Speedway Spectaculars – the Fay Taylour story

19th December 2021

 

From glorious to notorious: Helen Frances “Fay” Taylour was a ground-breaking woman motorcyclist and arguably the most successful female motorsports competitor of the 20th Century.

Among the vintage motorcycles on display as part of Classic Motorcycle Mecca’s limited-time-only Speedway Spectaculars exhibit, visitors will find Taylour’s race bike.

The bike ridden by Taylour is one of the machines taking centre stage during the temporary display at the Invercargill motorbike museum, from 18 December 2021 through to 19 April 2022.

Born in Ireland in 1904, Fay was first introduced to motorcycles at the age of 22. Her racing career quickly took off, and she soon developed a reputation for her personal endurance and great handling skills.

It was in 1928 that Fay first observed her first dirt-track speedway race. The danger, excitement, and drama of speedway made the hugely popular with punters and Fay was no exception. Determined to give this sport, then in its infancy, a crack she managed to sneak into a practice session at the famed Crystal Palace track. After riding – and falling repeatedly – she was able to master the crucial skill of broadsiding her bike around the corners.

Fay was the first woman in England to race in speedway, going head-to-head with the great Ron Johnson of Australia in her first race on 9 June 1928 (also at Crystal Palace). Fay, riding her Rudge, led until the final turn when she crashed in spectacular fashion. However, it wasn’t long before she chalked up her first major win in speedway: she took the scalp and defeated A.R. Frogley in a mile match at Crystal Palace that August.

She continued to race her Rudge successfully until early September, when she took delivery of her Douglas DT5.

The sport of speedway took Fay to the distant shores of Australia – the so-called “home of speedway” – arriving on December 31 1928. She interrupted her Australian tour to travel to New Zealand and ride the brand-new Kilbirnie Speedway track on March 26. This made Fay the first woman as well as the first international rider to compete in the sport here in New Zealand. During here month here, she was hugely popular with fans and a major drawcard for promoters. She was held up as a role model for aspiring young women motorcyclists, and gained the respect of the masses thanks to her skill and fearlessness on the track.

Her time on the track at Kilbirnie was not her only stint on our shores; encouraged by her popularity, Fay returned to Aotearoa in 1930 for a further six weeks of racing. Attracting large, enthusiastic crowds she raced at the Western Springs Speedway, Monica Park Speedway, and Kilbirnie once more. She left New Zealand in April 1930 to arrive back in London in time – or so she thought – for the start of the British speedway season.

In 1930, women were banned from riding speedway in the United Kingdom, with Australia adopting the same rule shortly after. Undeterred, Fay turned to racing cars. When women were also subsequently banned from motor-racing in the United Kingdom, Fay moved to compete overseas.

It was while in Germany Fay became a supporter of Fascism: and thus, her turn from glorious to notorious began. When, in 1939, Great Britain declared war Fay’s outspoken support of Hitler and his politics saw her detained for more than three years: initially in Holloway Prison and then the Isle of Man. Fay was then exiled to Eire, where she remained until 1948.

The lure of fast cars and racing never left her, and in 1949 Fay moved to the United States. She continued to race in the States and around the world until her retirement in 1956.

She died in 1983.