Following the demise of greyhound racing in Newport in 1963, Somerton Park was sold to the Council who leased the old track to Charles Foot and Mike Parker, established speedway promoters. A track was constructed by Newport rider Jon Erskine in preparation for the 1964 season. The promoters confirmed Friday at 7.30pm as the race time.
The 1964 speedway season started in controversy, and like the previous year ended in disaster. The controversy was brought about by the refusal of Wolverhampton to move up to the National League after winning the Provincial League title in 1963. This caused a split between the leagues, and the Provincial League was outlawed by the Speedway Control Board and all National League riders were forbidden to ride on Provincial tracks. Provincial League riders were warned by the Speedway Control board that they were in breach of ACU regulations and could be suspended from all competitive racing. They were also barred from the World Speedway Championship, however the season was eventually concluded and the breach was healed during the close season. Stoke, St Austell and Rayleigh all withdrew from the league for various reasons before the season started. Sunderland joined the league but then withdrew after riding only three matches. However, both Glasgow and Newport joined and completed the season.
Newport brought in Peter Vandenburg, Dick Bradley and Abby Golden from Southampton who had just gone out of business. Jon Erskine had been the only real success in Neath’s brief venture into speedway in 1962, he joined from Long Eaton.
Sunday April 11th 1964 was the first occasion that a Newport Wasps team appeared on a speedway track. This was at Cradley Heath Speedway and the Wasps lost 42-36 but Peter Vandenberg scored a 12-point maximum. They raced at Poole on Wednesday April 15th in a challenge match narrowly losing 41-37 but with Vandenburg again securing a four race maximum. The Wasps’ home debut at Somerton Park was the following Friday April 17th 1964 when a crowd in excess of 10,000 saw Newport lose to Cradley Heath by 40 to 38. Unfortunately, Vandenburg was injured in a fall in the final heat (Heat 13) as Newport were on a 4-2 and set to draw the match. Vandenburg broke a clavicle which put him out until May 13th.
The first Open Championship held on Friday April 24 at Newport saw an exciting meeting with three riders all tied on 13 points for the lead. The run off saw Exeter’s Len Silver beat off Poole duo Geoff Mudge and Ross Gilbertson. Newport’s first victory came at Monmore Green in a Southern League contest by 39 points to 38. Their first home victory was against Poole on May 1st by 40-38 in the same competition. Newport also beat Wolverhampton on Monday May 18th in a meeting starting at 3pm. Newport won 40-37 in a tight match.
In the Provincial League their home form was good losing only to champions Newcastle by 45-33, they picked up a victory on the road at Poole (41-37) and a draw at Hackney. Their home victory over Hackney was a rare Saturday night encounter as the scheduled Friday meeting was postponed due to rain.
Newport gained revenge on Cradley Heath later in the season winning the Provincial League Knock Out Cup by 97-95 (they won 58-38 at Somerton Park before going down 57-39 at Dudley Wood). On the way they beat Glasgow home and away in the quarter finals and Hackney in the only leg of the semi finals.
Overall, it proved a highly successful first season with the Wasps finishing a highly creditable fourth in the Provincial League, together with the victory in the Knockout Cup. Crowds were good.
Rider averages – Peter Vandenburg 9.37, Dick Bradley 9.25, Alby Golden 8.78, Jon Erskine 6.42, Geoff Penniket 4.77, Bob Hughes 3.11, Vic White 3.00, Ray Harris 2.26
1964 Provincial League