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the outsider

Speedways A Plan

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Hi Speedway Followers

 

I sat down and penned a 9 page Plan to take speedway forward. Speedway Star have this and at least one promoter.

 

We all know; its a major exercise to put carry speedway forward in these challenging times. Tai Woffinden has made his contribution to the platform by bringing home the World Individual Championship for the first time in 13 years. Like Gary Havelock, and Mark Loram before him; he lifts the title when so much uncertainty shrouds the UK Speedway scene. It cannot be left to Tai alone to try and raise the sport up; his World Title helps, but others ( including the fans ) have to respond and do their bit.

 

In writing my A Plan, I have given thought to many aspects of the UK Speedway scene. It is by no means exhaustive; and indeed their are people; maybe yourself included who may be better placed to speak. I have watched Speedway largely over a 30 year period to the late 90's when my own club Bradford folded. I took another look at it two years ago at Scunthorpe and do not regret that. Its a great product when it all comes together - especially at Premier League level where I think the 'hope lies'.

 

Anyhow; back to the A Plan - have a read; try and stick with it if you can there may just something in there that we can take forward into next seaon and those to come.

 

I have followed speedway for over 40 years, but with less frequency in the years 1997-2011 due to the demise of the sport in West Yorkshire. In the past two seasons I decided to make a ‘comeback’ with the Scunthorpe Scorpions and how pleased am I that I chose to do so.

 

Friday nights trip down the M62/M18 to the Eddie Wright Raceway has become a ‘must do’ and in return I have been richly rewarded with some fantastic speedway action.

 

However I am unable to ignore the fact that I am probably in the minority of ‘returnees’ to the sport and if I take a more objective view; speedway right now seems to be in a somewhat jumbled state.

 

I am not going to ramble on about what I think has gone wrong down the years. We are where we are and we can only influence what is to come. So I got thinking about the direction I would like to see speedway take in the future – The ‘A’-Plan ( if you will allow me ).

 

My first thought is; that from my experience at the EWR; week in and week out there is nothing wrong with ‘ four riders, racing four laps on an oval track’ the way it was always meant to be. The quality of the action is top draw; thanks to a usually well prepared track and absolutely no lack of rider commitment week in week out.

 

For me; speedway’s problems are more to do with what happens away from the track than what happens on it. I realise that any recommendations will have to be balanced against the financial cost of implementing. But I also fear that failure to address the current problems may ultimately see things slide further into decline.

 

So here are a few ideas I have to start to arrest the decline.

 

The Leagues

 

The present three tier structure is unsustainable economically or practically

 

The idea of the Sky Sports Elite League is to showcase the top racing talent in the UK. Well that may have been the idea, but check out the latest Sky Sports Elite rider averages and try listing twenty ‘elite riders’ ?. Indeed the absence of so called ‘elite talent’ is such that Birmingham are challenging for the Elite League title by borrowing three of their seven riders from the Premier League – the UK’s second tier of speedway.

 

To argue that the Elite League attracts the world’s top riders is wrong. Most of the Grand Prix circuit riders do not race in the UK regularly. In fact many of them choose to miss out on racing in the UK in favour of more lucrative European league deals, and prefer to base themselves there. In many cases the ‘scattered meetings’ held in the UK throughout the week; make it impossible for riders based in Europe to commit to the Elite League without losing out financially.

 

The result is a sub-standard Elite League, which without the benevolence of Sky Sports TV, would be unsustainable, and serves only a handful of ‘elite riders’ who commit to riding in it.

 

British Speedway’s strongest league competition is the ‘second tier’ Premier League. There can be no better endorsement of the Premier League product ; than Elite League clubs calling into action at ‘every turn’ the riders who make their main living as Premier League riders. Birmingham are the real example of this using Jason Doyle ( Somerset ), Ben Barker ( Ipswich ) and Josh Auty ( Scunthorpe ) as regulars in their team.

 

This being the case I am calling for the abolition of the Elite League on the grounds that it no longer serves the purpose for which it was originally created ie: that of bringing the world’s elite riders to race in the UK. I would contend that the British Speedway in the current economic climate is served best by its ‘second tier’ Premier League and therefore speedway in the UK needs to re-structure at its ‘strongest and sustainable level and this is the Premier League.

