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Raking Over Old Coals
By David Pickles

Among the many interminable delays and boring moments now, are the track "repairs" after every 4 heats, carried out with a tractor or two. This combined with TV coverage, and the ridiculous start rules stretches a 15 heat meeting to well over two hours at most venues.

Fans of an older disposition will well remember the rakers at every track. There were usually 3 or 4 on each bend and the track was raked after each race with the aid of one or two laps of the tractor - the whole operation being done in around 1-2 minutes.

Contrast that with today and the track grading done by the tractor every four heats takes a minimum of 5 minutes, and sometimes longer. This adds to the frustration of the fans, especially those of us older ones who remember a 13-heat meeting and 7-heat second half all being wrapped up in usually less than two hours.

So, why not bring back the rakers? Combine that with an immediate "two-minutes" if there is a tape infringement, instead of the riders taking time galore to refill or "garden", and maybe fans might just enjoy an evening of entertainment without delays that seem like forever.


This article was first published on 11th September 2022

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  • Steve Haire:

    "Years ago I did raking at Rye House plus I doubled up at Hackney whenever there was a shortage of track staff. You were not paid but did get free entry, a programme and at the interval a cup of tea. From what I remember the rules were 5 minutes from the start of one race until the start of the next which would include any track preparation that needed to take place with only a extra time given if a rider had two rides on the trot, starting gate malfunctions or fence repairs.

    These days you have to wait for riders to go back to the pits after an unsatisfactory start, wait ages for any air fence repairs (old days you just put the kick board back).

    For us olduns who cannot get to watch live speedway the solution is simple, get a sky or virgin box and subscribe to watch speedway, that way you can live pause or record and watch at a time to suit you. I've been informed that you cannot do that if you stream a match which means you are back to watching them take two hours to run a meeting.

    These days I am quite happy to record the highlights of the British League matches (when they decide to show a league match) and Grand Prix's on Quest which ironically with the league matches, unless there's loads of re-runs or delays you get to see all 15 heats in an hour programme and I subscribe to Premier Sports to watch the Swedish (Tues &Thurs) and Danish (Wed) where even if there is a delay due to the weather they will still show all the match, even though you do tend to be watching the same riders in both leagues most of the times.

    Interesting enough for those who don't follow the Danish league they have 5 riders in a 14 heat format which makes it a bit awkward if somebody gets injured.

    Having moaned about all that Speedway is still a great sport. Perhaps they should take a leaf out of footballs pages and have a ladies speedway league, how many of us would watch that?"

  • Jim Henry:

    "I suspect the demise of rakers was to save on staff costs & free entries. I raked at Powderhall many years ago and I do think that rakers can refresh a surface in.very short time working with one track grader. Rakers have to forget about filling programmes and get out as soon as the last bikes go past.

    I do not think the multiple tractors etc move much dirt in towards the white line to be honest. Rakers are better on wet nights as they can get druse Shale on to the slick bits and shift any slop as needed. Might be worthwhile giving rakers a try again - you would only need two at each end if the flag marshals at each bend joined in."

  • Geoff Langley:

    "As a track raker of many years experience until the demise of Lakeside I feel I should clarify a few points in David Pickles article "Raking Over Old Coals".

    From the outset it has to be understood that modern high-revving engines do an enormous amount of damage to the track, compared to the old uprights. We now see great ruts appearing on the start line that just didn't happen years ago. The rules require the start marshal and referee to co-operate in ensuring that the riders get a "fair and equal start " so the riders are entitled to prepare their starting area. Just how much time they are allowed is up to the referee considering all the circumstances. Some referees are stricter than others and arguably there should be a few more exclusion for time wasting at the start.

    However if a rider is excluded that results in even more delay while he goes back to the pits and a reserve has to get his helmet and goggles on and get himself out to the start. Also, imagine what would happen if riders were not allowed to fil a few ruts in. One rider gets an advantage off the line and the fans are robbed of what might have been a decent race. It is a difficult problem with no easy answer.

