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Feb 11, 2010

A chat with Sooty Pigram – Aboriginal speedway rider

In speedway no-one, well no-one that I’ve run into anyway, cares what colour you are. I could push it right to the limit about being an Aboriginal rider and try to get this and that but for me I’m just another speedway rider. I’m proud to be an Aboriginal rider but it doesn’t make my bike go no faster!

Bob Gosford — Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

Bob Gosford

Likes birds and people, not necessarily in that order.

The Northern Myth sat down with Samsurray “Sooty” Pigram while he was in Alice Springs last weekend to race at the first weekend of motorcycle racing at the local Arunga Park speedway in many years.

Sooty is from the famous Broome-based Pigram family and has been racing “solos” – stripped-down two-wheelers with powerful engines and no brakes that are designed to do one thing very well – go very fast sideways around a small oval dirt track– since he was about eleven years old.

Sooty Pigram at Arunga Park speedway, Alice Springs February 2010
Sooty Pigram at Arunga Park speedway, Alice Springs February 2010

Sooty Pigram: Most people just call me Sooty – but my first name is Samsurray, which is Malay – our family has Malay, Phillipino, Aboriginal and European heritage. My Pop was from Queensland but his parents were from Worcestershire, England which for me is the home of speedway.

I’m 29 years old. My wife Katie and I have 4 kids and we’ve been together since we were 16 and we have been happily married for four years now…born and bred and breeding in Broome!

I love living in Broome but as soon as it gets a bit too big I might take off somewhere else a bit smaller because it’s getting a bit crammed-up at the moment.

Our family has 5 acres on Aboriginal lease-hold land in a little community out the back of the airport. It is close to the middle of town and there are fourteen blocks and maybe five different families.

I started racing when I was about eleven years old in Broome on Junior bikes up until I was about sixteen. It was very competitive and great fun in those days – at least for Broome. But being a kid you always wanted to throw the helmet on the ground when something went wrong. I was very lucky in that I had good mentors – men like Bob O’Leary and Clarrie Jones – to whack me on the back of the head when I did something wrong.

Sooty's office furniture
Sooty's office furniture

As far as I know of I’m the only Aboriginal speedway rider riding in the country right now. There are all sorts of others but I’m the only blackfella that I know of. Hopefully that’ll change soon.

In speedway no-one, well no-one that I’ve run into anyway, cares what colour you are. I could push it right to the limit about being an Aboriginal rider and try to get this and that but for me I’m just another speedway rider.

I’m proud to be an Aboriginal rider but it doesn’t make my bike go no faster!

Sooty Pigram at Arunga Park speedway - check the sparks from his left foot!
Sooty Pigram at Arunga Park speedway - check the sparks from his left foot!

I can’t say that I’ve ever been aware of any negative attitudes about being a blackfella from other riders or anyone else in speedway – though I wouldn’t tell you if I did (laughs).

There are a few Aboriginal riders that ride motorcross and in the Finke Desert race here in Alice and a few of the boys back in Broome are right up there in the top five in motorcross for WA.

And with the speedway sidecars my Mum and Dad, a few of my uncles and the other boys have ridden sidecars. My cousin used to ride against me in Broome but he only rode half a season and then went off to Uni to become a doctor so – I reckon that was a better bet – then he can fix me up when I get busted up. (laughs)

If I can get more kids into speedway it would be bloody good. I’ve got one Junior bike in the shed and I’m just lining another two up in Perth. I want one for my youngfella and I want to get the junior riders going in Broome. It would be good to go out to communities and pick some kids up, give them a few rides on the Junior bikes and give them something to look forward to as well. They do it with AFL Football so why not with Speedway? I reckon that if you got some of those kids from the bush out there on a bike and they’ll hang off that bike like a monkey! In speedway you’ve got to be very flexible and if you learn right to start with, and you get the right first impression then you’ve got a good chance.

Winning isn’t everything – but to try and win – you are always trying to do your best and you are trying to beat the fella that is in front of you and that is only making you and him go faster – which is good riding. The crowd gets better entertainment. As long as we do all it safely – and we don’t hurt each other. If we do have a fall or something everyone is pretty sensible and tries not to hit one another – and if we do it is never intentional.

When I went over to the UK for a few months in 2009 I went to about fifteen tracks but only rode at meetings on about nine of them. I did alright and it was good fun and you find the same thing over there – you meet so many good people. You meet people that don’t know you from a bar of soap but if anything goes wrong with your bike they’ll send over a mechanic and the parts and give you a hand.

I think with most speedway riders that you biggest sponsors are always your Mum and Dad. Wherever you go in the world you always hear a rider say “Thanks to Mum and Dad” first. And I have to be pretty creative with getting sponsorship money, particularly when I went overseas.

What I did first up was hit all my friends on Facebook up for $10 each. You don’t hit people up for stupid money – but everyone can afford $5 and $10 here and there. If someone were to come and ask me for $5 I’d give them $20. When I started raising money to go to England I did the rounds of Broome and we hade a fundraising night and people paid an entry fee and paid for the food. Another thing I did was to go around all of the businesses in Broome knocking on doors of businesses.

When I go to England to ride I’m not just representing my team but also my country and the Kimberleys and it’s important that I have the Aboriginal flag on my track-suit and on my bike. People in England would ask me “Well, what do you do back home?” and I would tell them that you say “We either go hunting or fishing or race speedway – that’s what you do” – but 90% of the time it is bloody speedway.

I’m the kind of person that will call an ace of spades and ace of bloody spades and I always will. Marg O’Leary, the wife of Bob O’Leary who tunes my bikes – she said to me once “Don’t you ever change for nobody” and I’ve always thought “What does she mean by that?” and when I went back and saw her six or seven years later she said “I’m glad you’ve never changed” and I don’t intend to change for nobody, that’s me.

If you want to find out more about Sooty or get in touch with him go to his website here. And you can also find him on Facebook.

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  1. People: Sooty Pigram » Kimberley Page

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