 

In these difficult times; ensuring that a small handful of ‘elite riders’ can hang onto earning a living here in Britain can no longer be a priority. If the abolition of the Elite League means that these riders choose not to race here then that is a price we have to pay if speedway is to survive and thrive.

 

With the abolition of the Elite League, I am advocating a new three league structure under the umbrella of the ‘British Speedway League’.

 

A regionalised league competition – British Speedway League ( North / West ) and British Speedway League ( South / East ). Similar to the Skrill Conference ( North/South ) in football which operates a similar regionalised competition. The third league a ‘second tier’ training league titled the British Speedway Academy League ( abolishing the current title of National League ). I believe that the current ‘National League’ sends out a confusing message. The term ‘national’ would imply a higher echelon when in fact it is a ‘training league’ competition. So I am keen to give our speedway ‘training league’ a clear identity as the British Speedway-Academy-League.

 

Looking at the speedway track directory I have been able to form the two new regionalised leagues roughly along geographical lines, with eleven/twelve clubs to each region. An even split might yet be achieved should a new venture come to the tapes in March 2014.

 

North/West; Belle Vue, Scunthorpe, Sheffield, Glasgow,Edinburgh, Berwick, Workington, Newcastle, Redcar, Wolverhampton, and Birmingham.

 

South/East; Coventry, Leicester, Kings Lynn, Peterborough, Ipswich, Rye House, Lakeside, Eastbourne, Poole, Plymouth, Somerset, Swindon,

 

In difficult economic times it makes sense to reduce costs for everyone, so promotions, riders and supporters will all benefit from the new regionalised British Speedway League structure. Expenses will be cut as long trips to the other end of the country with the possibility of rain off; are reduced.

 

Regionalised leagues will help strengthen speedway in the two regions, could lead to better crowd attendances. Certainly it cannot make crowds worse; for example; Plymouth Speedway would not be greatly affected by the loss of a visit from Scunthorpe but would definitely benefit from the visit of the like of Poole and Eastbourne.

 

Riders

 

In recent seasons this is fast becoming a major issue. Injuries, retirements, unavailability, overseas commitments, speedway’s ever more complex rules, you name it and it is likely to be limiting the ambitions of your speedway team. There appears to be a serious shortage of available riders, so to ease this problem I am suggesting that teams consist of a 1-6 rather than 1-7. A similar team 1-6 structure existed in the Elite Leagues first season 1997 and was successfully used.

 

However each club should have a squad of 8 riders, that would include two ‘new’ rider designations a) the Affiliated Rider and B) the Academy Rider.

 

 

The Affiliated Rider

 

Each team to secure the services of a declared ‘7th man’ who could be called upon in the event of rider injury or unavailability due to international or other call. The average of the Affiliated Rider must not cause the combined average of the team to exceed the maximum combined team average ( if he was to be included in the original declared 1-6 ).

 

Use of the Affiliated Rider

 

In all appropriate circumstances the Affiliated Rider could be utilised to cover the absence of a rider of equal or higher average. However it will be at the promoter’s discretion to apply, to utilise the Affiliated Rider or use the Rider Replacement rule to cover absence.

 

The Affiliated rider partially ends the use of guest riders, as he would always be ‘first port of call’ in case of need otherwise the teams would need to use the rider replacement facility. It may not be possible to eliminate entirely the use of the guest rider. However the current level of reliance upon the guest is such that it undermines the credibility of the league when a rider can appear in the colours of a rival club within a matter of days after racing for his own club.

 

The Academy Rider

 

Each track to secure the services of one Academy League rider ( Grade E rider ) and to afford development opportunities to this rider. Such a rider may be sourced from the existing National League.

 

Academy League riders may be included as 7th man at the discretion of the club and appear as a programmed 7th rider to take the place of riders listed 1-6 as appropriate. In the event of rider absence teams may use rider replacement and additionally declare their Academy Rider as the 7th member of the team.

