Fay Taylour has been called The Queen of the Speedway and Flying Fay from Dublin (although she was born in Birr). Born in 1904 into what then was considered a well-to-do family, Fay began riding motorcycles while attending Alexandra College. After graduating, Fay moved to England and began her racing career.
Motorcycle racing was a new spectacle in the UK, Australia, and parts of Europe in the late 1920s, and a woman racer made it more so. Fay has stated that she decided to “have a go” at motorcycle speedway racing to “mingle with the English boys” during the Crystal Palace practice. She had previously excelled at motorcycle trials and grass tracks but speedways (then dirt tracks) were becoming increasingly popular with the public. While purchasing her helmet for the practice, she got the attention of Lionel Wills who had been planning to attend the same race and offered to drive her there. Once at the track, Fay watched as the boys practiced their new sport and duly fell off their bikes. As she was practicing, promoter Freddie Mockford, yelling for “that lad” to get off the track lest it not be ready for the race, had the shock of his life when Fay removed her helmet. Lionel told Mockford a fib that she was “being booked by all the other promoters” and suggested Mockford do so as well.
In Fay’s words recalling that fateful day, “Whether that fib helped or not I'll never know, but after first scorning me he ran after me as I was disappointedly descending the terrace, having washed the cinder dust off my face for the first and last time as I thought - 'Would you like to race here a week tomorrow?', he asked. Would I, I thought silently? - but I tried to sound casual as I agreed. 'You can practice all next week,’ he said. All that next week in a heat wave, I slogged round that track until at last, following tumble after tumble I'd taught myself to power slide, to keep the throttle open and stay on the machine. The night before racing I was going like an expert.'
Fay’s take on the position of women in the sport of motorcycling, from an interview in 1930 still holds true today: “If a woman is strong enough and enjoys the thrills, if she can take the sport as the men do, she is in for a good time. But she has to exercise greater care, for it is easier for her to overdo things. Nevertheless, she need not lose her femininity over the job. I know there are people who think that there is something abominable about a woman on the dirt-track. But it merely shows her adaptability. She can be just as normal in the leather gear of a speed merchant as she is in a billowy evening frock.
Fay raced bikes in England and Australia until 1931, when she switched to racing cars. She returned to Ireland in 1934 to win the Leinster Trophy road race as the only woman competitor. She raced all during the 1930s but was jailed in the early 1940s when she became a follower of the British fascist leader, Sir Oswald Mosley. After the war and her release, she again began racing, the brief dark incident all but erased from any stories about her during those times.
She never married and retired at the end of the 1950s, returning to live at Blandford in Dorset until her death in 1983.
By Louise Reeves