up from a Father.” He continued with another memory of his Dad’s speedway days “he fell off on a cinders track in NZ and badly grazed his face and i remember blood streaming down, he completed the meeting and still has traces of cinders in his face, over 50 years later.” This obviously proud son added “I remember he won the north island grass track champs, I think it was in Masterton.”

Graham also told me that his Dad, now 85, is not in the best of health so we wish him well.

Below are a set of photos of the bikes now owned by Graham but originally by his Dad and Uncle Bill please click to enlarge the photo and read the description.   

Jack “Jackie” Hart

By Jackie Hodkinson

My thanks go to Graham Hart for his help in compiling this account of his Fathers speedway career and supplying all photos apart from the one at the top.

For that credit goes to John Somerville who has kindly given permission for us to us this image.

Thanks must also go to Bert Harkins and Terry Stone for their support and information.

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