Motorcycle Racing in Gisborne 1920

Poverty Bay Motorcycle Club was founded in December 1918 and became involved in motorcycle racing from its inception. 98 years ago today they would have been very busy setting up for their 2 day race meeting at Park Racecourse and with motorcycle racing still in its infancy the organisers would have been challenged in finding the best solutions for both spectators and competitors. Dusty track conditions would have played havoc with riders visibility as well as motorcycle performance (there were no air filters on carburettors then), and then there would have been the horses that bought spectators to the track (only the wealthy would have come by automobile). How would they react to noisy unmuffled motorcycles roaring around a race track. As well there would have been no pick up vehicle should a motorcycle break down, just a long push back to the pit area. Makes you think how much easier modern racers have it, doesn’t it?

Most racing was handicapped, most likely because of the difference in the performance of the machines, but also because some of the entrants, like Percy Coleman, had gained greater experience by competing in international events overseas. The limit men were the first away with the scratch men last away. We still have handicapping in modern motorsport, (in both 2 wheels and 4) and grid position is based on lap times.
The following is a summary of the 2 days racing events at Park Racecourse which was published in the Poverty Bay Herald. Racing at Park Racecourse was from 1913 until 1932 when the racecourse was closed. The report is quite complete with both racing and editorial comments. Enjoy.

1st and 2nd January 1920

This year saw a large crowd assemble for the two day Championship event for motorcycle and athletic sports held on New Years Day, and the day after. Lengthy reports were provided in the press including an interview with Percy Coleman. 

Motorcycle Novice Race. (3 starters): This first event was between two light-powered machines and a heavy cycle ridden by novices. The light machines were easily defeated by Jack D Parminter.

Open Handicap. 10 Laps. (12 starters): Percy Coleman 1st, George Powell 2nd, Ernie Hinds 3rd. Len Mangham, Hinds, and Coleman started two laps behind the limit men but by half distance the lead was reduced to ½ lap. Bernie Shearsby was 50 yards ahead of Powell, Coleman, and Mangham, who were bunched. On the last lap Hinds closed on Powell, Coleman, and Mangham, and they passed Shearsby. Mangham had an accident, and was out. Coleman travelling at terrific pace, passed Powell, and won by 25 yards. Powell was next, 25 yards in front of Hinds. Time: 9 minutes, 54 ½ seconds. Coleman averaged 65 miles an hour, and at times exceeded 70 miles an hour.

Heavy-weight Motorcycle Championship of New Zealand. Won with ease by Percy Coleman.

Lightweight Race, 5 laps: An exciting race between William Davy and Rube T Jones. Davy led the first two laps, then was challenged and passed by Jones. Davy caught up, and in passing crossed Jones forcing him on the rails. For the remainder of the race they raced practically level. Davy got home by a yard, but was disqualified for crossing, and Jones was declared the winner.

Percy Coleman, whose exhibition of riding created such a great impression, was induced to tell something of his cycling history. He is a sturdily built fellow, about 21 years of age and quiet spoken. He has made motorcycle racing his profession, and is employed by the Indian Company to demonstrate the capabilities of their machines at various motorcycle sports in New Zealand. His conditions of employment are unique. He is paid a salary and all expenses, and gets all his winnings for himself. Born in New Zealand, Colemans residence is in Palmerston North. He commenced his motorcycling career at the age of 14, when in 1913 he raced a Humber 2 ¾ hp. The he rode a Douglas, and with that he won the New Zealand lightweight championship. In 1915, at Featherston, with a Big X, he for the first time won the New Zealand championship for heavy-weight machines.

In 1917 and 1918, riding an Indian, ha added further successes to his record, again taking a New Zealand championship, and also an Australasian championship. In 1918 he got a world grass track record, doing 15 miles in 13 minutes, 50 sec. Another record obtained recently at Marton was the worlds grass track record for the mile and 50 yards, which he covered in 51 3/5 sec. In 1919 Coleman journeyed to America, and there travelled for nine months on behalf of the Indian factory, riding in Indian teams in most of the Northern and Western states. At Ascot, Los Angeles he was placed best in the Indian team for the 200 mile race. He also rode a big championship road race at Marion, Indiana but was unfortunate and not placed.


