"Where are all the rakers?"
Redcar v Workington - 24th July
Redcar v Workington - 24th July
The first leg of my own mini Northern Tour involves a 300+ mile drive from Brighton through the outskirts of Middlesbrough to the South Tees Motorsports Park (STMP), the relatively recently built home of the Redcar Bears. Most speedway riders lead a peripatetic existence and those who ply their trade in the Premier League find themselves perpetually driving the motorways, dual carriageways and �A� roads of the British road network during the season. It�s a tiring business and, when the riders arrive, they have to work rather than enjoy my good fortune of the chance to savour the ambience and atmosphere. It�s a boiling hot day on the Costa del Teesside, so much so that I find Brian - a volunteer member of the track staff - sunning himself in the seat of his car ("we don�t get much here so you have to take advantage"). There�s a distinctive aroma in the air that I can�t quite place but imagine has something to do with the industrial area that surrounds the home of Redcar speedway. On the distant horizon is the Riverside Stadium the home of Middlesbrough football club, the proud centrepiece of an area they�re gradually regenerating with newly built (but often unoccupied) office blocks and apartments. It would be fair to say that the speedway club finds itself at the outer reaches of this regeneration area and isn�t essential to its progress or success. A rust-covered metal hulk of a structure dominates the not-so-distant skyline and, judged by its sheer size, could (to the untutored eye) be either a bridge or an impressive piece of industrial lifting equipment. Brian has worked at the track all morning and, after he�s soaked up a further few lunchtime rays of sunshine, will go home to Thornaby for some food before he returns to the STMP later. Things have changed and continue to change in and around Middlesbrough. Brian has noticed that the modernisation of the area ensures posh pronunciations are much more prevalent than they used to be. "People don�t come from Yarm any more, they come from East Yarm!" He clearly relishes his work at the track and praises Bears promoter, Glyn Taylor, who�s recently endured a rapid transformation from hero to villain amongst some supporters of the club: "Glyn is the hardest working man I know."
Apart from Redcar�s assistant track curator Ian �Jacko� Jackson who relentlessly circles the track on his tractor and Brian topping up his nonexistent tan, the stadium appears completely deserted. In the baking early afternoon heat, the rough rock that forms the surface of much of the stadium�s grounds makes it appears almost volcanic. It would safe to say that since the Middlesbrough Evening Gazette dropped the bombshell (on 12th June) of the news that Redcar Bears owner Glyn Taylor had put the Redcar TLS Bears up for sale that aftershocks have reverberated around the town and throughout speedway generally. Glyn was understood to have completed his buy-out of the club from Chris Van Straaten earlier in the year and was widely believed to have paid a fee somewhere in the region of £169,000. By the time the purchase was completed, many Bears fans had already purchased their season tickets and the revenues this generated were allegedly retained by the previous owners. It was a situation that effectively left Glyn Taylor with many season-ticket holders he�d have to let into the stadium every week without any payment. Clearly, given the price allegedly achieved, Chris Van Straaten is a shrewd negotiator (or, conversely, Glyn a poor one), particularly given the metaphorical clouds that were already on the general economic horizon, let alone the speedway one. Even at the time of the sale, things didn�t exactly look rosy and, since then, events had further clouded the situation.
They say that it costs around £16,500 to stage an Elite League meeting and that the cost of staging at Premier League has gradually crept up over the years to somewhere in the region of under £11,000 per meeting. You don�t have to be a forensic accountant to quickly realise that, given average speedway attendance levels, that some clubs could face financial difficulty without the help of sponsorship or, in the Elite League, Sky contract payments. Even these would only defray the cost of a small number of meetings so - even at the highest levels of the sport in this country - there are potential significant financial shortfalls without further cost control or greater sponsorship. Though the football clubs of the Northeast region might be blessed with loyal fans and bumper attendance figures, the same definitely cannot be said of the speedway clubs from the area.