    Next we have the problem of delays by riders going back to the pits after a restart. Again this is in the hands of the referee. It is in the referees power to put the two minute warning on straight away do but we forget those times and remember the delays. Sometimes there is good reason to allow more time. For example, if a race is stopped because of first bend bunching it is not a riders fault he has been knocked off, perhaps is a bit winded or needs to make minor repairs to his bike.

    That brings us to what I believe is the real reason for long drawn out meetings - there are too many crashes in modern speedway. Modern engines with narrow power bands are very volatile and unpredictable. I was talking to Olle Nygren a few years before he died. He said that in his day he reckoned to do about 100 meetings a season and only fall off once or twice. He said Briggs, Mauger and the others top riders were the same. Compare that to today and I think most riders would be lucky to go a few meetings without a crash let alone a season. I dont want to sound like an old fogey but I really agree with Olle Nygren that modern engines are much to blame for the demise of the sport. They are certainly responsible for the demise of team riding.

    I have been at meetings were it has taken 45 minutes to get through the first four or five races because of crashes. At Lakeside the flag marshals always doubled as track rakers. Safety requires meant we have two to each bend although we normally had three. I dont know wher ethe idea came from that they don't exist now, but maybe they are just not seen on TV. The safety rules are that rakers stand four metres behind the white line and in the event of a crash or stoppage the rakers should only go on the track when all the bikes are off and don't touch the fallen rider. The first aiders attend to the rider, the mechanics deal with the bike and the rakers deal with repairs to the track.

    Track rakers should go out between races to rake the dirt back, but there is a skill to it. As the dirt get sprayed to the outside by the bikes during racing we tend to leave on the outside on bends one and three, where the bikes are sliding into the corner and rake it back to the dirt line on bends two and four where the riders need grip accelerating out of the corner. The tractor usually brings the dirt back closer to the white line because he can do it more evenly than a raker.

    It takes a lot of skill for a track curator to prepare a good race track. Unfortunately there are not many really good track curators these days and it is a bit of a dying art, with detrimental effects on the quality of the racing. There is more to it than just driving a tractor round. Remember next time you see a decent track that the curator has probably been working on it long before the meeting starts and will still be there long after the fans have gone. As others have said, a great sport, but I think the best parts of it are behind us now. "

  • Jim Henry:

    "I disagree that a tractor drawing grader can draw more material to the white line than rakers. If you want a decent surface for every race you need rakers drawing in dirt before every heat and for it to be spread by a tractor drawn wire mesh grader. Two to three tractor laps between each heat. Tractors with blade graders, spinning wheel etc going out after every four laps cannot draw in and spread the same amount of shale as 4 rakers (6 at Berwick) going out after every race.

    The best dirt coverage by tractor is before heats 1,5,9,13 (and 15).The track progressively slickens off in the racing lines and dirt progressively builds up round the outside before 2,3,4 and so on.

    Being a hard grafting raker isn't a jolly. Raking after each race doesn't need to hold up / slow down a meeting. In fact I'd feel robbed if a meeting were over in an hour.

    As an aside, the time between races need to taken up by good presenters building up excitement between races. (Say) giving a summary of the meeting thus far and assessing who might do what in the upcoming race. They could encourage home and visiting fans to get behind their team and newcomers to join in and support a rider in the next race irrespective of team they ride for. In this way they might get caught up in on track action rather than just be bystanders who may feel left out of it. Maybe we need meeters greeters and explainers to help newcomers get the most out of their night."

  • Steve Brown:

    "I totally agree with Jim Henry's comments. We've had this discussion on the British Speedway Forum several times, and it disturbs me how many people seemingly want a meeting finished in less than an hour! I used to drive all over the country to watch speedway, and I wouldn't have wanted to do a seven hour round trip for a 45-minute meeting! I also liked Jim's comments about "meeters, greeters, and explainers", as it would certainly help newcomers to the sport to feel involved."  


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