 

I see the involvement of the Academy Rider at each club to be integral to the growth of British Speedway in the future. However this is not the sole effort clubs will be making towards rider development as each meeting will include two development standard races with the return of the Rider of the Night second half race card.

 

Team Structure/Rider Averages

 

The application of averages to build team strength is fine in principal. However it can actually leave riders frustratingly on the sides lines for a hairs breadth of a point. Instead I propose to place the riders into a grading system A to E. Grade A riders would be posting the highest average down to Grade E the lowest with Grades B to D between. Grade E riders are essentially Academy League riders but this Grade would include riders arriving from overseas who had no previous league experience.

 

Grading will be arrived at by first merging the riders and their final green sheet averages ( Oct 2013 ). For the purposes of the British Speedway League ( N/W & S/E ) the accepted average will be based on the green sheet average achieved with their primary club. If the parent club is an Elite League club the Elite League green sheet average will apply. Where the primary club in 2013 is a Premier League club the average will be reduced by 25%. Note all averages will be rounded up or down to the nearest point to eliminate the ‘hairs breadth’ of a point disputes over rider averages.

 

 

How will this work

 

Example; Josh Auty’s average ( at the time of writing ) for Scunthorpe is 8.46. For British Speedway League purposes this would be rounded down to 8.00 and then reduced by 25% to 6.00. To check the legitimacy of this consider Josh’s average in the Elite League for Birmingham = 5.98 ( at time of writing ) which rounded up to nearest = 6.00. Therefore the principal of the 25% reduction of Premier League averages to effect a ‘league merger’ is substantiated.

 

The Teams

 

It is concerning to cut loose those riders in the Elite League that can rightly lay claim to the term elite. I am thinking here of Grand Prix standard riders, and recognised Grade A riders.

 

There may be financial reasons to deter the inclusion of such Grade A riders in the new regionalised British Speedway Leagues. But there may be a way to retain their presence by employing them on central contracts with the British Speedway League. I am thinking that each BSL ‘franchise’ should have one ‘Marquee Rider’ to act as each ‘ambassador rider’. If Sky Sports supported the BSL with TV coverage it may be possible to contract centrally 24 Marquee Riders and allocate one to each track.

 

As I say I am proposing this without knowing the maths behind it, but the principal of each BSL track having an ‘ambassador rider’ has an appeal and this way it may be possible to keep at least some of the ‘elite rated’ riders involved in the sport in Britain.

 

Rider Grading

 

Rider grading could be introduced as follows;

 

A Grade = 9.00 +

 

B Grade = 7.00 +

 

C Grade = 5.00 +

 

D Grade = 3.00 +

 

E Grade = 3.00/ no league experience

 

How would this work in practice

 

The points limit would need to be arrived at, but for the purposes of this exercise I am assuming a combined point’s limit in the British Speedway Leagues of 40.00.

 

Example:

 

Birmingham would need to adhere to a 40 point team building limit. Based upon current averages ( as at 27 August Speedway Star )

 

Grade A - Marquee Rider – Smolinski 8.59 = 9.00, Grade B – King 8.04 = 8 Grade B – Harris 7.40 = 7.00, Grade C - Covetti 6.09 = 6.00 Total combined = 30.00 two riders required = 10.00

 

Scunthorpe

 

Grade C – Birks 6.00, Grade C – Jorgensen 5.00, Grade D – Douglas 4.00 Total combined = 15.00 required = 25.00 ( Grade A Marquee Rider – 9.00, Grade B - 7.00, Grade B – 7.00 )

 

The league fixture programme

 

To consist of each team racing 11 home league meetings and 11 away league meetings.

 

Play-Offs to be retained from previous structure; but reduced to top 6 from North/West – top 6 South/East qualifying for the regionalised group stage. The top 2 from each region to the regionalised Semi-Final, leading to the Grand Final ( winner North v winner South ).

 

The play-offs guarantee a further 5 home and 5 away meetings for each qualifier.

 

Challenge Cup ; teams finishing out of play-off places contest ‘the challenge’ as with the play-off in two regionalised leagues, Top two from each region to the challenge semi-final and winners to the Challenge Cup Final.