In this context, you can easily realise how the Redcar speedway business plan wouldn�t have been robust at the outset, never mind after the weather intervened to cause some early-season postponements. Speaking honestly to the Evening Gazette, Glyn Taylor confessed, "I am not cut out for the job. It�s far more difficult than I ever expected it to be so I�m done. I�m not dealing with the financial pressures. By that I mean I�m working 80 hours a week and I�m not sleeping at night. That can�t go on. I need someone to buy the club from me or put in a cash injection of around £20,000. I need someone to take full financial control. If that doesn�t happen, I�m going to have to close the club down." The club have only been back in the Premier League for a couple of seasons and Glyn Taylor played a hugely significant role in the transformation of a disused rubbish tip (adjacent to a karting site) into a reasonably popular and occasionally packed speedway stadium with a distinctive tightly banked track. Unluckily, a series of postponements at the start of the season meant that Glyn Taylor didn�t have any gate revenue to offset running costs of the club, never mind the capital to service the debt taken on through the purchase. The logic of the situation required that the club would have to review all its compulsory and discretionary financial outgoings. The top wage earner at the club was ex world champion and Redcar Bears club captain, Gary �Havvy� Havelock. Negotiations between Glyn and Gary didn�t go well since, quite understandably, Havvy didn�t wish to alter the contract he�d already signed for the whole 2008 season midway through the campaign. Consequently, after the home win against Scunthorpe on 3rd July, the club captain was sensationally released by his promoter only to be reinstated 24 hours later after the timely intervention of a hastily organised consortium of concerned supporters.
An already complicated and potentially fractious situation was tangled further by the fact that Gary�s father, Brian Havelock, is also the Bears team manager and clearly has a relationship with both parties in dispute. After a quickly convened SOS [Save Our Skipper] meeting held at a local hotel in Middlesbrough, a newly formed consortium announced that Gary Havelock would continue to race for the club under Taylor�s newly proposed pay terms with the shortfall in his pay packet made up by the members of said consortium. Brian Havelock explained the mechanics of the deal. "We reached an agreement whereby Gary has accepted what Glyn has offered, i.e. a guarantee per meeting, and I have got a consortium together of 14 people, looking like becoming 18, to foot the bill for the shortfall in his wages throughout July and August. At the end of August, everything reverts back to the original contract being honoured by Glyn ... If Gary scores less than 9 - which is effectively what the guarantee covered - then the consortium is not involved." Glyn Taylor was also keen to put on the record the rationale behind his business decision. "I went to Gary and said that I�d been backed into a corner and that it was purely a financial decision - �would you please take this pay cut?� Gary came back and said he wasn�t able to accept it so I was left with no alternative but to release him because I couldn�t afford to pay him his current wage demands. It�s no secret that our crowds have been lower this season and everyone is suffering from the �credit crunch�. It was never ever anything personal to do with me not being happy with Gary, it was purely financial. Both as promoter and as a person I stand by the ethic that if you can�t pay for something, you don�t have it. I never wanted to get into a situation where we owed anyone money. I spoke to a lot of other promoters and they confirmed that the deal I offered Gary was a very generous one. Full credit to Gary and Brian for going out and finding the sponsorship to make up the shortfall. I was expecting the reaction I got because Gary is an extremely popular personality in the Teesside area - the local, home-ground boy come good".
The affair provoked a flood of column inches locally and nationally and Gary Havelock was equally keen to put his side of the story, "Only last week Glyn telephoned me to ask if I could take a 30-40% pay cut. I asked for time to do my cash flow and I felt I could not afford this to maintain the level of equipment expected of me as a number 1 and I informed Glyn of this. I could have accepted a small cut if it had been for all team members but I had been singled out to bear the brunt of his financial predicament. Then after our win on Thursday night, Glyn simply told me that he couldn�t afford for me to ride any more for Redcar. That was that - so much for having a contract! Oddly, my contract negotiations with Glyn at the start of the year were the shortest I have had in my career, he was extremely happy with my terms. Then, on Friday, Glyn rang me to ask if I could ride for Redcar at Workington because they couldn�t get cover for me. Of course, I accepted; I knew we had a coach load of fans going and I couldn�t let them or my home town club down." A highly motivated Gary Havelock then seized the opportunity to illustrate his importance at the club when he scored 16 points in the meeting at Derwent Park.
