While British speedway continues to lurch from one crisis to another, Poland relentlessly moves forward, having become the undeniable epicentre of world speedway over the past couple of decades. Perhaps the most visible demonstration of this status is in the extensive redevelopment of existing stadiums and in certain cases the construction of all new arenas. It's difficult not to be slightly envious of our Polish friends when it comes to watching speedway.
While there can often be a certain charm to some of the ramshackle stadiums in the UK, the general public expects much better in this day and age. Football was forced to raise its game following the Hillsborough disaster and the subsequent Taylor report and stadiums throughout the leagues are largely unrecognisable from how they were twenty odd years ago. There are numerous reasons why things are the way they are in speedway, but it basically comes down to a continuous lack of investment and planning over many years and the fact that in general, clubs often rent the stadiums from a landlord and are unwilling to invest in the infrastructure.
The new development in Leicester and the proposed scheme for Belle Vue in Manchester show a way forward, where the speedway track is part of an overall sports and leisure development that can be shown to benefit the local community. This is closer to the Swedish and Danish model, where the speedway teams are usually part of a bigger local motor club, often with a Moto X or karting track as part of the facility. While these schemes are encouraging, they are very modest compared to the developments in Poland.
In a previous post last year we featured the new Moto-Arena in Torun, Poland. This fantastic facility has been purpose built for speedway and as well as being home to the local league team in the domestic Ekstraliga, Torun also hosted its first Grand Prix last year, to universal acclaim.
As it stands, most fans throughout the world would probably think that this is the perfect speedway stadium already, but the plans and visuals from the Architects reveal another element of the design that has yet to be built. The cantilever roof has been cleverly designed so that in the future it can be extended to cover the actual track, thus overcoming one of speedways eternal enemies, the rain. It is not clear when this second stage of the development will take place, but it shows the remarkable ambition behind this stadium and will provide inspiration for future speedway arenas around the world.
Posted by KTL at 01:34
The wise words quoted in the title above are from the legendary Jack Parker and are featured in a new book by Ray Lambert called - wait for it - "Keep Turning Left"... The following review of the book is by renowned speedway writer Jeff Scott.
Not to be confused with the excellent blog with same name (thanks Jeff...), Ray Lambert’s recently published Keep Turning Left is an affectionate romp down memory lane. It’s a bargain priced must for any self-respecting speedway fans’ bookshelf. The book is a compulsively readable treasure trove of facts, photographs, stories, tables, letters, quirky observations, transfer fees, poetry, wisecracks and quotes. Ray knows his speedway onions – having reported on Canterbury and Crayford speedway clubs in the 1970s – and isn’t afraid to ride his hobbyhorses in some style.
The material is presented in bite-sized chunks and covers the span of time from the arrival of speedway in Britain to the present day. Ray selects his words and photographs with care. He invites us to laugh at idiocies and delight in triumphs. Ray clearly has his favourites and many stories transport us to a simpler speedway world that, nonetheless, faced and resolved many of the issues, concerns and problems that beset our own contemporary shale world. Some lessons could be drawn but Ray avoids dogma and biting criticism instead – through his selections – preferring nuance, humour and oblique critique.
Much more rich tapestry than shabby carpet, Keep Turning Left has something to appeal to every type of speedway fan. Whether it’s tales of on-track or off-track daring do, cock ups, sponsorships, records or run ins with the Police. Reading this book, a career in the police force sounds the way you’ll most likely meet off duty speedway riders or have the time to enjoy a career as a speedway referee! Equally, the existence of a speedway trade union indicates a speedway universe keen to disagree but happier to rub along together rather than resort to litigation.
