Whilst at Sunbeam Tommy assembled his 350c.c. “Sprint Special”, a motorcycle built from parts which came from mid 1920s T.T. models that were broken up after their lack of success. He used the machine for everyday use, courting, and in stripped down form for grass-track racing, speedway, trials and hill climbs.

His “Sprint Special” as he called it, would become a well known sight at Monmore Green stadium. Speedway began in the United Kingdom in February 1928 at Epping Forest and was a great success. As a result many tracks soon opened including the one at Monmore Green.

The very first meeting organised by the Wolverhampton Dirt Track Motor Cycle Club took place on Wednesday 30th May, 1928.

It featured a race between the Californian legend Sprouts Elder and Ivor Creek who held the Glasgow Golden Gauntlet. Unfortunately Elder’s machine failed to start, but he borrowed Creek’s machine and gave the crowd of 5,000 an impressive demonstration of speedway.

Tommy on his "Sprint Special". Courtesy of June Hussey.

The next meeting, which took place on 9th June was poorly organised. Many of the announcements were incorrect and the programme contained a lot of errors which baffled both press and spectators alike. The programme included Tommy’s name. His first listed race had the correct number of riders, including a mystery figure, dressed in red, who was believed to be Tommy. The unknown rider finished in last place and so it was assumed that Tommy came in last on his very first ride at the track. In actual fact Tommy was not even at the meeting, and so he sent a letter to the Express & Star stating that he had never confirmed that he would be there and had not signed an entry form, although he had attended some of the practice meetings. Unfortunately there was a general feeling of dissatisfaction with the poor organisation at the meeting and as a result the crowd was much smaller at the next event, which Tommy did attend.

An advert for the meeting on 16th July, 1928.

The next event took place on Tuesday 16th July and became a milestone in Tommy’s career. He arrived on his faithful Sunbeam with his future wife Lillian on the back.

On arrival he stripped the machine down and prepared it for racing. He was billed as Tommy Deadman (the local lad) who would take on Jack Barber from Sheffield in the Challenge Race. On the night he swept the board, winning every race in which he took part, including a handicap event, during which he gave Stewie St. George a 10 second start. He also succeeded in completing 4 laps of the course in just 95 seconds.

He came away with £15 in prize money, quite a sum in those days. It came out of the admission money and so was all in half crowns. He described it as “quite a heavy load to take back home”.

Success continued at the next meeting, held on 30th June when he won the 500c.c. event. The following meeting on 7th July would always be remembered by Tommy because of a narrow escape. Speedway is a dangerous sport and nasty accidents do sometimes occur. On this occasion Tommy’s life was saved by his crash helmet in an incident which was described in the Express & Star as follows: “Deadman endeavouring to take the inside position collided with L. Patrick. There was an immediate crash and the rider was flung yards away. Deadman was thrown up against the railings and Patrick onto his head and shoulders. Both lay on the ground as if unconscious.” Tommy recalled that he saw pink spots, and later when he came round he saw that his helmet had been knocked into a trilby shape, and completely squashed down the middle. In a separate incident that evening W. D’Arcy Tremlett became the speedway’s first real casualty when he broke a collar bone.

The programme for the meeting held on Saturday 25th August, 1928.

Tommy was soon fully fit again and competed in the meeting held on Saturday 25th August, the first event organised at Wolverhampton by the British Dirt Track Racing Association Limited. The meeting would be another eventful one for Tommy because after beating E. R. Jones in the match race, he took a fall in the 500c.c.final and received bruises to his shoulder and right leg.

Tommy’s success continued and during the next meeting on 1st September he claimed the track record with a time of 75 seconds. Things didn’t all go his way. On 22nd September after winning the 500c.c. final, another competitor Bunny Wilcox claimed that Tommy had cut him up. As a result the race was re-run and this time Harry Taft finished in first place.

Tommy had another accident on 17th July 1929 when the strap of his goggles broke in two as he pulled them over his helmet. As a result he had to ride without them on an extremely dry and dusty track. During the race he was almost blinded by the dust and came off after striking the grass verge.

On 20th August, 1929 the track was illuminated for the first time, and Tommy won the Monmore All-Star Handicap. On 11th June, 1930 the Wolverhampton team rode at an away event for the first time and travelled to Exeter for a series of inter-track races. Tommy took part and beat Dilly Gittens for the privilege of representing Wolverhampton in the final. Unfortunately he was beaten by Exeter’s Reg Beer.

A newspaper cutting, date unknown. Courtesy of June Hussey.

A newspaper cutting, date unknown. Courtesy of June Hussey.

Tommy captained Wolverhampton and Leicester, and rode in the first race at Wembley on the launch of the new track. He became one of the first riders to use a leg-forward style and successfully rode at many of the other new speedway tracks including Hanley, Nottingham, and Perry Bar.

A newspaper cutting, date unknown. Courtesy of June Hussey.

As speedway became more popular, Sunbeam decided to produce a speedway machine, a version of the Model 90 with a lowered frame and small petrol tank. Unfortunately the machine was not a great success because it used standard T.T. type forks which made the machine almost unmanageable on the tight curves of the track. Tommy tried the new machine, but even he couldn’t make it perform. It took a lot of persuasion by him and the few riders who used the machines, to make Sunbeam change the design.

A newspaper cutting, year unknown. Courtesy of June Hussey.

Tommy had a relatively short speedway career. He greatly enjoyed speedway and treated it as a hobby. He had many other interests and didn’t want to devote all of his spare time to the sport. His last appearance on the track at Monmore Green was in August 1978 at a reunion of former riders, which formed part of the celebration of the track's jubilee. The veterans included Cyril Francis, Derek Timms, and Ernie Baker. They were each presented with a special jubilee memento.

Tommy (3rd from left) at the jubilee celebration at Monmore Green. Courtesy of June Hussey.

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