I expected I would bump into the friendly Glyn Taylor but didn�t expect to broach this subject with him during my visit. With practically nobody in the stadium (other than �Jacko� on his tractor), I decide to explore and when I pass the locked trackshop behind it I�m surprised to find a man - crouched by the doorway of the portacabin that serves as the home dressing room - leant forward being violently sick on the floor. The man is dressed in overalls and, rather diligently, projects his sickness towards the side of the building. When he stops and raises from a prone position, the violently ill man turns out to be Redcar owner and promoter, Glyn Taylor. "It must be the stress. I had to leave a meeting with the council to renegotiate the lease!" In the same way that you do if you fall over in public and someone asks �are you alright?� Glyn claims to be "fine" now that he�s finished being sick. That said, his financial problems continue to weigh heavily on his mind. "If I could walk away now, I�d never go to another speedway meeting! When I said the club was up for sale, the amount of abuse I got was phenomenal! I�m just an ordinary bloke. My dad [Chum Taylor] was in speedway, like I�ve been in speedway all my life - as a rider and, now as a promoter, I just want nothing to do with it! I work 80 hours a week on speedway and I�m just sick of it! I�m also a tuner three days a week and have a queue of 12 engines waiting. I do them when I can and I say to them �If you�re not happy you can go somewhere else�. Neil Machin told me �look at what comes in and what goes out and, if you�re making a loss, pull the plug�. I sort of admired Colin Horton �cause he got out and paid most people, only the odd one got burned. Whereas Waggy went bankrupt and I got 17p for a £600 bill. He owed Greg Hancock and several other riders a lot of money, but everyone got paid only a fraction of what they were owed - except for the taxman, the VAT man, the banks and solicitors who all got paid in full! They say the new man at Workington has lost interest and, effectively, got out of speedway as he�s handed the thing over to Ian Thomas. He allegedly wishes he�d never got into it - though, it�s said he did have a tax bill of about £20 million last year, so his situation is a bit different."
"The thing I like most about the speedway track - it�ll sound silly - is the wildlife! We get all sorts here, rabbits, foxes, moles. It�s amazing! You should have a look at this place on Google Earth before we started work on it. We cleared 30 tons of debris from the centre green alone. It was a huge job to create this place but, I�d walk away, if I could! We had five weeks of rain-offs at the start of the season and we�ve never recovered financially but I put my heart and soul into it. In 2007, we used to get 1,200 fans and, in 2008, we get 600 to 650 fans. Last week it was 653 fans. The away fans have dropped off. Last week we had Sheffield and they brought about 30 people max. If we take £6k, I have to give a substantial amount straight to the VAT man. Everything costs. It�s unbelievable! The cleaning is £50 a week. It costs 350 quid to empty the septic tank. I have to pay the staff. We spend 350 quid per meeting on shale - we�ve used 100 tons this year so far. We lose tons of shale over the fence! With the narrow back straight, it means they [the riders] have to go straight whereas, on the home straight, they just drift to the outside and blast the shale over the fence. The rent on the buildings is £2,300. I had to pay a four-figure sum to the BSPA for their services from February to August. It was £4k on the loudspeakers and it�s £450 medical cover for each meeting. The tyres are £518 a meeting. I just spent £18,000 for two away and two home meetings. You can say it�s £1,800 to £2,000 per meeting to the away team and that�s just paying them the away points money of £35, £25 and £20. The worst of the lot are the riders! They just look at the money. Vans cost £150 each per month, there�s £70 each in rent, never mind the airfares, signing-on fees, and all the other things! We�ve even had tractor repairs. I bought a new gearbox last week for 700 quid."
"People say more people would come if we had a grandstand - but who the freak is gonna pay for it? There�s a council meeting to discuss a sports grant for the grandstand but that�s not gonna happen. The riders shock me! We were supposed to be in the Fours [Final] this weekend but mine say �I ain�t gonna ride� or �I can�t �cause I�ve got a wedding!� So we�ve got to pull out and Scunthorpe are in our place. Drains were £7,500 and the fencing is £3,000. When I explained the situation to Gary [Havelock] and suggested a pay cut, he told me to �freak off!� Trying to cut our cloth to our suit was sensible. But, he didn�t see it as his problem as he had a contract. It�s not much good to you if you�re sacked! Neil Machin is a very good friend - I used to room with him when I was a rider - and he says �you have to make it pay�. I do the engine tuning, that�s £100 each and I do some other things. Colin Horton wants me to look at his [Peterborough] track. It�s full of clay so, either it binds together when they water it and is unrideable or, else, there�s too much dirt and the bikes can�t cope. I�m gonna go down on August 1st - they have a meeting on the 7th or the 8th - to look. My recommendation was to scrape off 15 tons and then put down 30 tons of the shale we use here from Bradford. Getting paid £150 plus petrol is nice but it�s not gonna solve things! Peter Oakes asked about all the costs here �cause he might think of taking over the licence. Maybe, I dunno? If it�s not the costs, you�d be amazed at everything that goes on! The council have a noise meter here. It�s radio signal controlled and takes a reading at every meeting!"
