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Late '30s South African motorcycle racing

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#1 andrewf

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Posted 30 March 2002 - 13:54

Hi All

In the book, "The South African Grand Prix" by Brud Bishop, the following text appears on page 21:

"Freddie Meyer was third in the T.T. over the Kragga Kama circuit at Port Elizabeth in 1939 on a Norton."

This single line is the first that I have ever heard of such an event in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. Since this is where I live, I wondered if anyone had *any* information about this, most especially a track layout.

I have a friend who lives on a smallholding out there and I drive the roads in that area of the city a lot. I have thought, many times, that they are fantastically designed, almost as if they were a race track! :p

Thanks in advance



#2 Ray Bell

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Posted 30 March 2002 - 15:17

One day I was in Redcliffe in the northern part of Brisbane...

An elderly gentleman came to the door and we talked for a while, I happened to ask if he had been interested in racing when he was younger. "Not here," he said, "but in Africa..."

He went on to describe a motorcycle race in which he competed. Not on a circuit, but between two towns. I don't know how far apart... and the roads were barely tracks through the bush.

To provide a 'safe' course, the organisers had put up notices so that nobody else would be out on the course on race day...

But he related that someone was out there fishing. They were there for a week, so didn't see the notices. And it was time to leave, sometime between some of the noisy dusty motorcycles, out on this track through the bush. He got in the way of some, of course, but that was the sum total of the problems he caused.

#3 Hieronymus

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Posted 08 February 2005 - 06:55

Reviving an old thread, that I discovered.

I can't recall a circuit at Kragga Kamma or reading about one. Not impossible, though. Wonder if it was not located in the area where the go-kart circuit is situated, just off Seaview Road. I lived in Port Elizabeth for two years and at the time some locals mentioned to me, that one Sarel van der Merwe was using the dirt roads in the Kragga Kamma area as practice ground for his Rally sorties. Folklore perhaps, since Sarel was one of the cities most popular sportsmen at the time...

There use to be a circuit out at St. Albans on the outskirts of Port Elzibeth in the late fifties. This was called the Darryl Allam circuit and it made use of the old aerodrome roads. It saw mostly motorcycle races and club races.

Then there was also the 9 mile W. Grey circuit that was used for motorcycle races. For those that know Port Elizabeth, the circuit was near Bethelsdorp and the Salt Pan in this area.

#4 Felix

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Posted 08 February 2005 - 08:01

Ray, I think the event the gentleman was referring to was the Durban - Johannesburg race, which took in 700-ish kilometres over two 12 or 15 hour days. It was SA's major pre-WW motorcycle race, and still celebrated every year with a historic rerun.

I do not have all the facts to hand here in Belgium, but various friends and acquaintances have competed or marshalled on the rerun, and I could certainly ascertain more. One good acquaintance sank, literally, his life's savings into doing the event.

He had watched it as a wide-eyed kid, and vowed to compete 'one day', then had to satisfy himself with the rerun after the race disappeared during WWII and was never staged again. In any event, he acquired a suitable period bike and completed the run, only to contract pnuemonia in the terrible conditions prevailing during the weekend, and died. Apparently he told his widow shortly before he took his last breath that it had been 'worth it' as he had achieved his life's ambition...

#5 D-Type

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Posted 08 February 2005 - 14:36

Sometimes we forget the obvious. If you are living in PE, have you tried the town library? Is there a local newspaper who would let you loose in their archive?

#6 andrewf

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Posted 08 February 2005 - 18:00

Hi D-Type

Actually, I did try the library. I learned many interesting things about the town including the fact that, when war was declared in 1914, a group of local gentlemen went round the German Club and burned it to the ground, the fact that, 150 years ago, the town was home to a disturbed young lady who had a penchant for burning down churches and that "Hong Kong Chicken", which is cooked in Coca-Cola, was invented in Port Elizabeth.

Alas, I found nothing about the Kragga Kama circuit.

Some time later, however, work put me in contact with a gentleman who races classic bikes. He told me a story about seeing a house in the Kragga Kama area that carried a name such as "Joe Bloggs Bend". Upon asking the resident of the significance, he was told that the property used to overlook the corner of a race track.

Finding this circuit is still something I'd like to do one day. I've moved to Cape Town in the interim, so it might have to be a holiday project. I still speak regularly to the gentleman who races classic bikes and my company sponsored him when he raced in Cape Town last weekend. I have some photos I'm hoping to post to TNF in the next few days.


Originally posted by D-Type
Sometimes we forget the obvious. If you are living in PE, have you tried the town library? Is there a local newspaper who would let you loose in their archive?

#7 Hieronymus

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Posted 09 February 2005 - 06:07

Intrigued by the question about Kragga Kamma, I had a look at my old copies of CLASSIC CAR AFRICA. Not taking much note of motorcycle racing in the past, I however, found an article that dealt with the career of Johnny Galway (considered as South Africa's best motorcycle racer of the 1930's).

In this article they do mention the Kragga Kamma circuit, but no idea of its length and exact location. It seems, though, that it was used quite regularly in the 1930s. They further mention that the circuit underwent extensive reconstruction work in later years. The Port Elizabeth 200 and South African TT were major races that were held here.


The library is usually not the best option. By the way, Port Elizabeth's library had a tremendous collection of motor racing books at the time I lived there, 1987/88. According to my friend, Ken Stewart, most of these books are now gone...

I would suggest one try the Port Elizabeth Municipality - that is to say if they still exist. The Engineering/Roads department is suppose to have maps and records of every road/plot in its jurisdiction area. Then again, if they are like the library folk (which also falls under the control of the municipality), you chances of finding what you are looking for, is basically nil.

In the article on Johhny Galway there is a photo of him that was taken at Kragga Kamma. All one can see from the photo is typical Eastern Cape vegetation - no other hints. It also seems that it was held on tarred roads, at least the area where the photo was taken.

I'll see if I can perhaps find more about this circuit, since I am quite fascinated by old racing venues in SA. I am sure there must have been several other circuits in SA that were only used for motorcycle racing. Consider the fact - motorcycle racing was well established out here, before the first circuit races for cars took place circa. 1930.