Many black and white photographs break up a text (that doesn’t need breaking up). Ray includes such joys as shots of Dave Jessup at home (what a sideboard) or Dave perched on tyres on his brand new 350cc Bultaco trials bike outside Norman Flurry’s Watling Tyre Services in Gravesend (with great, evocative background signage) as well as a natty jumper worn by Rob Mouncer. So many things about the varied world of speedway shine through in the snippets selected for these pages by Ray Lambert. Some of the things you’ll discover in this book include:
Johnnie Hoskins referred to his new enterprise as “speedway” though the Australian authorities insisted upon “motorcycle racing” and the British “dirt bike racing”
“There are only two kinds of people in speedway – the ones that don’t know the rules and break them and those who do know the rules and bend them.” Johnnie Hoskins
“When I think of all the let downs I’ve encountered and the people I would never like to meet again, I wonder if I have wasted two years out of my life. I refer, of course, to the two years I spent securing funding for the Speedway Museum.” George Barclay
Riding for Belle Vue at New Cross in 1952, Ron Johnson wrecked four bikes in four races. His own and those he borrowed from Denis Parker, Ken Sharples and Jack Parker.
Jock Sweet – possibly the first rider to adopt the foot forward racing style (in 1938)
“I won both races but it was tough going up there against Paddy [Mills], particularly as I have never been on the old Firs track before.” Tommy Price
“This will not be my lucky night” Wimbledon rider Ernie Roccio after breaking down on the way to a meeting at West Ham on July 22nd 1952
Guy Allott’s post meeting parade at Owlerton Stadium Sheffield in May 1963 ends painfully when he falls off the tractor and is trapped under the heavy metal grader. Guy sustains a punctured lung, broken arm and facial injuries.
[Rosco] “That’s the worst decision I’ve ever seen [Referee Jim Lawrence] “Well give it time, after all it’s only heat four!” Televised Belle Vue v Swindon meeting in 2008
Vaclav Verner discharged from the Prague police force in 1980 “for scandalous talk against the communist regime”
By the end of the 1978 season, seven riders – Keith Evans, Phil Collins, John Jackson, Kelvin Malarkey, Phil White, Nicky Allot and Bob Garret – jointly held the Quibell Park, Scunthorpe track record of 76.8 seconds.
“Shirra managed to get from the pits to my box. The first thing I knew was hearing the door being kicked in. The door was always locked but the doorframe was smashed and the door flew open. Within a moment I had a great pain in my right ear and I felt myself plunging to the floor off my stool. Shirra had hold of my ear and was shouting obscenities at me and in front of the startled announcer, timekeeper and my wife, who always acted as my scribe, filling in the five programmes I was obliged to complete.” Referee Bill Bowles recalls a post heat 14 incident at Foxhall Heath Ipswich that led to Mitch Shirra fined £10 “for an unauthorised approach to a referee (SR176f) and the maximum £50 for dissent (SR176e)”
“This is one way to get on television” David Gagen is guest of honour at the grand opening of the new premises of Radio Rentals in King’s Lynn
“It’s hard to slow down and keep up your speed” Bjarne Pedersen
Fred Monkford invents the original starting gate in 1932 for use at New Cross. It stays in continuous operation for 46 years when it ends up at Canterbury in 1968.
Tony Svab loses an eye ice racing “when his goggles came off and one of his eyes froze”.
Reading rider Dave Jessup starts the 1977 campaign wearing a brand new set of leathers chosen from “around 60 designs” submitted by the fans.
Tall riders: Graham Miles (6ft 6 inches), Arthur Browning (6ft 4 inches)
Alf Weedon’s green Mercedes has “an equally distinctive number plate ALF *****”. Wonder what ***** stands for?
“The referee is the authority and it would be beneficial if he knows the rules” Jan Staechmann at the 2009 Speedway World Cup race off in Leszno, Poland
[Ronnie Russel] “What’s wrong with you? Don’t you like me?” [Terry Russell] “No, I don’t like people with ginger hair!” Bizarre exchange between Rye House boss and temporary referee
“I didn’t know what nitro was until it was banned” Nigel Boocock
“It seems my two years in Germany were not exactly wasted!” George Barclay
“There are only two corners that matter – the first and the last.” Jack Parker
Keep Turning Left by Ray Lambert. From RAYL Publishing in Paperback at £6.99
110 pages with 18 black & white photographs
Send UK orders with a cheque for £7.99 (includes UK P&P) to RAYL Publishing, 13 Weedswood Road, Chatham, Kent ME5 0QR. Please include your name, address and postcode. For overseas orders, please write to the address above to find out additional overseas postage costs.
