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Newport / SGP
by Dudley Jones

Newport's Hayley Stadium

New look Newport

I have written to Speedwayplus on many occasions, usually concerning my old loves of Norwich, Rayleigh, West Ham and of course Ipswich.

I actually live only about 30 minutes from Newport, but have only visited a few times in the past seven years. It was good that Tim Stone revived the Wasps, and his achievement should never be forgotten. However, it seemed that the team were perenial 'wooden spoonists', and the place lacked supporter involvement.

On the occasions I went along the meetings seemed to drag interminably, I recall going to a Somerset/Plymouth doubleheader, but had to leave after what seemed like an eternity, after only a couple of heats of the Plymouth fixture.

I write to congratulate the new promotion, and to express my sadness at the passing of Tim.

The team signings look good and I sincerely hope that this is the beginning of a great on-track revival. I have always felt that the success of tracks isn't so much down to winning all the time (remember how Rochdale won all the time - and disappeared).

Good racing, a sense of belonging and lively entertainment, together with snappy organisation, these are what is needed to sustain speedway in these difficult times (and always). I hope very much that the new promotion provide these things. If they do then expect my face to be added to the terraces at Hayley Stadium.

There are speedways and speedways. Some make me long to return, others don't bother me. It's a mix of the atmosphere, the showmanship, and of course the racing.

The M/C at Norwich was a real cheeky chappy, Ipswich in the 1970s & 80s had a great anouncer, Rayleigh had 'Uncle Len' Silver as promoter, and West Ham had Dave Lanning - need I say more?

It was no co-incidence that the Norwich terraces of 1962/3/4 were packed, nor that Ipswich was so well supported in the 70s & 80s. Poole has a 'feel good' factor, so does Somerset.

A great racing track has a lot to do with it too. Norwich was large, and very raceable. Ipswich was also well prepared, and anyone could go out there and give it a go. Rayleigh was a brilliant racing track in Len Silver's time. My wife is from Coventry, I tease her about the 'highly polished track' which Ole Olsen seemed to require.

West Ham was too wide, Hackney was good, although the smell of paint in the air could put you off. King's Lynn is a very good raceway. I have been to others where staying on the bike seemed more to the point than racing.

Having a team that you felt you knew made a lot of difference. Teams don't have to win, but they do have to be triers.

Looking back to the great days at Foxhall Heath, the formula was right. A team of local lads (largely), 'giving it a go', a good track and an announcer that made each meeting an occasion. Not the favorites, not perhaps the best, but 'our boys', and triers.

Speedway is a show primarily. It's also a sport, and must be seen to be taken seriously as a sport. Above all, however, it's got to be showbusiness, entertainment.

 

Grand Prix is not good for the sport

It may just be my age but I have to say that the SGP seems to me to be an irrelevance, although it undoubtedly earns money - for someone.

The real question is 'Is it good for the sport?'. I am sure it is not.

I attended every World Final in the UK since I discovered the sport in the 1960s, and the majority were great occasions.

I live close to Cardiff, but have never attended a Grand Prix. It would literally be a 30 minute train ride and a short walk to the stadium. So why don't I go?

Because it is a nothing. The riders there are good riders for sure, but this is not a world championship and those that win are not, in my view, world champions. How can they be? SGP is an exclusive club, who may not even be at their best when they contest the series.

If we are ever to have another real world championship then riders from all over the world should be able to contest qualifying rounds to earn their places at a final, just like the old days.

I saw my friend Ove Fundin win at Wembley, I saw Bruce Penahll win as well. I relish my memories of Eric 'the brummie' Gunderson's win at Bradford. These were all great occasions - each the big night of the year.

The qualifying rounds, for those who don't remember, were also great nights, with riders from several leagues contesting. Qualifying was the chance of giant killers to create their moments.

This, however, is not my principle objection to SGP.

My objection is that that this irrelevant contest takes a number of selected riders out of league competition. The effect is that one can no longer expect at least Elite league teams to race on a regular racenight. When I lived near Ipswich and supported them Thursday was racenight and my weekly diary was arranged around this. How can supporters support when teams race, as they do nowadays, on no regular days?

The sport should never underestimate the importance of a regular racenight. The racenight habit is the life blood of the sport, and SGP wreaks havoc with this.

