The venue had been occupied by the Bradford Northern Rugby League Club from the beginning of 1934 the official opening on the 1st September of the same year. As far as motor sports go the first was in 1936 when the Bradford and District Motor Club ran a mountain grass track event using the embankment at the north end of the stadium, it is reported to have been badly cut up.
The director of the Rugby Club, Harry Hornby joined with the promoter Johnnie Hoskins in an ambition to bring speedway to the venue; a track was designed and built around the rugby pitch. On the 23rd of June 1945 speedway opened with a open meeting that entertained spectators numbering 20,000 further open events followed during that season.
In 1946 the speedway at Odsal entered the National League using the name Boomerangs and attracting a gate that averaged 31,000, this was an amazing successful season apart from the tragic death of Boomerangs rider Albert ‘Aussie’ Rosenfeld ten days after a crash at the stadium.
The sport was very popular nationwide but popularity at this venue in particular proven when at a Test Match against Australia in July of 1947 a gate of over 47,000 was recorded. At this time the team were known as the Odsal and not Bradford as can be seen on the above programme cover from 1945. They changed their ‘nickname’ in July 1950 from Boomerangs to Tudors not becoming the Bradford Tudors until 1957, there after they continued as Bradford but changed the ‘nickname’ a further four times.
1948 saw a couple of items of interest the first, a concrete starting gate platform was constructed, 3 feet in width and believed to be the first in UK. Perhaps not so welcome promoter Johnnie Hoskins left at the end of that year, Harry Hornby taking over the reins of promotion the following year.
This period of the Odsal history saw the second tragedy when in 1950 veteran rider Joe Abbott died following a crash in a match against West Ham, he was 48.
The Bradford team ceased League racing at the end of the 1956 season with the intention of staging only open meetings for the following year but when Birmingham pulled out of racing in the National League mid-
As a side interest about the stadium it may be of interest to some to know that during 1950 it was discovered that stadium was situated in a valley gouged out by a glacier some 10,000 years previously.
There is no reports as far as I know of any speedway racing during 1958 but in ‘59 four pirate events took place, Staged by Mike Parker, who had been refused a licence by the Speedway Control Board. These meeting were, it seems, events to try and please the spectators and included midget car racing (see adjacent programme image). Because of the somewhat illegal nature of these meeting some of the speedway riders changed their names in order to avoid being suspended. There was a match against Liverpool, also running without a licence, for the spectators there must have been an added entertainment, one of guess who the rider is.
Back to licensed events 1960 under the promotion of Jess Halliday the Bradford team now known as the Panthers competed in the Provincial League. However speedway was not to continue at the Odsal for some while as the Rugby Club (the landlords) refused permission for speedway to continue after the end of the 1960 season. This was not the end of the Bradford team as they moved back to one of their original venues the Greenfield Autodrome for the 1961 season
24th June 1970 and speedway returned to Odsal -
Bill Bridgett joined the promotion team in ‘71. The former rider Alan Knapkin took over the running of the track in 1973 and their name changed again in ‘74 to the Bradford Barons.
The team were founder members of the New National League in 1975 with Jim Streets stepping in as promoter for Motor Sports Promotions (Bradford) Ltd sadly the track closed again at the end of the season.
There followed a period of 9 years with no speedway not only at the Odsal but nowhere in the Bradford area.
Following a demonstration meeting in 1984 speedway returned to Odsal when it hosted a World Cup qualifying round in May followed by a World Final at the end of August.
Team racing began again in 1986 under the promotion of Eric Boothroyd following the closure of Halifax, the team were to race in the British League and once again changed their name this time to Bradford Dukes; brothers Bobby and Allan Ham joined the promotion team in 1990 and a second World Final was held at the venue.
When the merger of the British League and the National League took place in ‘91 Bradford became members of Division One, they did not change their name but Eric Boothroyd left the promotion team.
1995 and Bradford became a member of the Premier League and J Bean joined the Ham brother, when the Premier League split the Dukes joined the Elite League, that was in 1997 and in fact finished top of the new league, that did not however stop the closure of speedway racing at the end of that season.
Shale was lifted from the track in 2000 and used in the construction of a track in Somerset. The Venue still hosts Rugby the resident team being the Bradford Bulls Rugby League Club.
By Jackie Hodkinson
Many thanks to The Somerville Collection for permission to use the images of the two programme covers and to John Jarvis for the the information contained in the book Homes of British Speedway.