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Ken Vale - A Tribute
Photo by unknown
Sat 22 Dec 2012 by Tony Jackson
Born: June 24, 1924, Milland, West Sussex
Died: December 3rd, 2012, Blandford, Dorset, Age 88
Workington career: 1971
We are very sad to report the passing of former Comet Ken Vale at the age of 88 in Blandford Hospital, Dorset.
Born: June 24, 1924, Milland, West Sussex
Died: December 3rd, 2012, Blandford, Dorset, Age 88
Workington career: 1971
Comets matches: 29, Rides: 108, Points: 130, Bonus Points: 29, Total Points: 159, Average: 5.89

Quietly spoken Ken was a tremendous character and he always had a great story to tell about his life in general and his career in speedway in particular.

Having queued patiently to get his autograph as a child back in 1971 when he raced for the Comets the next time I met him was when he visited Derwent Park while on holiday with his wife in 1999.

Then, while planning our 40th anniversary meeting at the start of 2010 I spoke with him on the telephone and he was absolutely delighted to be invited. He made a special trip from Dorset to be at Derwent Park that night – famously making a near 1200-mile round trip to get up here and back home (at the age of 85) all in one weekend, after driving back to Dorset straight after the meeting and getting home at 8:00am on Sunday.

In June of 2010 I rang him up to chat with him for a programme column and ended up spending a truly memorable and enjoyable hour talking to him on the telephone. In fact, he had so many stories to tell he became the only ex-Comet to have his interview spread over two programme columns. So, what better way to tell the story of his life than to reproduce that fascinating interview in full?

Please read on and enjoy:

“I got home from the Anniversary Meeting at 8 o'clock in the morning. I would have got home sooner but the M5 was closed and I got sent on a long diversion via Ross-on-Wye. But, it was a marvellous night out and it was great to meet all the people that I hadn't seen for many years. Everyone made me feel really welcome.

“The people up in Cumbria are so friendly and I have always had a soft spot for them. I have had a few supporters ‘phone me up since my visit, which is really nice. I always like to make time for the supporters wherever they are. I once went all the way up to Glasgow for a Supporters dance – and I had a broken leg at the time!”
Ken Vale was without doubt the oldest rider ever to appear for the Comets, having taken his first rides in 1959, at an age when most riders retire. But, despite a list of injuries that would have forced younger men to give up, Ken raced on for over a decade, although his story begins well before he took up speedway.

“After school, and with the war in full swing, I joined the army at just 17 years of age and was put in the bomb disposal section based in Britain, then after a couple of years I was sent out to Burma, which was very hard but you just had to get on with it. In fact I spent my twenty-first birthday in Burma and didn't even realise it at the time!

“After a while some of us were formed into a welding platoon, doing all sorts of things, we even ended up making a set of gallows! Then, when the war ended we split up, and I ended up coming back to Britain by boat from Singapore, which took five weeks to get home.

“The first time I went to speedway was in 1948 when I went to Wimbledon and after the first race I was hooked. I was so excited that I could hardly fill my programme in. After that I used to go regularly, I loved it.”

Around this time Ken set up a driving school business, which he kept going all through his racing career. But, he always found time to visit the Wimbledon track, often the day after a meeting to see the riders working on their machines. He soon became friendly with the riders, including a young Ivan Mauger, who was making his first visit to the UK, often driving Ivan to meetings as Ivan wasn't able to drive at that time.

“I used to go down to the track often and was mucking about, pulling wheelies on a motorbike. In fact Briggo used to tell me that I'd kill myself if I didn't calm down!”

Eventually Ken bought a bike from Jimmy Gibb at Wimbledon and so took up the sport aged 35.

Research shows Ken won his first second half race at Aldershot on 8th August 1959, making his team debut for Aldershot in the Southern League two weeks later before winning a pairs event there with Peter Vandenberg the following month.

The next year Aldershot dropped out of the Southern League and merely contested challenge matches, with Ken being a regular in their line-up. The 1961 and 1962 seasons saw Ken racing at Rye House in addition to making his Provincial League debut for Neath, South Wales, in 1962.

