Ask Alf Hagon

Once in every generation, a sportsman comes onto the scene in their chosen sport, who is adored by the fans, and admired by his peers. Such a man in the field of Grasstrack Racing was ALF HAGON, during the 50’s and 60’s. Not only a great rider on the grass, he made his mark on the speedway, and was a respected engineer who went on to build, and sell his own bikes. Later in his career, he branched into Sprinting and Sidecar Moto Cross with his son Martin, and developed his own ‘shocks’, that have of late moved into the US market.


Welcome Alf:


1:  Your record in the Nationals between 1954-1965, riding in both the 350 and 500 classes, is second to none. You were selected to ride for the Eastern Centre for 15 consecutive years, and won the 350 title on seven occasions, the 500 title on four, and achieved the 350/500 ‘double’ on three occasions in 1954/59/62.

Which class did you prefer riding in, and why?

A: The 350, I found that I could lap faster on many tracks as I could ride it flat out with ease, the 500 was hard work.

2: Which of your 11 National Titles was the hardest to win? I recall your dice in the 500’s with the ‘unknown’ outside his Western Centre, Ron Taylor at Ely in ’59, and the 350 battle with Denys Goodacre at Rhodes Minnis in ’63.

A: The one with Ron Taylor was one I remember as I would probably not have won if it had not been for my cross over exhaust and folding footrest.

3: In the early days (1951-55) you rode a BSA/JAP before switching to the ‘Kirby Special’. How did Tom Kirby get involved?

A: Two motorcycle dealers, Johnny Double and Tom Kirby who were both ex Grasstrack riders helped early on. I built my first Grasstrack bike in Tom’s workshop and used his welding equipment, hence the Kirby Special.

4: Let’s look at the early years. You began racing in 1947, when you were only 15yrs old. Tell us about those early years up to winning your first National in 1954 at Mallory.

A: My first meeting was at Abridge in Essex on a big oval, Jack Colver and Arthur Arnold were there, Colver looked so much in control and never put a foot down. During my first couple of years, I did not win anything but gradually got faster and faster.

5: Your riding style was quite unique and based on a rider that you greatly admired, Jack Colver. By diving up the inside going into a bend, slamming on the brakes, and opening up into a controlled slide, you were able to win many a race. What did other riders think of the style?

A: I never could understand why many of the top riders did not use brakes, what I did was easy.

6: In 1954 your fame on the grass had caught the eye of Speedway Promoters, and you were asked to go to Harringay for a winter ‘try out’. You joined the ranks of Split Waterman in their team until they folded, as their gates were down to 9,000 a meeting! You also rode for Oxford amongst others, but which was your favourite speedway track?

A: I rode for Harringay, Wimbledon, Leicester, Oxford, West Ham and Poole, I found Speedway easy when winning but hard when at the back. West Ham was my favourite track.

7: I saw you ride many times in the late 50’s and early 60’s when you ventured out of the Eastern Centre, to ride in the East Midlands. I believe that you were not a great admirer of No 98, Arthur Pell. Tell us why.

A: Arthur was one of those riders I would prefer to have in front of me but not behind me, if he was in front he would often make a mistake and you could pass him, if he was behind he would often crash into me

8: Some riders ‘travelled well’ and rode in many adjacent centres. Some only ever did any good in their own Centre, like Arthur Arnold. You fell into the first category, but which was your favourite circuit, as I believe you were not a big fan of Rhodes Minnis.

A: I used to think that the tracks were the same for everybody and would try to do the best I could on the day. High Wycombe you could ride like a Road Race, less haste more speed and the ovals you would ride like Speedway.

9: How did your ‘cross over’ exhaust, and folding footrest, help you?

A: Many of the tracks had a right hand turn or chicane so if you were using a standard exhaust and footrest it would make it very difficult to corner at speed, my bikes were great to ride as you could ride them the same as a left turn keeping a much higher corner speed.

10: Why did you retire from track racing in 1965 at the relatively early age of 33, and move into Sprinting?

A: I got fed up with all the travelling and the amount of meetings I was doing, my business was growing and I could see where my future was. Sprinting was a new challenge.

11: Again in this new venture, you were only satisfied when you were number one, and getting the FTD. In 1969 you became the first rider to clock in excess of 200mph at Honnington. Was this the highlight of your sprinting career?

A: The 206mph was a great achievement, being the first rider outside of the USA to break the 10 second barrier was probably a better memory for me, also beating the Americans at the Drag Fest here in the UK. I also won my last 28 meetings on my Hagon Jap, a bike that Martin has at our factory.

12: Was it inevitable that Martin would follow you on the grass, and did you exert any pressure on him?

A: Jean and I never pushed him into riding and in his early years he never had very good bikes. He wanted to do it and over the years got better and better, winning 2 Masters titles and 1European final in the mid 80’s.(Masters/Euro in 1984 – Masters in 1987) Jt

13: The number 350 became associated with you, but you never rode it in a National. Was that chosen as it was the number of the shop in Leyton?

A: I did choose 350 as it was the number of the shop in Leyton; at the nationals you were given a number.

14: The name of HAGON is now known throughout the world, for being world leaders in Shocks. How are things going in the States?

A: Martin has run the business probably for the last 16 years and took the decision to set things up in the USA, it is difficult to break into the US but it has a huge amount of Motorcycles there and we have a good product that will hopefully fit into the Motorcycle scene over the next couple of years. We are also running the Billy Hamill Speedway Academy with the hope of seeing a future American World Speedway Champion within the next 10 years. Billy and Martin have a passion for Speedway and as a company we are using the Speedway and Billy’s name to help promote the Hagon brand name in America, both Billy and Christina Hamill work for Hagon Shocks LLC, this is something that the ACU and BSPA should be doing to help British riders, it will be interesting to see what will happen in the future with this project!  

15: Tell us about the ‘Truck Damper’ that you developed and used on the Sidecar Moto Cross Outfit that Martin rode.

A: The truck damper was a damper made by Girling and was used as a steering damper, it was not that great and we made one where the piston rod run through the body of the damper, this type of damper is now widely used today.

16: Of all your opponents on the grass and speedway, who did you admire the most, and why?

A: Ronnie Moore and Barry Briggs, Ronnie had so much control and made it look so easy, Barry was the opposite but both of them are great guys.

17: Do you think that you retired from the grass at the right time, before the introduction of the much criticised ‘Multi Round’ Championships?

A: I don’t think the Multi Round Championship would have made much difference.

18: You did not venture into the Continental Scene much, unlike your rival, friend and successor Don Godden. Why was that?

A:  I rode one Grass Track in France around 1955, I was not keen on the amount of time that it took to go back and forth and found that I could use my time better in the UK.

19: Following your retirement, you had published in a well know publication of the day, your JAP tuning tips. Wasn’t this a very generous gesture to other riders of the day?


A: All I did was publish makers recommendations with information that I had found to work very well on the Jap, hopefully this helped the riders of the day.


Thank you for taking the time to answer the questions, for your many fans who still regard you as a ‘living legend’.


C ‘John Toogood’ Jan 17th 2011:

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