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The Neil Street Story, Street’s Ahead

By Tony Webb with photos by John Somerville

Tony Webb lives and breathes Speedway especially of the motorcycle variety He had been involved in speedway since 1950 when his father's construction company built Ipswich speedway in England. Tony had a shot in the saddle but instead was more at home as a fan, then running a business supplying speedway equipment and also sponsoring riders from 1969 to 1981. He strayed away for a bit to earn a living but in retirement is a prolific researcher and writer with over 30 publications to date.

 His latest book is ‘Streets Ahead’ and comes as another celebration of Neil ‘Bill’ Joseph Street OAM which 2018 seems to have been dedicated to. OBA 69 covered a story on Neil the engineer and his influence on Speedway with his SR4, 4-valve head transplant which caused significant controversy in the sport. The Broadford Bonanza of 2018 was also a tribute to Neil Street and coincided with the release of another book on the man.

The foreword is by Phil Crump whose career (as well as his son Jason) was well supported by Neil. Neil later became Phil’s father-in-law, hence Jason is Neil’s grandson. Phil proudly quotes “Bill was his mentor, friend and travelling companion.” Christened Neil when he was born in 1931, he was nicknamed ‘Bill’. It becomes apparent throughout the book that his christened name was rarely used by his mates and acquaintances. The other notable thing about Neil was his amazing crop of tightly packed hair. A few photos show a huge crop and he looks very much like the musician Leo Sayer.

Tony’s book is divided into chapters which underline the many hats Neil wore in the sport. The early chapters are dedicated to Neil’s very successful career as a rider both locally and internationally. The story covers Neil’s riding career from 1952 through to 1976 which is a mammoth effort considering he continued to be competitive in this period. Next Tony documents Neil’s role as a team manager and mentor helping many riders, particularly fellow Aussies, in a role which he maintained until 2009, a couple of years before his passing in 2011.

A chapter is dedicated to Neil’s engineering skills in his search for extra speed. It is suggested Neil’s observation of an Alfa Romeo 8-valve engine was the inspiration for hatching a plan for a 4-valve head conversion to the current Jawa speedway engine. He approached an old mate Ivan Tighe who ran a performance engine machining business. A collaboration occurred and the result was the TSR4 (Tighe Street Racing overhead 4-valve head). When other suppliers and manufacturers became involved the conversion was renamed the SR4. Tony’s research points out that Neil also drew on an extensive network of engine gurus including the likes of Phil Irving. Tony documents the various iterations of the SR4 updates bolted to many other engines including JAP, Cole and also a V-twin JAP Speedway sidecar conversion. A collaboration with Jerzy Sapat produced a rotary valve version called the ‘S+S RV Special’.

 An interesting inclusion is an account from John Warner who still has blueprints of a complete engine Neil and he designed but never brought to fruition. He went on to say that the project “was thwarted by deliberate industrial sabotage which upset him greatly”. It wasn’t just engines as there is also mention of Neil’s collaboration with Gordon May to develop ‘Comet’ frames to suit the SR4 JAPs for Speedway & Scrambles competition. Tony’s research led him to many existing SR4’s and includes information about where they are now along with many photos which show the various design changes.

In a twist, a chapter is dedicated to the ‘Two Ivans’. Ivan Mauger had difficulty in accessing the SR4 conversion for his use. The reason suggested by Ivan himself was that it was feared that he would make it available to JAP who would copy it. Mauger approached Ivan Tighe to fit out two engines with a OHV 4-valve head. The result was the ITS (Ivan Tighe Special) that Mauger put to good use.

Another chapter is dedicated to all the Clubs Neil had anything to do with over his career. This included a track he designed and helped construct for Tim Stone in Wales and then also managed the track race team. Finally, Tony includes stories from a whole host of people he interviewed. They all recite stories about their own particular Neil ‘Bill’ Street story.

In summation I thought that the Government Gazette’s account on Neil’s OAM from Australia Day 2002, says it all. “Mr. Neil Joseph Street OAM…… for services to Speedway Motorcycle Racing in Australia as a competitor, engineer, manager and mentor to young riders.”

 A great book with a lot of facts and photographs while including many more accounts at a personal level.

Gaven Dall’Osto

156 pages, soft cover, black & white

Available from Tony direct by email to binbooks@iinet.net.au

or Phone: (61) 0481 990 364.

Postage to UK approximately £10.  Total cost approximately £27

Please check when ordering