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The National Speedway Museum

Gordon May, was born in 1928 and he grew up in Skipwith, near Selby, North Yorkshire. It was there, whilst still at school, he and a group of his fellow students raced push bikes around a pond, it was whilst doing this he discovered that it was not only possible to slide the bike around corners but that he could do it and it won races. In 1946 at the age of 18 he had his first view of motorised speedway when he attended a meeting at the Odsal Stadium in Bradford, he found the experience exciting and stimulating and I think he would agree it was an experience that formed and transformed the whole of his future life.

Following that trip to Odsal Gordon decided it was time to acquire his first motorbike, purchasing a 1936 model of the 250 Frances Barnett and from then on Gordon could be seen on every available opportunity practising sliding round corners on a bomb site track. No sooner had he honed his skill to a point when he would have been looking for a ride at a local speedway track the sport began to lose popularity so the young Gordon May turned his racing ambition to Grass-Track that seemed to offer more opportunity.   


Having decided to try his luck as a grass track rider he bought a Norton 500 for £5 as he says “(priceless!)” He would, as was quite common at the time, ride to meetings, race, and with a bit of luck ride it home again. 1953 and it very nearly all came to an end when he was involved in a serious road accident, he said “I wrote off the Norton and broke numerous bones, including my leg in 3 places. It was touch and go whether I would make it but I did and after my leg was plated a couple of weeks after the accident I was almost as good as new” Always keen to experiment once recovered from his accident and the ensuing surgery he resumed his interest in sporting motorcycles, he continues “I put the engine of the Norton, which had escaped the carnage, into the first speedway frame I had built”, almost with surprise he said, “it seemed to go alright.”


He must have been pleased with the result as he continued “at a grass track meeting I went to borrow a tyre from my fellow rider Paul Cross and he told me he was going to night classes to learn to weld, I asked why and he said to build grass track frames. Now since I knew already how to do that I suggested we build a couple of frames together. We built three; two for him and one for me, they were moderately successful and people started wanting them and placing orders.”


Comet Racing was born, it was 1960 and the orders were coming in at a steady rate during this same period Gordon tells me he was competing in Sand Racing and also Hill Climbs and it would seem almost any competitive motor cycle sport he could get to and take part in.  For the next five years things ticked over nicely then tragedy struck in 1965 when his fellow rider and the friend he built those early three frames with, Paul Cross, was killed in a racing accident, a Memorial Meeting was held for him and Gordon tells how he rode Paul’s bikes at the meeting as a tribute to him.

 

Gordon said “I kept on racing and building frames in my spare time as I was still employed as an engineer, one day Robert Wilson approached me and suggested we took a trip to Doncaster speedway to take a ride, I concocted a speedway bike and had some success, then went to Workington and hit a wet patch, breaking a bone in my foot; still managed to ride in the next race and get the fastest time of the day, was pretty pleased with that”. By now it was becoming clear that although Gordon was pleased and proud of his achievement he was also modest, reading between the lines I am sure he was a far greater talent than he would have you believe. He continued “It was about this time I became friends with Alan Emerson and at his suggestion took another speedway bike I had built to Belle Vue Speedways where Eric Boocock rode it and said it did everything you'd want it to.” This must have been a huge encouragement because he tells me that by the mid 1970s he was making a living, “but only just,” he admitted “until that is I built a long track bike.”


“A photo of this Long Track Machine appeared in the Motorcycle News and shortly after I received a phone call from Exeter from a friend of Neil Street who asked if I could build one for Phil Crump, I did and the first time he took it out he won everything on it. The following winter Neil Street rang to ask me to build a couple of frames for his new 4 valve engine. He drove up from Exeter, we built them together and at midnight he set off back to Exeter. He took the frames back to Australia at which point my frames became very popular.”