 

 

Race Format

 

I believe we have to offer a meeting race card of a minimum of 20 Heats. If you look back to the sports halcyon days the race card consisted of a 13 Heat match followed by a 7 Heat Rider of the Night second half. In recent years the race card has been reduced to a 15 Heat match. I am attracted to a 13 or 15 Heat Match followed by the 7 or 5 Heat Rider of the Night. I am sure it is not beyond speedways leadership decide the best option of the two. However for the Rider of the Night to be successful and interesting it has to have significance. To achieve this I would propose that riders accumulate Championship points towards qualification for a ‘Grand National Trophy’ to be held at the end of the season.

 

 

The Track Open Championship ( Individual )

 

Each track will stage an Individual Open Championship over a 20 Heat race card. In the ‘old days’ every track held an individual championship and it was part of the staple diet of the fixture list bringing together some of the league’s top riders to race against the top 3 or 4 home riders.

 

 

The 4 Team Tournament

 

A Regionalised Group Qualifying Stage ( 6 Groups of 4 ), each track will stage one group fixture.

 

The 4 Team meeting has become a centre piece on the British Speedway calendar, and with 4 local teams riding at the same time local fans should respond in numbers at each of the staging venues.

 

The Group Winner’s, and best two runners up progress to the Grand 4TT Final at Peterborough.

 

 

British Speedway Champions Cup – the ‘national knock- out cup competition’

 

Group Stage: 4 groups of 6 with top 4 from each group to Round of 16. ( 5 meetings home 5 away ).

 

Round of 16, Quarter Final: 8 teams in the draw, 4 winners to Semi-Final, 2 winners to Grand Final

 

 

The Seasons Fixtures

 

Remarkably for Scunthorpe, because the team failed to make the Play-offs, the season effectively came to a close at the end of August. It has to be said that the exceptional summer weather in 2013 has allowed racing to go ahead almost unhindered by rain. In more ‘usual summers’ rain decimates the fixtures and it actually becomes difficult to find re-staging dates for cancelled meetings.

 

Considering all of the suggested competitions above, each track under my proposals would have a minimum of the following schedule of meetings in 2014:-

 

11 British Speedway League fixtures.

 

5 Play-off / Challenge Cup fixtures

 

5 British Speedway Champions Cup fixtures

 

1 Four Team Tournament Round

 

1 Individual Open Championship

 

A total of 22 guaranteed meaningful competitive meetings for each track. Meetings that are varied in nature, competitive and keep and ensure all teams/riders are involved to the end of the season.

 

 

Bikes / Tracks / Safety

 

I am certain there are those who can speak with greater authority and knowledge than I in this area. However; I would make the following observations.

 

Riders nowadays appear to make a start and then put the ‘hammer down’ for 4 laps. To me it appears at times as if a rider is literally ‘hanging on’ to a machine that might otherwise ‘take off’ without him. So; there might be a case for slowing the bikes down. As a consequence maintenance costs might be reduced. Standardised engines might be worth considering as the drive to get the edge on opponents will always force costs up.

 

Slowing the bikes down; may also mean that riders are more able to ‘dictate the race’. It is rare today to see two riders team riding , or for one rider to attempt to control a race to allow his partner to join him in a race winning position. It is all well and good for a rider to make a great start and go flat out to win the race; but there are times when the situation is crying out for a more skilful and team orientated approach. Often the sheer pace of a race, rules out the idea of riders partnering each other to the finish line. Speedway is at its best when the riders are closer together and so anything that can be done to make this happen more often in matches has to be worth considering.

 

Taking Scunthorpe as the example; I would say that the track is generally well prepared and race fit. But inconsistency comes in with the unreliability of the weather. To be fair we have been blessed with the weather this summer, but this is not usual.

