Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Speedway mini road trip

My chance visit to the Haynes Motor Museum recently rekindled an old love for speedway.
Since then I’ve been to a couple of local Peterborough meetings and one at Scunthopre and, to be honest, while the racing’s been less than top drawer speedway, my enthusiasm is undiminished.
So when I got four days off from work, and my partner was away on business, I decided to take myself on a mini speedway road trip.

It’s years since I was a speedway regular but one of my favourite tracks was always Poole so I decided that was the starting point and then worked in three other nights into the schedule around that. The plan was hatched: Poole, followed by Isle of Wight, Somerset and Swindon on successive evenings.

At the risk of sounding like Jeff Scott (the man behind the quite brilliant, but very quirky collection of annual speedway road trip books (check out Mehanol Press for details), I thought I’d offer some observations.

Poole, Monday, September 5
Like I said it’s years since I was at Poole and I’ve got to say I’m really impressed with the facility. In fact, it seems to me that the entire promotion is top class, the whole stadium is pretty tidy, the track shop is okay if a little spares on gear (it is the end of season), the food is, well passable, but the meeting programme was top value.

I think it’s a real shame that the pits at speedway tracks are not better laid out for the fans. I noticed this at Peterborough and Scunthorpe - you just can see enough of what’s going on it there.

I remember the old days at my local track Swindon where you could stand and see all the riders and mechanics working. And all the fights! And the riders rushing to the phone to berate the referee! At least you can see the Poole pits but the opposition are hidden out of sight. Surely it could do with a re-think?
This was a crucial meeting for both top of the table Poole and Belle Vue and the racing was, at times, sensational – totally restoring my faith in the sport.

Darcy Ward’s charge in heat two was breathtaking – it was just a shame it ended in tears just when it looked like he was going to win from the 50m penalty line for touching the tapes.

Heavy rain at the start of Heat 7 threatened the meeting but there were some good calls by the referee to delay race starts to let each sharp shower subside and, actually the sloppy track improved the action – though it probably was hell for the riders.

Bele Vue looked to have the upper hand with a 31-17 lead after Heat 8 but then Poole fought back with a brilliant tactical ride by Davey Watt in Heat 9 to make it 32-25 reduce the deficit to seven points.
But it was Heat 13 and the final race that really we worth the admission price alone.

Chris Holder and Darcy Ward managed to 5-1 the race after Rory Schlein split them early on. That made it 41-40 to Poole, the first time they had led all night  but Bomber Harris chose the final race of the night to score his first race win and with Schlein third, the 4-2 was enough to give victory to Belle Vue 48-45.
I thought it a shame the commentator waited until the final heat to really whoop the crowd up. The atmosphere was electric going into the last race, thanks largely to the reaction he precipitated - but why not wind them up earlier? The match had been buzzing since the ninth heat so there’s really no excuse.
Otherwise, a totally brilliant example of top class speedway racing.

Isle of Wight, Tuesday, September 6
Disaster. Peed with rain most of the day so there was never any chance of the meeting happening. Too late for me though, I’d booked the ferry in advance so I spent the day on the Island, just cruising around. Took a look at the speedway track – my first time there. Shame it was spoiled by the weather.

Sammy Miller Museum, Wednesday, September 7
I stayed just down the road from Sammy Miller’s Museum so it would have been rude not to have visited. Dropped in first thing Thursday morning on my to Somerset Speedway.

Absolute gold mine of a place.  Loved the Pierce and Henderson four-cylinder bikes – and the early boardtrackers (I’ll post pics some time later).

Bit thin on speedway/longtrack bikes though. There’s a really nice Erskine JAP, four-valve JAP and Jawa machines, the late, great Simon Wigg’s longtracker, and an old Douglas. Sublime.

But apart from that tiny gripe, it’s well worth going to soak up some really motorcycling history – but give yourself plenty of time. I rushed around in an hour, I could have spent two, three or more hours there. Nice tea rooms on site.

Oh, and found myself a right little bargain: Triple Crown Plus by Ivan Mauger for 12 quid. Fantastic!


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