Ken joined Provincial League Long Eaton for the 1963 season but suffered a broken leg at New Cross, followed by another at Rye House later in the season. Then in 1964, while still with Long Eaton, an accident in a practice meeting at Neath saw him break a leg for the third time.

“I had a fair share of injuries down the years. In fact I often wonder how I survived. I've been very lucky,” reflected Ken.

Then, with the birth of the British League in 1965 he joined Oxford, moving on to Newport the following season. However in 1967 the injury jinx struck again as Ken only rode 3 matches for Oxford, being out of action for most of the season through injury, this time with back injuries, five broken ribs and a punctured lung.

The formation of Division Two in 1968 saw Ken join Canterbury where in an injury free year he averaged 8.00, a figure that rose to 8.71 in 1969, when he also rode 7 matches for King's Lynn's Division Two team, averaging 7.33. He did this despite suffering more bad injuries that season.

“I'd been having problems getting off the start one night at Canterbury so I went out to do a few practise starts after the meeting. But, the first one I did saw the bike stand straight up and I went off the back with the bike landing on top of me.

“They took me off to Canterbury hospital and said that nothing was broken and wanted to send me home. But I was in so much pain I stayed the night and the next morning another doctor realised that I had broken a few ribs and I had actually cut my kidney in half.

“In 1970 I returned to Long Eaton and I had another lucky escape when I failed to go on the racing trip to Holland that ended in tragedy when five people were killed in the mini-bus crash at Lokeren in July of that year.

“I was supposed to go on the trip, which I had been on before, but Long Eaton were racing at Workington on the Friday night and I was late getting away from the track and so I was late getting home. (Ken qualified and won the Rider of the Night Final at Derwent Park that evening).

“So, when I got home I didn't really have time to get sorted out and so I decided not to go at the very last minute. If I had then I may well have been killed or badly injured. It was a really awful tragedy. I knew all of those involved; it was a very sad time indeed.”

Ken finished the 1970 season second in the Long Eaton averages with a figure of 6.68, but without a team in 1971 it seemed like the end of the road.

However, a chance meeting with Ian Thomas at Romford saw Ian talk Ken into making a comeback, this time for the Comets. Ken made his Comets debut the following day in the home match against his former club Long Eaton, on 21st May 1971, just five weeks short of his forty-seventh birthday. Then, he remained with the Comets for the rest of the season, making 29 official appearances for the club.

Ken was all set to ride at the new Ellesmere Port venue in 1972 but, having attended their press and practise day, he decided against it at the very last minute and retired from the sport, concentrating on his driving school in addition to running mini-cabs and a car sales business.

“I regretted not riding for Ellesmere Port and for finishing like that, but it happened and that was that.“Since then I've kept busy with one thing and another. I bought a beautiful Rolls Royce at a good price and was able to hire that out, driving people around. I even ended up being asked to go to the airport and pick up Boxer Joe Bugner one day. I also became involved with films and working with Roger Daltrey in the film ‘McVicar' and I also worked on a film with Dudley Moore as well.
“I lived in Hammersmith for much of my life before moving to Dorset, living not far from Poole, and close to my good friend Colin Goody, the ex-Poole rider. I have kept in touch with many of my old mates from speedway through the ex-riders association too.

“I used to travel all over Britain in my camper van with my late wife. We arrived at Workington once and I went for a look at the Stadium and as we came out of the car park I said that I had always come out and turned left so this time I decided to turn right, just to see what was there. Within a few yards we came across a Working Men's Club so we decided to stop for some lunch. And, when we went inside someone recognised me and we got talking, and I ended up staying for three days!

“Looking back it's been a wonderful life, although quite hard at times, but I have enjoyed it and done a lot of things, had some good times and met some lovely people along the way.”

On behalf of all at Workington Speedway I would like to pass on our condolences to his family and friends.

Tony Jackson
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Last Updated :  Fri 21 Dec 2012, 23:40 UK
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