 

Track conditions are non-negotiable for me; the surface has to be the very best condition it can be to help make for the most entertaining meeting. It is a high risk strategy to leave such a key area of the business in ‘the lap of the gods’ so something has to be done to try and protect the racing surface ahead of meetings. Everyone will benefit having confidence that the meeting will go ahead and the knowledge that the track is ‘race-able’ and not just ‘ride-able’. So some form track cover has to come in to protect the track. We owe it to riders who risk their lives to entertain us, the promoters risking fortunes to keep tracks afloat, the sponsors and media who continue to support speedway and the fans who part with their hard earned cash in difficult financial times week in week out.

 

I believe that the air fence was a move forward for health and safety in speedway ; but the number of injuries during the current season is still at an alarming level . I am sure the incidence of serious injury was less back in the 70’s and 80’s. Remember, back in those day’s a number of tracks were bordered by ‘steel and concrete’.

 

For me the problem with the air fence is the tendency for riders to be ‘sucked in’ to it when riding a close line against it. I imagine it is easy for the footrest to become entangled in the skirt of the air bag and fetch the rider off. So I think this needs to be looked at. Should the skirt be made of firmer material so that contact has a deflecting effect?.

 

As I say; these are my observations, in areas that will be far better understood by the riders and the promoters themselves.

 

A Common Race Day

 

I recommend the introduction of a ‘common race day’ for all tracks in the British Speedway Leagues. This would bring our leagues into line with those in Europe where all meetings take place on the same day. Swedish Elite League – Tuesdays, Danish Super League – Wednesday, Polish Extra League – Thursday , so why not British Speedway Leagues – Friday’s ?.

 

Personally I would avoid a weekend race day; as this invites clashes with counter attractions. We know there will be issues around riders racing in the Grand Prix and European Championship series.

 

Surely British Speedway Leagues is more saleable if all meetings go ahead on the same race night. It has to be worth a thought as it appears to work in Europe. Yes I know that this may open the exit door for one or two riders who ride on the European circuit. But as I pointed out earlier we cannot run the British Speedway Leagues for the benefit of a handful of riders who would be negatively affected by this change.

 

I have been trying to think of the benefits of a ‘common race day’ and offer these thoughts

 

Greater market-ability ‘ Friday Night Is Race Night’ for example.

 

All tracks racing; and the interest is immediate on ‘who’s done what where’’

 

League tables will mean something. Unlike now when one team has raced 5 meets and another 10 ?

 

There may be fewer meeting lost to the weather; granted every meeting may be affected if all meetings were held on the same night. But I would like to bet that there would be more meetings lost to the weather if all meetings were staged across an entire week; than if the same meetings were all staged on the same night of that week.

 

I think that many speedway meetings go under the radar to the general public, simply because they cannot keep track of when and where meetings are being run. If all meetings were held on a common race day it creates a focus for the supporters. If there was one common race day for the British Speedway Leagues and the media/sponsors/supporters can plan around that.

 

My recommendation to regionalise the British Speedway Leagues; would probably suit the introduction of a common race day. It is the norm for speedway supporters to visit their local track every week. However regionalisation and the ‘common race day’ may see clubs race at home one week and away the next. So you only visit your local track once a fortnight.

 

With meetings once a fortnight at home; and a regionalised league structure it may lead to a culture of supporters travelling to see their team ride ‘away from home, thereby boosting attendences.

 

If meetings were fortnightly; with the senior team away from home next week would that create an opportunity for each track to run an Academy League fixture.

 

These are just a few ideas around the ‘common race day’, but by no means are they exhaustive.

 

The Rules: even for die-hard fans are far too complex and open to mis-interpretation. At Scunthorpe this season I heard Rob Godfrey say “speedway was about 4 riders, 4 laps on an oval track” and that says it all. We come to the speedway to be entertained; and not to worry about the latest rule change or a riders average been .001 over the limit. So de-cluttering the Speedway Rule book would help.

 

I would definitely scrap the farcical ‘tactical ride’, which is in the realms of awarding a penalty in football; simply because one team is losing. It might well be termed ‘playing the joker’ because it does make the sport a joke. I do support the inclusion of the tactical substitute ride, when a team falls six points or more behind . But to award double points for the tactical ride, can so badly skew a match it turns it into farce. Please scrap the tactical ride.