Every rider should have the chance, if he is good enough, to win through to a world final each year. If we could only bury SGP speedway might commence the upwards climb to the popularity of the 1960s & 70s.

Grand Prix riders should perhaps be excluded from domestic competition. Let us go the whole hog and separate this fake 'world championship', if that is what it is, from the real world entirely. Better still, how about a separate knockout world championship for all riders to compete in?

 

This article was first published on 24th December 2008


 

  • Ross Dow:

    "I am probably from the same era as Dudley and can agree with some of the points in his first article. I do not know the history of Queensway Meadows or the money which built it but could not help but be amazed that a track which appears to be purpose built is so narrow and non-conducive to good racing. Even if the racing is good there are very few decent vantage points. The stadium has been built lower than the track. By the time a decent viewing height is reached the distance from the track is too great for atmosphere. I visited every year as part of the 'Grand Prix Weeknd' taking in a league match, Cardiff then the 'Welsh Open'. This must have been a great money spinner in the first couple of years. Unfortunately, the presentation and track preparation were pretty woeful and the quality of rider was not always of the highest calibre. I still continued to attend to the 'end' but the crowds diminished dratically - a golden opportunity lost. I hope that the new promotion can tempt back the fans (I recall that they had a large an noisy travelling support a few years ago. These people still exist but may take a good product to tempt them back.

    Dudley's view of the Grand Prix Series seems to me to be a little blinkered. The 'I've never been because it does not agree with my opinion so it must be rubbish' attitude is hardly balanced. I watched Fundin win at Wembley in 1967 and Penhall in '81 and Mike Lee in Gothenberg etc. Dudley seems to blame the irregular race nights on SGP and makes the example of Ipswich. Surely the main reason for irregular nights is to suit the Sky TV filming. GPs are always on Saturday night with practice on the Friday so I can see how tracks on these nights will suffer. However, were they so much better off when their riders had to compete in the world championship Q Rs, the British semi finals, British Final, Inter-Continental Final, European Finals etc? I have been to every Cardiff GP and have thoroughly enjoyed every visit. Dudley's opinion is that these riders are not world champions - presumably Lewis Hamilton is not a world champion (or Damon Hill / Schumaker / Ayrton Senna - Manchester United have never been the top team in England etc). I well remember world finals with many of the Eastern European contingent having no chance of points except from each other or other riders misfortunes. The track was so alien to them that it would have been more fruitful to have thrown in a couple of British League reserves."

  • Roger Beaman:

    "How I agree with Dudley on the things he had to say, Todays promoters seem happy with the crowds they get, as the numbers go down so they put the admission price up. As for the grand-prix yes it's good in some ways and not in others, British speedway should start to move on, and run meetings on Saturday nights if that is their race night, most speedway followers today have means of recording the grand-prix. The main problem for the change of race-nights is Sky, and their Monday nights. The answer is to race on one set night of the week, and to cut down on the amount of overseas riders in English speedway, so that the supporters have English riders which they feel are part of the make up of the club, and to cut the admission prices. "

  • Martin Mewies:

    "While Mr Jones is obviously entitled to his opinion, I think he is falling into the trap of seeing the past through slightly rose tinted specs. While I agree with his points about the nature of teams building and meeting presentation, I find his views about GP speedway to be a little out of touch with reality. Sure, it is a limited group, but so is formula one motor racing. Is Lewis Hamilton therefore not a worthy World Champion? Also although the "Old System" World Championship was open to all, the 'best rider in the world' in any particular year, could be stopped from being World Champion, by being knocked off by someone or having any manner of unfortunate mechanical or health issues.

    Certainly it is a fact that the GP interferes with league racing in this country at the moment, but the direction that the B.S.P.A. are pushing the sport in at the moment, largely makes that an irrelevance, as they reduce the points limit, and insist on racing so many matches each season, the GP racers will largely be absent in any case. Thus the impact of the GPs will be removed, for better or for worse, depending on your point of view. For my part, I would rather see four guys of roughly the same standard, battling for four laps each race than see Leigh Adams (with no disrespect towards intended him personally) running half a lap clear and the race being for second and third place. I realise that there will be many in our sport who will disagree with me, but also there will be many who disagree with Mr Jones. The GP vs World Final argument will be around as long as speedway survives I reckon, so long may it continue!"

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