A speedway pioneer
Alan Whitfield Roper, also known as Alan Blackburn, was a native of the Newcastle suburb of Hexham and one of the original riders in what was to become known as ‘Speedway’ at Maitland Showground, where the promoter was the legendary Johnnie Hoskins. In his diary which is now in the keeping of his grandson Luke Roper he says, “There was a bike race on Newcastle Showground and I had my first race there. There were three of us from Hexham: Alan Chafer, Tommy Sharp and myself, and we used to have road races on Raymond Terrace Road. I later bought a 3 ½ Douglas in 1922 or 23 and I got a sidecar chassis and built a body for it out of aluminium, a torpedo shape all riveted together. I was still sick (following an accident) when they opened Maitland Speedway. The track was grass and cinder, only post and rail fence. Pud Kirkwood lost a leg when he hit a post so the track was boarded to the outside fence and surfaced with a slight bank. They used to be good crowds, from all the farm areas. My Douglas was never much good after its smash so I bought a 2 ¾ Chater Lea with a Blackburne engine, so I changed my name to Blackburn so they would not know at home. I had a fall at Maitland, I had a bad foot for a long time and I decided I would not race solo any more and race sidecars. In 1924 they had a mile track at Penrith, to keep the dust down they tried spraying with some kind of oil but it was hard on your eyes. I now had my 8hp Zenith, a lovely bike. We used to go down (from Newcastle) on the boat Friday night and then off the boat about 4 o’clock and ride out to Penrith. We did the same thing going to Maroubra. Sometimes we would get a tow behind a utility truck from City Road.” Alan raced at the new concrete saucer at Maroubra, although after a spate of accidents passengers were banned and sidecars had to carry ballast weights instead. He says he lost only one race at Penrith, and that was to star rider Tommy Benstead on a 10hp Harley.
Alan on his Douglas, which was badly damaged in a race on Raymond Terrace Road. LEFT Detail from the menu from the Newcastle Motor Cycle Club Annual Dinner in 1925... makes amusing reading. BELOW Wonderful studio portrait of Allan Roper aboard his Zenith. BELOW LEFT Another shot of Alan on his Zenith twin.