We move over to the small tea area in the pits where assistant track curator (to Glyn), Ian �Jacko� Jackson, joins us. Glyn asks, "It ain�t gonna freakin� rain is it?" �Jacko� doesn�t think that it will but, after he learns Glyn has been sick, anxiously quizzes him about what he�s eaten. "I left Manchester at 6 a.m. after me Weetabix and I�ve had a cup of coffee since, oh, and an apple." They�re in agreement that the amount of shale that disappears over the fence each week is criminal. During the season, �Jacko� has had discussions with the riders about the surface, "I did the track ultra slick and they complained! So the next week, I put more dirt on the track and the freakers were all over the place. They only moaned even more, so I just do what I want now and they�ll just have to cope!" Glyn shows me the giant roller that they have at Redcar and he�s proud to tell me just how well this bespoke, handmade piece of equipment performs. "The roller is my best invention! It�s a steel drum surrounded with tyres. It weighs two to three tons. There�s 100 gallons of oil inside the drums and remember that one gallon weighs 10 lbs." Talk of track preparation skill and expertise is a subject close to Glyn�s heart. "The track at Cardiff needs some serious attention. The money BSI make from Cardiff is amazing and none of it comes back to help the sport! I know the bloke in Australia who fills the stadiums for all sorts of events in Oz - he just did it with horses - and he wanted to take over the GP there. But they wanted 17 flown in first-class and put up in the Hilton. That was a minimum of £50k for starters, though it was never gonna happen." Talk of stadium income returns us to problems closer to home, "I sometimes wish we just rented the stadium. George English [at Newcastle] pays a good value rent per week and that�s it - no cleaning, no nothing! Oh well, the show must go on!"
While hugely concerned at the endless litany of costs you have to bear to run a Premier League speedway track, something that definitely still excites Glyn is working with his hands (and brain) to build things to solve specific and seemingly intractable problems. Later he proudly shows me a prototype of a "revolutionary silencer" that he�s developed. "I�m gonna make them slimmer and quieter. The present one is supposed to be 102 decibels but really it�s 112 decibels! Graham Reeve acknowledges that. My one is gonna be a lot quieter and slimmer and won�t cost as much. The bikes will go just as well, if not better!" Tonight�s visitors are Workington and Glyn remains hopeful that they might travel with a reasonable number of fans to the South Tees Motorsports Park, "An extra 50 people tonight wouldn�t solve things but it would help!"
I can place my display table wherever I like within the stadium grounds, so choose next to the hospitality portacabin with its raised balcony that overlooks the first corner but also provides a panoramic view of the track. On the other side of this temporary building, Richard McGlade works in his burger van and we chat about the need for a proper book on the exploits of the hooligans - known as the "Casual Firm" - that used to follow Middlesbrough football club in the 1970s. He doesn�t feel that Paul Debrick�s book The Brick really captures the full essence or glory of their activities. "He wasn�t as important as he claims he was!" Before the turnstiles open there�s a good-sized queue of fans and the car park beyond fills up remarkably quickly. One of the first fans to stop for a chat by my table takes an optimistic view of the likely attendance levels tonight, "I come at the same time every week and I had to park two rows further back in the car park than usual. Still, Workington often bring a few with them!" Eastbourne uber-fan, Sid Greatley, has travelled up for the meeting and even talks about going to Edinburgh the next day (although he doesn�t do so). He has always travelled widely to watch his speedway and, as ever, sports his shiny fluorescent blue Eagles anorak. He�s just retired ("they can�t do without me"), and optimistically believes that Eastbourne still might gain some silverware, "I reckon we�re going to make the play-offs!" Sheffield supporter Philip Brown has come along with his dad, Paul. Philip soon questions a recent blog posting where I take BSI/IMG to task for the usuriously low level of pay rates given to riders in the Grand Prix. It�s not a perspective he agrees with, "The FIM set the pay rates for the riders which has nothing to do with IMG or BSI! BSI are just good businessmen - so, if they maximise their revenues, it�s nothing to be criticised or be ashamed of! Speedway needs better stadiums to attract the fans!" I confirm to Philip that I still don�t buy the self-justifying argument put forward by BSI that erroneously claims quality of stadiums and stadium infrastructure will somehow automatically professionalize the sport, increase attendances or, even, automatically necessarily enhance the spectacle on the track. I note that the facilities at the Cardiff Millennium Stadium are excellent but, nonetheless, Cardiff remains a consistently poor track. Philip denies any relationship between track quality and the racing produced by indoor stadia, "Whilst at Gelsenkirchen, the riders said it was a good track but the racing was awful!" To my mind this confirms that temporary tracks built in deluxe stadia will, almost without exception, provide neither high quality or entertaining races. Philip�s dad, Paul, believes that speedway can learn some valuable lessons from basketball, "Promoters need to promote speedway to new people with discount offers and the like rather than one extra free meeting - like they had at Lakeside - which won�t bring them back to pay £15 each week. Basketball has been innovative and used discount vouchers to get people going regularly and hooked on the sport."
