Lionel Van Praag

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Lionel Van Praag
Personal information
Nationality  Australia
Date of birth 17 December 1908
Place of birth    Sydney
Date of death    15 May 1987(1987-05-15) (aged 78)
Current club information
Career status Deceased
Career history
Wembley Lions
New Cross Rangers
Individual honours
World Champion
NSW State Champion
Victorian State Champion
Team honours
National League Champion
National Trophy Winner
Southern League Champion
London Cup
1931, 1932
1932, 1933, 1947

Lionel Maurice Van Praag, GM (17 December 1908 – 15 May 1987) was an Australian motorcycle speedway champion, who won the inaugural Speedway World Championship in London on 10 September 1936.[1] Van Praag's victory saw him established as Australia's first ever motorsport World Champion.

1931 UK Southern League Champion[edit]

In his first full season in British speedway, Lionel was a member of the Wembley Lions team that won the last ever Southern League and the National Trophy in 1931.

1932 UK National League Champion[edit]

Lionel won the inaugural National League title in 1932 with the Wembley Lions

1936 World Speedway Final[edit]


Eric Langton (left) congratulating Van Praag after winning the 1936 World Final Race off

Lionel won the run-off for the Speedway World Championship against Eric Langton in 1936 in somewhat controversial circumstances. The Championship was decided by bonus points accumulated in previous rounds. Despite being unbeaten in the final, Bluey Wilkinson was not crowned Champion. Bonus points accumulated by Van Praag and Langton took them to the top of the standings and into a run-off (match race).

The Match Race[edit]

As they lined up at the tapes, Langton broke them which would ordinarily lead to disqualification. However, Van Praag stated he did not want to win the title by default and insisted that a race should take place. At the restart Langton made it to the first bend in front and led until the final bend on the last lap when Van Praag darted through the smallest of gaps to win by less than wheel length.[2]


Afterwards, controversial allegations were abound that the two riders had 'fixed' the match race, deciding between them that the first person to the first bend would win the race and the Championship and split the prize money; Langton led into the first bend but was overtaken by Van Praag.[2] Van Praag reportedly paid Langton £50 "conscience money" after the race for going back on the agreement.[2]


Van Praag was also a successful rider in his home country, though he never won the Australian Championship, finishing second in 1941 (3 laps), 1946 (3 laps), and 1947 (2 & 3 laps), as well as finishing third in 1940 (3 laps). He won the NSW State Championship in 1941 at the Sydney Sports Ground and the Victorian Championship in 1947.

Van Praag also represented Australia in test matches at home against England on numerous occasions at tracks around the country including the Sydney Showground, Sydney Sports Ground, Wayville Showground (Adelaide), Claremont Speedway (Perth) and the Exhibition Speedway in Melbourne.

World Final appearances[edit]

World War II[edit]

Van Praag was awarded the George Medal for bravery during World War II, when a Royal Australian Air Force Douglas DC-2 he was piloting was shot down by two Japanese aircraft over the Sumba Strait in Indonesia.[3] Van Praag, a sergeant at the time, and his fellow pilot, Flying Officer Noel Webster helped two colleagues—one semi-conscious and the other a non-swimmer—to shore after spending thirty hours in the water during which they had to fight off several shark attacks.[3]

After the war, Van Praag participated in one more speedyway championship, but retired in 1950 to concentrate on his career as a pilot.[4]

Van Praag also appeared in the 1933 British film Money for Speed which starred John Loder, Ida Lupino, Cyril McLaglen and Moore Marriott. Ginger Lees, Frank Varey and speedway promoter Johnnie Hoskins also featured.[5]


Van Praag was Jewish.[6]

In 2000, the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly named a street, Van Praag Circuit (later renamed Van Praag Place) after him.[7]

In 2008, Van Praag was inducted into the Australian Speedway Hall of Fame.


  1. ^ a b c d Bamford, Robert; Shailes, Glynn (2002). A History of the World Speedway Championship. Tempus. pp. 14–26. ISBN 0-7524-2402-5. 
  2. ^ a b c Chaplin, John (1990) Speedway Special, ISBN 0-9515857-0-3, p. 109–114
  3. ^ a b "G.M. for Track Racer: Air Crew of Four Saved from Sharks". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. 2 May 1942. Retrieved 29 November 2014 – via British Newspaper Archive. (subscription required (help)). 
  4. ^ Lionel Van Praag, Adastra Aerial Surveys, 20 June 2002.
  5. ^ "Money for Speed (1933)". The Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 1 October 2008. 
  6. ^ Wechsler, B. (2008). Day by Day in Jewish Sports History. KTAV Publishing House. p. 254. ISBN 9780881259698. Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  7. ^ Public Place Names Act 1989 – Street Nomenclature, Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly, 16 May 2000.

External links[edit]