"Just a minor correction, but Bill didn't leave for the UK in 1965, as at that point he was a neighbour of my family in London. He might have visited Australia in 1965 but he was back in London after that date, I know as he taught my mum to drive, when we were living in Brockley. He left circa 1968 and I visited him and Kay in the Sunshine Coast around 2002. He visited the UK once in the 1980's when Kay wanted to visit a relative in Rumania. This was an Iron Curtain country at the time, and the visit distressed Kay greatly. He had a scrapbook that had a cartoon in the UK Times of him racing, with an image of Hitler complaining that Bill was getting more attention than him.. which I think was from 1938. "
"An excellent article. A lot of the points I would concur with. I also attended the Cardiff Grand Prix and the British final. One was very poor entertainment and the other was as good a meeting as I have seen. I will give you a few observations from my time watching speedway, my first match was 1975.
The first is that most fans in all sports are only casual supporters. I think speedway has lost 95% of its casual fans. I think this is one of the main reasons for the decline. Looking at cricket as a comparison. There are an awful lot of fans who are only interested in winning and have very little interest in the detail of cricket. For example I attended a 20 20 cricket match last summer. The entertainment in my opinion was very poor, a one sided game, no contest between bat and ball, team A won because they scored a few more boundaries than the other. I was a long way away, could see little, no interest in drinking and I was totally bored.
Another example I can point to, this time speedway. I attended a match between Peterborough and Edinburgh. A hard fought match with the Monarchs just winning. Lots of overtaking on a very good track. The majority of Panthers fans did not enjoy the match. A fair few probably stopped going because their team could no longer win the league.
My first season was 1976 when I watched Birmingham. The team was poor and so were results, the entertainment though was excellent. Crowd levels dropped a lot from the previous year when the Brummies were winning the league I suspect that I am in a minority (probably a large minority) but look for good racing.
I have been to Belle Vue and I have never seen a bad meeting. The key to me is good track preparation, where the two racing lines inside and outside should have equal opportunity. I have been to a lot of tracks where first out of the gate always wins. I went to Coventry a lot in the late 70's and saw some very boring racing. The team was doing well and crowds were good. What does that say?
The plus points to speedway are:
* On most tracks you can see 100% of the racing
* Most other sports are better on the television, cricket especially.
Some items that I think have caused the decline:
* Lack of atmosphere - Cradley v Birmingham and Coventry v Wolves derbies, to mention a couple were very good
Loss of local newspapers - during the 70's the coverage at Birmingham was brilliant, full back page spread most weeks. As a casual fan you could not miss it. The decline of the Birmingham Evening Mail I am sure prevented the Brummies from attracting casual fans. On the plus side the Express and Star coverage of the Wolves is excellent so casual people in the area still know there is speedway, not the case in Birmingham in my view.
* Loss of Saturday night is massive. Certainly if Belle Vue raced on a Saturday night it would encourage me to go, travelling back over an hour on a Monday just takes too long
* Loss of Terrestrial television - Football just takes over and Cricket has also suffered. May be worth trying to get a highlight package on ITV4.
* Loss of the stars - Everybody had heard for example of Ivan Mauger and Kenny Carter. Very few know Tai which is very sad.
Some items that may improve things:
* Given the limited fixture list I see little point racing in March and October. During June, July and August try and race once a week. Although this is unusual, no other sport expects customers to come every week.
* Look to have the British final with all British riders. Belle Vue may be too small. Try Bradford and pay Tai and Robert the money they want.
* Look to have a couple of major individual meetings on a Saturday during the summer. Try Belle Vue, get all the best riders, it will be a gamble.
* Look to have something above the premiership. Only the really well supported teams, perhaps four teams. Home and away, very high limit. At least three GP riders per team. Try to get it on a Saturday. Charge say £30, get it on television as well.
* Don't stop races and warn riders, just let them carry on and at the end of race just exclude them. Will soon stop riders trying to cheat. Nobody wants to see a drawn out heat. Technology would improve the issue. Same as athletics, if they react to soon exclude.
* Covers for tracks. I know it would not prevent all rain offs but it would stop the track been unfit due to rain for days before. If my local cricket team can afford covers then so can speedway. Nothing worse than driving to see a track which is unfit and it is not raining. "
"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. "