OBITUARY: Les Grimes

Former long standing servant of the Cycle Speedway scene in Coventry, Les Grimes (pictured wearing number 3), sadly passed away last Sunday evening. Father of current British champion Myke, Les had suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease for many years. He was 69 years of age.

He came from a golden era of the sport in the Godiva city in the sixties and seventies. There were at least eight tracks in operation. Coventry was one of the hotbeds of the sport at this time – in a period when the sport boomed nationally.

Racing took place locally on several nights of the week. The big individual events at the time were the Coventry Evening Telegraph Cup, the A.D Ellis Memorial Trophy and the Coventry League Riders Final.

Les came from a generation of riders that spurned Pip Deeming, John Reynolds, Rob Hardie, Paul Turner, Nigel Green, Frank Smith, Ray Dennis, Dave Parsons, Ray Lewis, Dave Foster, John Harrhy and the late Mark Taylor and Stu Clements and many more.

Les always gave the appearance of the village vicar. A kindly soul, respected by all and with ever attendant monocle-like glasses. This was an apt description, as Les would always be the model of tranquillity, even in the trials and tribulations of the toughest match.

He attended Woodlands Secondary School in the mid-1960s, along with Rob Hardie. They were both in the same year would soon become members of the Whoberley Witches Cycle Speedway team, originally based at Spencer Park in Earlsdon.

The Whoberley Witches team were forerunners of the Earlsdon Hammers and the present day Coventry club. They later raced at Hearsall Common on the exact same site of the flourishing Coventry outfit of today.

Rob Hardie remembers his old school friend, colleague and team mate: “I always remember Les as a true sportsman and a great team rider. You could always depend on Les to give everything for the team”.

“One particular match I remember was the 1966 Coventry Evening Telegraph Cup Final, at Spencer Park, when Whoberley Witches beat Warwick Blue Diamonds 54-41, when Les scored a match winning 8 points”.

Another long standing Cycle Speedway friend of Les was John Reynolds, father of current hard working Coventry official Chris, and grandfather of rising Coventry junior Jack.

John recalls one trip to Norwich for a big meeting. Les had, at the time, a real `boy racers` car, his pride and joy, a Ford Anglia. Off they went to Norfolk, windows open, music blaring. A wasp flew in, Les lost control and crashed his beloved car between two trees. Les escaped unhurt – but never made it to the meeting.

The pair were sometimes teammates in the Coventry `Test` side – a team selected from all the Coventry club sides of the day that rode Test Matches against similar teams from around the country.

John recalls Les like so many others of the era. John said: “Les was always calm, never got flustered and never got into any arguments. If a decision went against him, he would just accept the referee`s decision. He was a real gentleman at all times”.

Whilst Les was the model team rider, he also had his moments in individual racing, and with some success, as two successive podium finishes in the top ranking Coventry Spring Cup Final in 1969 and 1970 would testify.

One of his best years, undoubtedly was 1972, when Les reached the British Final at the old Ivy House track in Halifax. He finished in a very creditable seventh place, in a meeting won by the legendary Manchester rider Derek Garnett.

He retired from racing in the mid-1970s after spells with Brandon and Whitley. Amazingly – some 30 years later – he would return to action in 2003.

He raced a full season with his son Myke, which, looking back, must have been something both father and son took great enjoyment and pride from. Les competed in the British Veterans Final that year at Hearsall Common. Later, and as the words below will reveal, Les would never know about Myke’s finest hour many years later.

Les had many interests away from Cycle Speedway. He was an avid Coventry Bees Speedway fan, always to be found every Saturday night on the back straight opposite the starting line at Brandon Stadium.

I knew Les from my early days of racing in the seventies. When at first, at Hearsall Common (home of the Coventry club) in 1986, and later, at London Road (Whitley) in the mid-90s, racing ceased, we always said hello when our paths met at the Speedway and regaled in tales of the olden days.

When the “first” Coventry revival, in the years 2001/2002, was in full swing, brilliantly spearheaded by Mick Docker and Ian Batley, and heralded by the massive local publicity the club has always enjoyed in the city, it was not long before Les appeared at Hearsall Common, with an unkempt-haired rock music type offspring in tow!

Around 14 years ago, Les was struck down by Alzheimer’s Disease and the vibrant, imaginative and energetic person that he was soon became a complete shadow of his former being.

I remember in 2011, just after I had successfully engineered the `second` Coventry revival, I wrote to Myke asking if he had his old bike for sale. Myke replied that he did have his bike – and he wanted to join our revival and race again.

A few months later, Myke was soon using his immense graphic design skills to progress not only the Coventry club but teams throughout the land. He designed a brand new Coventry shirt.

On the day they were delivered to Myke’s abode, Myke was away gigging in London with his band Shockparade, and I went around to collect the shirts for a match later that day.

Myke`s mother answered the door, with Les in the background. She said, “Les, its Joe, you remember Joe?”. Les just stared blankly ahead, not a trace of recognition. It was a terrible and upsetting experience to witness.

His illness led to an unbearably sad, heart-breaking and truly tearful story unfolding. On a blissful day at Wednesfield, in Wolverhampton, in August 2017, Myke masterfully won the British crown.

2017 British Champion Myke Grimes. Photo by Paul Devine.

Illness decreed that Les would never know that his son was a British sporting champion – in a sport he himself had loved dearly and had served with such distinction. How proud Les would have been of this supreme accomplishment.

He is survived by his wife, Chris, his two children Myke and Natalie, and several grand-children.

Les Grimes was a gentleman`s gentleman. Loving husband. Proud father. Respected opponent. Ultimate clubman. Learned counsel. Goodness personified. That’s how I will remember Les – as I am sure everyone who ever met him will.

May he rest in the Peace of Our Lord.

Joe McLaughlin

Les’ funeral takes place at St John Fisher church, Coventry on Monday 3rd September 2018 at 1:30pm. Any one who knew Les would be most welcome to attend. Thank you to Joe for his kind words.