Because of the tight confines of the 271-metre banked STMP circuit, the racing often looks excitingly close. However, some sensitivity exists about this perception. Recently the club and local newspaper have been quick to strenuously defend their reputation against comments by George English that though the riders race close together there is "little or no passing". There�s precious little evidence of neck-and-neck racing in the rerun of the first heat, which sees Daniel Nermark win comfortably ahead of local fans� favourite, Gary Havelock, in a time of 53.2 seconds to equal the track record held by Ricky Ashworth. From the centre green, Redcar Director of Operations, Gareth Rogers, studiously talks up Benji Compton�s latent talent while the rider makes his way out onto the track for the second race of the night. "Well Benji got stuck in last night at Birmingham and his performance was appreciated by the 20 of so travelling fans stood in a little cluster there." This evening the fans take the chance to cheer Arlo Bugeja when he wins the second race. Keith McGhie ( Jon Cook sound-alike, club announcer and dead ringer for my dentist) relays the race results enthusiastically and gives Bugeja the expansive moniker of the �Adelaide Arrow�. Arlo often almost has more nicknames than points to his name. Keith also tells us, "The referee Jim Lawrence would like to commend John Branney for picking up so promptly on the pits bend!" Before the third race starts, Gareth returns to his overview of the previous night�s meeting at Birmingham and alludes to mechanical problems for James Grieves as a potential explanation for the Bears narrow single-point defeat at Perry Barr Stadium. The third race of the night (finally) features a passing manoeuvre from Joe Haines who blasts past Chris Kerr on the opening corner of the last lap. It�s a sight that exasperates the man in front of me, ("Ha�way Kerr!"). Redcar have two Australians in the fourth heat, the rider with the grandiose nickname (Arlo �Adelaide Arrow� Bugeja) along with Ty Proctor, whom Keith McGhie introduces as "The Thunder from Down Under" apparently unaware that Rod Stewart�s ex-wife Rachel Hunter used this very phrase to describe her orgasms. Ty does indeed thunder from the gate only to find himself soon passed by the experienced Carl Stonehewer on the back straight of the first lap. Ty returns the favour and regains the lead with a blast round the steep banking of the last bend at the end of the second lap. On the final lap John Branney suffers what Keith McGhie terms a "water to the eyes moment". Just as he cranks up his speed to pass Arlo Bugeja round the outside of the last bend, his progress is suddenly cut short when his chain suddenly snaps just at the moment he exits the bend to race towards the finish line. Branney does extremely well just to stay on his machine but gets, what my dad would euphemistically describe, as �badly winded�. The first four races have seen the teams alternate 4-2s and this prompts Keith to observe, "So that pendulum swings once again!" Over the tannoy, we learn that stock clearance has been dressed up as a generous discount offer by the track shop management: "Dave Rattenberry tells me that Bears Tshirts that usually retail at £9 are on special offer tonight at £5!"
