Belle Vue Ace 1929 - 1945


What more can be said of Frank; by far, he was the most charismatic figure during the clubs formative years. If you needed a true leader, then Frank was the one.

Varey was born in Eldwick, a small Yorkshire village, on 31st March 1908. Life was far from easy for the Varey family. His father lost his life in the Great War of 1914-1918, leaving Frank and his brothers to look after their mother and sisters.

He was involved with motorcycles long before his racing career began. The Scott Motorcycle works at Saltaire provided him with his first job in 1924, in the fitting and erecting department. However, it was not long before Frank’s physical toughness was noticed and he was given trials for testing machinery. Often he would find himself as the passenger in Harry Langman’s sidecar outfit; Langman was a noted TT racer of his day. For several years he tested as a solo, receiving his fair share of knocks; something he would have to contend with for many years to come.

The arrival of Dirt Track Racing, as speedway was known in 1928, fired the enthusiasm of this no-nonsense Yorkshireman. He was quick to note the money that was on offer for successful racers. He competed in the early meetings, when racing began at Kirkmanshulme Lane, in 1928. In those days, he would do his day’s work, before departing for the evening’s meeting. There, the trusty water cooled Scott machine would be stripped of lamps and mudguards. After racing, the process of reassembling the bike took place, before Varey returned home.

Previously, Frank had sampled meetings at Audenshaw, as the new sport took off. Poor crowds heralded the closure of the Belle Vue track, but plans were afoot to relocate the track ‘across the road’ at the Belle Vue Sports Stadium on Hyde Road. His never-say die attitude made him a huge favourite at all the tracks he visited. Salford in particular took to him as one of their own. A special welcome was always evident for him there.

Seeing his chance to establish himself, Frank signed for the Manchester club, who were to participate in the newly formed English Dirt Track League for northern clubs. Frank made rapid strides, winning trophies at will, and, more importantly, money to look after his family. However, his progress came at a cost. As anyone who raced against him would testify, Frank proved an uncompromising rider. Reputations meant precious little to him; he treated everyone the same. Scrapes with officialdom became common place, scuffles with his rivals even more so. Receiving a police escort from stadiums, made good headlines for the newspapers and in turn, filled any vacant seats.  

Varey’s tough image saw him race, even when injured. Success eluded him during these periods, but he was determined not to allow them stopping him racing. This image was enhanced when he returned from a visit to Argentina during the winter of 1929-1930, with the nickname of ‘El Diablo Rojo’- The Red Devil. In 1930, Frank took over the captaincy of Belle Vue, owing to Arthur Franklyn being injured. He guided the club to the Northern League title by a considerable margin and repeated this in 1931. On the international scene, he rode for England in the inaugural test series with Australia. At Belle Vue, he was chosen to captain the Lions.  

His rivalry with Arthur Franklyn always provided a talking point. The pair was good friends off the track, but deadly rivals on it; and this applied to the crowd also. They too had split loyalties, which often spilled over on the terraces. The eagerly awaited highlight of an evenings racing was the Grand Final when the pair clashed. Their rivalry only disappeared when Franklyn retired at the end of the 1931 season.

The success of the great Belle Vue teams from 1933-1936 stemmed from Varey’s leadership, although he did retire in 1935, before having a change of heart in the August. At this time, he had a garage business that was taking much of his time and he found it difficult to combine business and speedway. Frank was not very good with the finances and unpaid bills caused him untold worry. In turn this affected his racing and the resulting dip in form came as a consequence. Belle Vue’s wily promoter, E.O.Spence realised the problem and eventually persuaded Varey that he would be better without the garage. The business was sold and gave Frank a new lease of life. His spectacular form returned much to the clubs delight.

He may well have gained another championship medal in 1939, but for the outbreak of war, as the Aces headed the table. Frank was a regular performer during the war years, gaining the British Champion in 1944. At the conclusion of the 1945 season, Frank announced his retirement. Belle Vue’s loss was Sheffield’s gain, as he re-opened the track in September for three meetings. Varey remained in sole charge at Owlerton until 1950, when Alice Hart of Belle Vue took over the reigns. After this, he promoted at Edinburgh, before bringing Sheffield back to Provincial League racing in 1960. He remained as ‘Mr Sheffield’ until ill health saw him step back from the role.

In 1974, Frank returned to Belle Vue as team manager, after Dent Oliver had passed away during the winter. The return to his old stamping ground was rewarded with a second placing in the league. Further health problems gave concern, but did not prevent Varey from advising on track preparation at Sheffield.

Sadly, in 1988, Frank passed away, only weeks before the sport returned to the present venue. He was seen as the ideal person to re-open the track, especially after his long association with the Aces. However, it was not to be.

When the history books are read, Frank Varey’s name will forever stand out as a loyal servant of Belle Vue.

by Trevor James