Posted by KTL at 21:53
Evocative childhood memories of seeing speedway for the first time, by Andy Daly.
Bike racing commentators:
Andy's excellent blog:
Posted by KTL at 02:43
Over the past eighty or so years, the popularity of speedway racing in the UK has peaked and dipped like a roller-coaster. Obvious high points include the early pioneering pre-war days, where tracks sprang up all over the country, and huge crowds flocked to city centre venues to witness the raw thrill of competitive motorsport. The sport also enjoyed a major boom time throughout the seventies and early eighties, with Dickie Davies on World of Sport regularly bringing the sport into peoples living room on terrestrial TV. The likes of Barry Briggs, Ivan Mauger and Peter Collins were genuine household names. For a long time, speedway was the second best attended sport in the country, behind football.
For the past 30 years though, the sport has been on a gradual overall downward spiral in terms of popularity and mainstream appeal, with the odd short lived up-turn along the way. Speedway still has a dedicated and loyal following, but a scan of the terraces at most meetings reveals that it is largely an aging demographic.
It has been widely reported that only one club out of nine in this years Sky Sports Elite League didn't run at a loss and several of these reported losses have been well into six figures. The whole league structure is plainly unsustainable in its present form for the majority of clubs and a clear, long term strategy is desperately needed so that the sport as a whole can firstly survive and then hopefully grow in the future. As the country comes to terms with the tough reality of the economic situation, we could have been forgiven for thinking that the club promoters would try to tackle some of the key issues at their recent annual conference and set a clear course, to take domestic speedway into the next decade and beyond.
Immediately after the conference, a quickly drafted press release seemed to paint a positive picture, with Birmingham moving up to the top division replacing Ipswich, who had been widely expected to drop a level, for financial reasons. What the press release didn't mention however was that two of the strongest teams, Peterborough and league champions Coventry, had apparently walked out of the conference, unhappy with new rules which were being rushed in for next year.
The British Speedway Promoters Association (BSPA) are well known for continuously tinkering with the already complicated rule book every year. Although at first glance team speedway is a simple sport (two riders from each team race each other, going around in circles over a certain number of heats...) it has a ridiculously complicated set of rules, which are in theory meant to equalise team strengths by calculating each riders "average" score over a season and putting a cap on the total rider averages for each whole team. This would prevent a team signing the top seven riders in the country, as their overall points average would far exceed the points limit.
Because of this, teams will try to find loopholes to exploit the system to their advantage, such as signing a young foreign rider on a low "assessed" average or signing a rider from a lower league, again on an assessed average. So extra rules are sometimes brought in to try and prevent these loopholes. If this all sound like a big mess, thats because it is. The crux of the problem is that all of these rulings are suggested and subsequently voted on by each promotion themselves and they will often vote for changes which will favour their own team in the short term, rather than what is in the long term interests of the sport as a whole. The situation is further complicated by certain promoters having a seat on the management committee, who are meant to steer the whole process in a fair and non-partisan manor.
Now normally all of this is sorted out behind closed doors, the problems are swept under the carpet and the public at large is generally none the wiser as to what has actually gone on. But the fall out from this years conference has the potential to do very serious damage to the sport and what little mainstream credibility it still has. There appears to have been a major breakdown in relations with Coventry and Peterborough pursuing legal action against the BSPA.
Instead of trying to mediate and find a suitable compromise, the BSPA have issued a number of provocative and clumsy press releases stating that Coventry and Peterborough won't be competing in the league next year and that Kings Lynn will be moving up to the Elite League to bring the numbers up to the eight teams that are required to fulfill the Sky Sports TV contract. The fact that Birmingham and Kings Lynn both took cost cutting measures recently while they were operating in the lower league and had not declared any intention of moving up to the Elite League before the conference, seems to suggest that they are being "supported" to make what appears to be a very risky jump up to the top division, presumably to keep Sky on board and have enough teams in the competition, although eight teams is barely credible...