A couple of surprising 5-1 race results then follow. Given his imperious form in the first race, you�d expect Daniel Nermark to comfortably win the fifth but, instead, he falls and, thereby, effectively gifts Grieves and Kerr their maximum heat advantage. In the next race, you�d be equally confident beforehand that local track expert and fans� favourite Gary Havelock would triumph. But, instead, he trails home a surprising third behind the Comets combination of Carl Stonehewer and hardworking reserve Charles Wright. It appears that no sooner does one team establish a narrow lead than the other team immediately takes it back again. This pattern continues unabated in heats 7 and 8 when Workington briefly burst back into the lead (for the third time in the meeting) only to find themselves pegged back after the subsequent race. Understandably heat 8 starts without John Branney, and Keith McGhie confirms, somewhat euphemistically, "We understand �winded� John Branney won�t be coming out in the next heat after he hurt himself nearly dismounting from his bike and is seeking medical attention!" Charles Wright replaces him but finishes last (his only fourth place of the night) watched by his mum Lynn, stood among the start-line crowd. You could almost set your watch by Lynn Wright�s attendance at any speedway meeting that features either of her sons ( James or Charles). Before this race, Master of Ceremonies, Gareth Rogers, dutifully talked up the delicately poised nature of the meeting, "It�s all getting very intriguing and exciting, as I said earlier!" Josh Auty wins ahead of Joe Haines after a very hard-fought corner that prompts Gareth to note, "There�s a great rivalry and competitive rivalry between these good friends!" No sooner have these words left his mouth than - as they reach the third and fourth bend of the warm-down �celebration� lap (lap 5) - Josh Auty dramatically decides to mete out his own justice to perceived aggressors. This takes the form of a sudden head butt for the yellow-helmeted Charles Wright. With bonhomie in short supply, this outburst of violent retribution forces a heartfelt but slightly schoolmasterly "Oh dear" from Gareth.
Workington have arrived at the STMP with a six-strong side and they run with rider replacement for Tony Reima (whom I�ve never seen ride and suspect could be a figment of Ian Thomas�s imagination). The experienced Comets trio of Nermark, Nieminen and Stonehewer all look extremely impressive around the banked circuit and they�re given good support by both Joe Haines and Charles Wright, though John �winded� Branney has (obviously enough) looked slightly out of sorts. Still first impressions often count for naught and, so this proves in heat 9, when the Bears Grieves/Kerr combination ram home their second successive maximum heat win to ease Redcar into their first lead of the night at 29-25. Personally, I would have expected ex World Champion Gary Havelock to then consolidate their lead in the next race but, instead, he�s well beaten by Kauko Nieminen, who rides with noticeable speed and grace. Wittily Gareth tells us, "Certainly Koko�s no clown!" Keith McGhie disapproves of Nieminen�s prompt return to the pits after his easy victory, "Opting again not to take your applause and congratulations!" Gareth decides to labour Keith�s earlier clich�d metaphor, "That old pendulum swings again" while, perched in the referee�s box, Keith obsesses about the "Hard but physical Kauko Nieminen".
It�s easy to wander round the STMP circuit and watch the meeting from different vantage points along the home straight or round the first corner. I find myself stood next to the friendly and knowledgeable speedway couple, Mandy and Keith Mason. Mandy has followed speedway in the Teesside area for many years and used to go to Cleveland Park. "I watched in the late �70s and early �80s. I was 14 when I first went in 1972 and we used to get the bus. I don�t think there was any one rider who was my favourite, maybe Steve Wilcox, but really all of them were my favourites! I tried to scrounge a lift off friends to away meetings and, ever since it reopened here, we�ve been coming back." If life is full of mysteries, then Keith Mason might not have all the answers but he�s keen to search them out. He definitely has the most incisive question of the night, namely: "Where are all the rakers?" Now that he�s pointed this out, it�s blindingly obvious that there are no raking skills on display at the South Tees Motorsports Park. Mandy is equally mystified by their absence, "We used to have them at Cleveland Park!" Given my conversation earlier with Glyn Taylor about lost shale, I expect any rakers would have to base themselves 10 yards back into the home-straight crowd to locate the shale that�s scattered there off the track during each and every race meeting. If rakers were based on the centre green, they�d be a further unnecessary expense and merely there for decoration rather than any real effect.