A young Percy Coleman astride his Indian

Motorcycle Novice Race. 5 laps (5 starters): A Russell (Gisborne), New Hudson 1st  A Sheen (Gisborne), Royal Ruby 2nd  ,Jack D Parminter (Gisborne), Big X 3rd ,Russell, Sheen, and Parminter passed the limit man at the back of the course on the third round. Parminter was close on Russell, who was 50 yards behind Sheen. Parminters machine slowed down on the fifth round, and Sheen closed upon Russell, but he ran inside at the last bend and Russell got home by 30 yards. Sheen was second 50 yards ahead of Parminter. Time: 8 min12 1/5 sec.


Riders and supporters. Jack Parminter on the left (No 10) on his Big X.

Handicap Race up tp 600cc. 10 laps (9 starters): Jack Sweeney (Palmerston North), Royal Ruby 1st , Henry E Bloomfield (Gisborne), 3 ½ hp New Hudson 2nd , Kennith Cameron (Gisborne), 3 ½ hp New Hudson 3rd . Rube Jones had the best start. Sweeney, riding Spraggs machine, passed him in the third lap and drew away to win by ¾ lap. Behind him Cameron and Jones led Bloomfield by 20 yards. Bloomfield took the lead in the 8th lap with Cameron and Jones close behind. The three raced all out in a bunch. Bloomfield got more out of hjis machine and finished three yards in front of Cameron, who was the same distance ahead of Jones. Time: 15 min, 2 sec.

Gisborne Park Motorcycle Handicap. 10 laps (12 starters): William Davy (Gisborne), 2 ¾ hp Douglas 1st ; Rube T Jones (Palmerston North), 2 ¾ hp NUT 2nd ; Len Mangham (Otaki), 7hp Harley Davidson 3rd ,Davy had three laps to his credit when Mangham, the scratch man, got going. Mangham overhauled rider after rider, and at the seventh lap was a round and a half behind Davy, with Sheen, Jones, and Neville Souter in front of him. Lap nine saw Mangham pass Souter and Sheen. In the last lap Davy got home 300 yards ahead of Jones, who was 50 yards in front of Mangham.


Rider Rube T Jones NUT  2 ¾ hp, and William Davy 2 ¾ hp Douglas (possibly)   

Visitors Motorcycle Handicap. 5 laps (9 starters): F Roe (Opotiki), 2 ¼ hp Indian 1st: Neville R Souter, 7hp Henderson 2nd , William Davy (Gisborne), 2 ¾ hp Douglas 3rd . Roe had three laps lead when Percy Coleman, Len Mangham, George Powell, and Jack Sweeney, left the mark. Roe got home by 200 yards. Next came Souter, who passed Davy in the last lap. Davy was 60 yards behind Souter and Mangham was 30 yards behind Davy. Rube Jones was next, then Sweeney, Coleman followed him, and afterwards came Kennith Cameron and Bernie Shearsby. At time during the race the dust was so thick that the riders on the bends and at the back of the course were absolutely obscured. 

Motorcycle Consolation Race. 5 laps (7 starters): Neville R Souter 1st , Wally J Claringbold 2nd , Len Mangham 3rd . A Boag led for the first three laps, closely followed by Kennith Cameron and Souter. Claringbold, George Powell, and Mangham were riding hard as they had a big handicap to make up in so short a race. In the final lap Souter went ahead, followed by Claringbold, Mangham, and Powell. The last two riding at terrific speed, made a big bid to get in front. Souter passed the line first 40 yards ahead of Claringbold, who beat Mangham by 20 yards. Time 7 min, 35 sec.      


A good turnout of spectators in the stands but oh all that dust.

Race report information was sourced courtesy of Peter Barnett, Author of Maori Motorcycles and Century Cars. 2009.

Thanks has to go to Dave Blackwell for loaning us the use of the photographs. Dave, also known as Injun Dave, is a keen supporter of all things Indian and from the early 1980s to 2000s campaigned a highly modified Indian 741B nicknamed Geronimo. A true champion Dave finally hug up his leathers and sold Geronimo in 2016. Hopefully we may see this bike at future classic racing events.