 

There was still a the feeling that the excitement of this successful time was still there as Gordon continued the story, “Trackstar were selling my frames in Peterborough as was Alan Belham who was based in Norfolk but I've never quite managed to be satisfied with what I have just achieved always wanting to improve and try out new designs and ideas. I was building a side car for Dennis Teasdale when I got home from work on a Thursday night and spent through until Sunday working on this and other projects. I decided that the time had come to give up my engineering job and work full time self-employed building frames.” Modesty took over again as he declared, “a lot of this was due to others, Eric Boocock encouraged Michael Lee to ride my frames, without Eric Boocock and Neil Street's involvement and help at this point, there is no way I would have got to where I did, they were a tremendous help.”

 

“One day in 1980 a scruffy urchin turned up on my doorstep in a clapped out old Mazda and said, 'I'm Kenny Carter, are you going to sponsor me?' While he was borrowing a welding rod to fix his car for the journey back I rang the Halifax boss Eric Boothroyd to ask about him, Eric said, 'he's goanna be good, grab him'. So I did and I could do nothing but admire him during the time I worked with him. I built a couple of frames for Kenny and from then on it was full time on the go and everybody wanted one like his. He was virtually unbeatable, and was set to win the World Championships had he not broken his leg.” He paused and then said “at this time I was having repercussions from the plate in my leg fitted after my 1953 road accident, I developed a bone infection and had to have an operation to remove the plate that was fitted back in 1955 removed and as part of the treatment was told to walk on it but the bone broke through walking and wouldn’t mend. It caused me trouble for 5 years, Eric Boocock said, “you're not going to let a little thing like that stop you working, are you,” and as soon as the plaster dried I started building frames again.”

 

Mike Lohman turned up one day and helped me with the frames in return for sponsorship, gave me more time to think about design and as Street and Boocock had always said frames should flex, I experimented, replacing the one rigid top tube with three smaller pieces. Billy Sanders took one of these experimental frames to Australia and Kenny Carter rode one here, Kenny said it was too vicious.” Back to the drawing board it seems, continuing he said “I had recently become friendly with two American riders who rode for Hull, Dennis Sigalos and John Cook and they started riding my frames. During a post meeting drinking session John Cook had the idea of the twin top tube. The next morning, after recovering from the hangover, I gave it some serious thought and put it into practise; I did not know it at the time but I was developing the first flexi flyer. How we came up with the name I can’t remember, probably during another drinking séance! It was a fair success and became very popular. Sean and Kelly Moran rode them, Ivan Major took them to New Zealand, Rick Miller took one to America and John Titman took them to Australia. During this time I could be working in the workshop all day and someone, such as Kenny Carter, could turn up and say will you come and engineer for me at such and such, and I'd go in and wash my hands and be on the way, not arriving back until 6 the next morning.”

 

“It was in 1986 that Kenny Carter rode at Belle Vue on the Saturday night and broke his foot rest, hitting a fence and fracturing a couple of ribs, never the less he rode at Odsal the following day in the British Qualifier, he was not in a fit state, Eric Boocock and I had to lift him onto his bike. That Wednesday night I got a phone call at 11pm from a colleague of his to say Kenny had died; he had shot his wife and then himself. It was a tragedy for all that had known Kenny, following the suicide of Billy Sanders only a couple of months before this was a low point for me and although I kept sponsoring the Moran brothers, I never felt so enthusiastic again. Kenny had had more influence on me than I had realised and by the late 1980s I had packed it all in and bought a trials bike just to have fun on.”


Gordon moved back to Skipwith in 1996 with his partner, Irene, who sadly died in 1998 and since then he has stayed in the village of Skipwith and taken up wood carving as a hobby. He is currently building three Nortons but since finding out about the interest the National Speedway Museum has in him and his Flexiflyer he has decided to build a Kenny Carter replica of the Flexiflyer machine.
 

Gordon May
designer and builder
of the Comet range of frames

Click the button to view photos from Gordon’s photo albums that includes machines, frames and riders including Eric Boocock, Phil Crump, Alan and Kenny Carter.


Photos

Compiled by Jackie Hodkinson from material kindly supplied by Gordon May

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