 

If you were to ask the speedway public what concerns them most in the sport ?, the response would likely be; the tactical ride, rider averages, guest riders, poorly prepared tracks and value for money from the fixtures on offer. The proposals I am making I feel go some way to addressing all those concerns

 

Race Day / Presentation

 

The most important ingredient on Race Day will be the 20 Heats of four laps on the Race Card. Promoters will have little difficulty selling that to the speedway public. However we have to make the effort to grow the general public interest in the sport and so promoters may have to concede that they need to work harder. So I have been giving a thought to this and here are a few of them

 

Presentation

 

I have to admit that the presentation of meetings often leaves a lot to be desired. At Scunthorpe promoter Rob Godfrey personally takes charge of the presentation between the heats. Any Scorpions supporter will tell you Rob is a great character on the microphone, and his amusing and at times irreverent style from the centre green definitely adds to the meeting entertainment.Robis passionate about the sport and that comes across very clear. He is also informative and honest ; often sharing news about the team and riders right there on the spot. He tells it as it is for sure, and because he is close to the riders he can interview them with ease between heats. Not every track has Rob, but it would help if they did. Where it does occasionally fall down at Scunthorpe is in the announcer’s box where Rob has even gone as far as to replace the fellow during the meeting ! For me the meeting announcer is a vital point of engagement with the paying public, so this person needs to be personable, informative and clear. I do think that promotions underestimate the importance of this role.

 

 

So what else can we offer

 

I would like to see the Riders permitted to ‘warm up’ prior to the main event. So if the meeting starts at 7:30pm the Riders are allowed to take to the track individually for a four lap rolling start practice if they desire. It always takes the away team a couple of races to dial into the track, by which time the home team has stolen the march. So in the interest of everyone I do think some form of limited practice between 6:45pm-7:15pm has merit.

 

Pit lane access

 

Fans of motorcycle racing like to get up close to see the bikes and the riders, so every track should offer spectator viewing for a period of half an hour ahead of the meeting. Unlike football, speedway followers can actually get close to their ‘hero’s’ and very often speedway riders prove to be intelligent and articulate ambassadors for the sport. So if there was the opportunity for riders to engage with the fans prior to the meeting that ‘connect’ could be valuable to growing the interest of fans old and young alike.

 

Themed race days

 

I am interested to see the way things operate in the USA, where a baseball match seems to have so much more going on around it than just the match itself. I realise that we are there to watch the speedway, but for some people that may not be enough. At baseball matches food and beverage play a big part in the event, so I would be interested to look more closely at how this could help make the speedway compete with alternative entertainment. During the better weather could we have a barbeque night, curry night, and maybe with sponsorship offer a free beer. I am not sure of the licencing rules for food and drink but it is worth considering.

 

Themed nights could also be reflected in the presentation; with say 60’s 70’s 80’s music from the centre green. Co-ordinate the music with the racing ( yes I know this has been done before ), but it does make things more dramatic and capture the mood if events are played out to a backing track. Here the chap in the announcers box is vital; at Scunthorpe all too often Rob is pleading for Barry to play that tune “That’s The Way I Like It” when the Scorpions come home 5-1 only for Barry to be fumbling around trying to ‘stick the needle on the record’.

 

We do not want the paying public to think they have just walked into Fred Carnos Circus.

 

Let me conclude by reaffirming my personal belief in the sport. There can be few more spectacular sights than four riders, racing speedway bikes on an enclosed oval circuit. However somewhere along the way officialdom has lost sight of that; and bogged us all down in a soup of rules and regulations that so often seem to work against getting those riders and bikes out and onto the track.

 

I commend the ‘A-Plan’ to speedways authorities and hope that there is something in here that can be taken away and worked on in the months and weeks ahead.

 

Ray Allen Bradford

Speedway Historian

Scunthorpe Speedway Supporter

 

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Reading this through 4 years on and the piece in Speedway Star Xtra by the Glasgow announcer Mr Coyle ahead of this weekend's AGM has striking similarity about it. Have to say there is much to commend in Mr Coyles article and worth a read.

Edited by the outsider

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