The imperious form of Kauko Nieminen and Daniel Nermark in particular suggests that the Workington Comets should be strong contenders for the 2008 Premier League championship. However, the 11th race of the meeting is to provide an immediate and serious dent in their championship ambitions. The race features Australian prospect Ty Proctor and the fast-riding racer in the distinctive orange kevlars, Daniel Nermark. The 31-year-old Swede has 3 points to his name and could well have more but for his heat 5 fall, when he comes to grief in pursuit of James Grieves of the Bears. For the first three laps of heat 11 we are served up some exciting race action and, as the riders hammer down the back straight of the final lap, Ty Proctor holds a narrow lead by virtue of his speed on the bike. Daniel Nermark is in hot pursuit and, at the point of maximum velocity on the back straight, his bike appears to clip Proctor�s back wheel. This causes Nermark�s bike to further accelerate and zoom fish-tailing onwards until it smashes into the third-bend fence to fling the luckless Comets rider into the air like the proverbial rag doll. The fence appears to buckle and warp upon impact, though it withstands the blow. Whether Nermark will be so lucky looks unlikely after his mid-air somersault has him land with full impact upon his head/neck. It is one of those genuinely horrific crashes when the quest for speed for our entertainment crosses a line to sharply throw into relief the mortality of the participants. People immediately start to run from the banked pits towards the stricken rider, while the medical staff (in dark clothes rather than fluorescent ones) run from the opposite direction. On the centre green, Gareth Rogers reacts quickly to exclaim, "We�ve seen what�s happened - Keith put some nice music on please!" It�s a thoughtful but also simultaneously peculiar request given that "nice" music will be necessarily in the ear of the beholder (and won�t distract Daniel Nermark from the pain of his injuries). After a brief delay for a suitable selection, Keith chooses to put on an R&B song. It blasts out over the loudspeakers and features the lyric, "It�s been the longest without you". In the stunned crowd, we collectively hold our metaphorical breath while riders, track staff and medical personnel fuss around the stricken Nermark. The ambulance waits ominously on the track. In the toilets two young boys excitedly discuss what they just saw, "He didn�t half hit that fence like!" "Yeah, he�s probably dead!" Outside a man on a mobile phone breathlessly relays a blow-by-blow account of the crash, "You�ve never seen anyone go so fast, he was absolutely full pace!" After a short delay, Gareth informs us, "Daniel is in a semi-conscious state. Obviously he has to go to the James Cook Hospital where they will assess him. Of course, he has a history of having broken both femurs but, at the moment, he�s not certain of what happened which is probably a good thing!" Redcar speedway fans are knowledgeable about their sport and remain relatively hushed as they patiently wait for further news of his injuries from the track. Keith McGhie intones a classic example of an informationless information message (that we�re usually bombarded with on public transport), "There�s a slight delay and we do, of course, appreciate your patience." Shortly afterwards Keith supplies some slightly more specific news, "It seems Daniel just about has movement everywhere but he is drifting in and out of consciousness. But, hopefully, his injuries aren�t as serious as we first thought!"
If the huge impact of the crash has knocked the stuffing out of Daniel Nermark then it�s also put a giant spanner in the works for Workington and, when the Bears race to a 4-2 in the rerun, it appears to have ended all likelihood of a Comets away win. With Nermark programmed to ride in heat 13 and also pretty certain to participate in heat 15, there�s need for an instant reply. Kauko Nieminen immediately provides this in heat 12 when he magnificently passes James Grieves on the back straight to gain the lead and go on to win the race. With John Branney third, Comets have a 4-2 heat advantage that reduces their deficit on the night to just 2 points and rests the score at 37-35. Over the tannoy, Keith McGhie conducts his own master-class in Dadaist slogans, "The phone from the pits does ring!" Mindful of the 10 o�clock curfew at South Tees Motorsports Park, the remainder of the heats are rushed through quickly.
Gary Havelock�s first win of the evening comes at a vital time in heat 13 and restores the Redcar lead to 4 points with two races to go. The penultimate heat only features riders aged below 25. It�s won by Joe Haines but the excitement is the battle for second place. Charles Wright stalks the multiple nicknamed Arlo Bugeja throughout and waits to chose his moment for a decisive blast round the outside of his rival on the back straight of the last lap. The Comets maximum ties the scores at 42 apiece and brings the meeting to a cliffhanger finale of a last-heat decider. If the fast-starting Daniel Nermark had still been fit enough to ride then, just like heat 13, the outcome would probably have been different. Nonetheless, even without him, the Comets field an impressive combination of Stonehewer and Nieminen but, once Grieves escapes at the start (and Havelock occupies third place) a home win is always going to be the likely outcome. This is duly confirmed when Havelock steals second place on the line from Stonehewer to emphasise that the Bears have seized the last-gasp advantage. The 47-43 scoreline flatters the home team but they have ridden their luck. Their determination over the vital closing heats gains a win that consolidates their mid-table position in the Premier League. While some of the crowd sprint for the exit to try and beat the rush from the packed car park, Keith McGhie continues to console us, "We apologise for the unscheduled delay tonight but accidents and injuries are outside of our control!" Sid Greatley marvels at how Nermark escaped without catastrophic consequences: "I thought he was dead, you know!"
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This article was first published on 10th December 2009
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