So instead of speedways administrators tackling the real issues, such as trying to attract a new generation of supporter, encouraging youngsters to take up the sport, improving media awareness, attracting major sponsors, improving track preparation standards, improving safety at tracks and attempting to reduce the cost of equipment for competitors, they have had a major falling out arguing about tedious rulings that the vast majority of fans couldn't care less about. Any long term damage that is done will have been entirely self inflicted, at a time when the sport needs inspirational leadership and a collective sense of purpose if it is to survive at all, let alone reclaim some of its former popularity.
What is needed in the immediate short term is a large portion of humble pie all round, followed by a suitable compromise between the parties in the best interests of the sport. Bearing in mind some of the ego's on both sides of the fence and the apparent bitterness that has been allowed to develop, I don't hold out much hope. Perhaps the people best placed to bang a few heads together are Sky Sports, who can not have been at all impressed with how these issues have been handled. How are they going to explain to their viewers that last years league champions are not competing? Surely the obvious short term answer is to keep the rules that were used in 2010, as far as it is possible.
In the longer term, it is clear that the sport desperately needs a truly independent panel of experts who will govern in a transparent and non partisan way, and set in place a long term plan to revive speedway in this country. To save British speedway - from itself. Rant over.
Posted by KTL at 00:13
Throughout the eighties and nineties, Simon Wigg was one of the countries most successful motorcycle racers. Although he was a speedway rider of the highest order, it was on the super fast grasstrack's and continental "longtrack's" where he really excelled. He won the World Longtrack Championship five times between 1985 and 1994.
His career was cut short at the end of 1998 when a brain tumor was diagnosed and it tragically claimed his life two years later.
As well as being incredibly successful as a racer, Simon was also one of the sports true characters off track, a real showman who lit up the speedway scene at a time when the sport was losing the high profile it had enjoyed in the seventies and early eighties.
Simon was always ultra professional with his bikes and general set up and he was always looking for ways to improve the sport and the way it was presented. His trademark bright green leathers meant that he and his sponsors always stood out on track and in many ways he was genuinely ahead of his time.
We highly recommend the book "Wiggy!" published by Retro Speedway.
Posted by KTL at 01:56
At the grand old age of 39 and after sixteen hard seasons chasing Grand Prix glory, Poland's Tomascz Gollob finally struck gold this year, lifting the trophy at his spiritual home track of Bydgoszcz.
Gollob had secured the title at the previous round in Italy and it was just as well, because an ankle injury sustained in a motocross training accident in the run up to the final round, prevented him from completing his rides at Bydsoszcz.
Gollob has certainly been one of the most courageous and exciting riders of his generation and he continues to dazzle with his wild antics on the track. Although prone to the occasional spot of brain fade (such as wiping out Emil Sayfutdinov in Malilla this year) he showed remarkable consistency throughout the season.
We salute you Tomasz on a great achievement.
More fantastic photos from Michal Szmyd.
Posted by KTL at 02:02
Sir Norman Wisdom sadly passed away this week at the grand old age of 95. As well as being one of Britain's best loved comic actors, he was also famously "Big in Albania" as his were some of the very few western films that were allowed to be broadcast in the country during the harsh years of the Marxist dictatorship.
Just as surreal, is the fact that Sir Norman was also guest of honour at the 1962 Speedway World Final and is pictured at the wheel of the Wembley tractor behind bronze medalist Ove Fundin, runner up Barry Briggs & winner Peter Craven.
I love the concept of the winners of a major World Championship event being given a lap of honour sat on the bonnet of an old tractor, being driven by a comedian. Spraying lycra clad podium girls with champagne is all well and good, but sometimes you just have to keep it real and it doesn't get any more real than tractors.
