Western Springs Stadium is an entertainment venue in Auckland, New Zealand, that consists of a natural amphitheatre. During the winter it is used for club rugby union matches and over summer it is used for speedway. It is also occasionally used for large music concerts and festivals.
Western Springs Stadium was built on land gifted by the pioneer Timber Millers of the Motion family for a sports stadium. Situated in a natural amphitheatre, concrete terracing was constructed. It was designed and modelled on European stadiums which included a banked concrete cycling track, a cinder running track and a grassed centre area for football and sports. The original design included a covered grandstand which would fill the gap between the concrete terraces, the cycling track finishing straight was designed and built to start and finish in front of the proposed grandstand (where the pit area now is). The stadium was never completed.
1929 the stadium built by Relief Labour was opened to serve cycling, athletics and football sports . The cycling track was over 500 yards in circumference as the European tracks were then. The cinder all weather Athletic 440-yard running track was the first of its type in NZ and it with the overall stadium would have easily compared to the famous Wembley Stadium in England. It was not until 30 November 1929 that the first motorcycle racing commenced on the cinder running track (as they did on Wembley). In December 1937 midget car racing was introduced at a special international meeting, it included NZ pioneers Ron Roycroft and Geo Smith. The first official season then followed in January 1938. Speedway was still being raced at the previous venue at the Epsom Showgrounds. Athletics disappeared from Western Springs as a result and New Zealand's only all weather Athletics track was replaced by the traditional grass tracks until the late 1960s. When the first of the new style all weather athletics tracks were built Western Springs was already many years ahead of its time with an all weather cinder surface laid in 1929.
1950's saw promoters "take over" with the blessing of the Auckland City Council pleased to receive a monetary return. The early promoters combined Cycling, Motorcycle Speedway and Speedway Cars who all raced together on the same program with a large following. The war intervened and in 1944 Speedway became a huge entertainment and the formula of Cycling, Speedway Bikes and Midgets reached international heights.
Speedway previously had competed on Epsom Showgrounds, Blanford Park on the old cycling track around the soccer field (now under the Grafton Gully motorway) and Olympic Park (Saraway Park) in Newmarket.
Stock car promoters raised the height of the speedway/running track introducing stock cars and forcing speedway motorcycling out, who relocated to Rosebank Road. Speedway cars were affected at this time by a conflict with Stock Car promoters. During the 1960s Cycling was forced out of the stadium as the promoters in tandem with the Auckland City Council made access difficult and later impossible under the requirements of the speedway track. The Auckland City Council had little regard for Amateur sports such as Cycling and Athletics, nor for the stadium itself, never completing the complex and building the Grandstands. Neglect reached its nadir when the main concrete terraces slipped away during the 1960s, almost taking the cycling track with it. It took months to effect repairs; under strong public criticism they finally did some thing to re-instate the damaged terraces. The surrounding stadium grounds deteriorated into a Council yard with derelict equipment and buildings littering the boundary of the site which spread to the adjoining Lake and Pump House and abandoned relief campsite. Speedway Cars resurged into a new golden era when stock cars went to Gloucester Park and finally Waikaraka Park.
Because cycling was forced out the cycling track was never able to be used again, so it was removed to widen the new speedway midget race track; at the same time smaller cycling velodrome track sizes became the International requirement.
The 1960s saw a brief return of what the stadium concept originally was; this was assisted by the Speedway promoter who laid the athletic track. On the success of Peter Snells' Olympic victories an International Athletic and Cycling event was held with the largest crowd recorded for the stadium. It was larger than the 1950 British Empire Games cycling events and Closing Ceremony.
Two concerts held at the stadium were the largest concerts ever in New Zealand at the time. On 26 November 1983, one of the final dates of David Bowie's Serious Moonlight Tour was attended by either 74,480 fans (according to bootleg recordings) or by 83,000 (according to the promoter years later). On 14 March 1987, over 80,000 fans saw the concert by ZZ Top.
At the top of the hill that forms the amphitheatre is a street of houses – the residents have a view into the stadium from their back gardens. This has often been referred to by the artists on stage, who have often encouraged the residents to donate money to charity in lieu of an entrance fee – notably, Bono from U2 (1989) and Robbie Williams (2003). In 1993's ZooTV show, Bono made a mid-performance phone call to one of the neighbouring properties with a grandstand built in the backyard overlooking the stadium, and earlier in the day the band had sent up a selection of tour merchandise to attempt to sell to the viewers.
Western Springs Stadium has been used for speedway since 30 November 1929 when motorcycling (broad siding) was introduced. Midget Car racing started in December 1937 with an International race including NZ pioneers Ron Roycroft and Geo Smith. The first full speedway season started in January 1938. With the war years there was a break until 1944 when Speedway with Cycling, Motor Cycling and Midget Cars became the major entertainment event during the summer months in Auckland.
Speedway events take place at the stadium from early November through to mid March. Speedway activities have been under threat in recent years due to complaints and legal action from a local residents group. Currently speedway events are limited to 12 events per season, but negotiations and legal action by community groups and speedway promoters are ongoing.
On 31 March 2012 Western Springs Stadium will play host to the opening round of the 2012 Speedway Grand Prix, the first time the Speedway Grand Prix has ever been held in New Zealand. The 413m long track will be the longest track used in the 2012 series.
Between late March and early October the stadium is used by the Ponsonby Rugby Club for training and games. Western Springs Stadium has also hosted NRL games when Mt Smart stadium has been unavailable.
- New Zealand Speedway Directory Links to New Zealand Speedway Websites
- Western Springs Speedway Club
- Springs Speedway
- Springs Stadium Residents Association
- Ponsonby Rugby Club
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