Posted by KTL at 22:35
Review of Jeff Scott's Shale Trek by Gary Pinchin of Motorcycle News.
It’s speedway – but not as we know it:
Speedway. First out of the gate wins. God, I hate that cliché.
It’s true you don’t get much overtaking when you set four, brakeless, methanol-burning 500cc race bikes off around a 350 metre oval dirt track, but when someone does manage it you just want to punch the air and scream yyyyyesssss with excitement – and then ramble on for days to who ever will listen how that one overtake you saw was worth the admission price alone.
Yeah, I’ve got a passing interest in speedway (I’m not apologising for the pun) and, as a fan, I know you have to cling on to those special moments – as much as football fans cling to England success.
I love speedway’s grass roots, earthy, organic feel that once was the preserve of the working man – and maybe still is.
But I’ve always thought of it as an awesome sport promoted badly by well-intentioned used car dealers and scrap metal merchants for highly professional racers who put on an incredible show of gladiatorial warfare that so few people get to see.
Phew, got that one off my chest.
Don’t take that wrong. That’s a positive for me! The tired, backwater stadia have a lovely grungy appeal, harking back to the early Seventies when I first ventured to Blunsdon Road to see Martin Ashby and Bob Kilby starring for the Swindon Robins.
Speedway, at it’s best, is as good as any professional motorsport you’ll see anywhere in the world but it’s full of foibles and weird rules that can make the sport a laughing stock – even to it’s own band of followers.
And that is the vibe you get from reading Jeff Scott’s latest heavyweight tome ‘Shale Trek.’ Here’s a fan who clearly loves his sport but isn’t afraid to talk about it’s shortcomings.
And, as it says on the tin (well, back cover), Scotty does indeed boldly go where other speedway writers dare to tread.
His books – yes, this is his eighth in what he describes as a ‘trilogy gone terribly wrong’ on the state of British speedway in the 21st century – tell it like it is and certainly take me right back to the terraces and the heady aroma of methanol fuel, Castrol R, and eyes full of shale dust.
This is another personal tour of the UK speedway tracks, this time to promote his earlier “Quantum of Shale” and is so refreshing in it’s honesty in a world where most motorsport is homogenised by political correctness.
When I first saw one of his books I laughed at the outrageous volume of words he can bang out on one two-hour race meeting but once I got hooked into it, I laughed at the anecdotes of the track staff who describe their own meeting as crap, at Scott’s experiences of the Talke Travelodge near Stoke Speedway (not that the state of his room had anything to do with speedway) and the sport’s rules – which seems to be an ongoing debate among all speedway fans if this book is any guide.
Oh how I chuckled as I read his condemnation of the sport’s rules that often require university degree to fathom.
“Speedway rule changes and general strangeness have always gone together….,” he says.
And then we get the full explanation, during his Buxton Speedway chapter, going back to 1929 of how the rules have evolved and how bits of the old rule books have crept into current rulebook.
It’s a great, if rambling history lesson… and even more complicated than this year’s BSB point-scoring structure!
The 2001 rulebook apparently demanded, if the mechanical start gate failed, you had to use a piece of elastic to start the races.
Fair enough I thought, but Scott* takes great delight in pointing out Belle Vue – only a week earlier on his travels in 2009 – couldn’t find a piece of elastic in the entire stadium when their gate failed.
But instead of letting us in on the solution, Scott suddenly turns his attention to wanting to know the difference between stock cars and drift cars. Eclectic? You bet.
Scott’s style is unique and if you want an entertaining read that’s also loosely connected with motorcycle sport then it’s well worth the £20.
And if you’ve even a vague interest in speedway, I’ll guarantee you’ll be checking out the fixtures list of your local team to catch up on the action. I certainly have!
by Gary Pinchin, Motorcycle News.
Shale Trek is available to buy from Methanol Press.
Photos by Jeff Scott. If you like these charming photos, be sure to check out Jeff's photo book Shale Britannia.
Posted by KTL at 14:41