The Weymouth Wildcats
The Dorset town of Weymouth first staged Speedway as long ago as the 4th of August 1954. Now 49 years on, the sport will return to the town as the Weymouth Wildcats race back into action at Radipole Lane. Congratulations are due to Brian White who, after several false starts, appears to have succeeded where many have failed in the past - he's reopened a Speedway.
Although the first action in Weymouth was in 1954, the Weymouth Wildcats weren't born until 1978. In the seasons preceeding that they had raced under a variety of different names. These were, in chronological order, Scorchers (1954-1955); Royals (1962-1965); Eagles (1968) and Wizards (1974-1977). The significant number of 'missing' years in the above list gives an indication of the stop/start history of the sport in the town. The teams were also remarkably unsuccessful. A quick check of the record books shows that the highest league position achieved by these sides was ninth. The year in question was 1968 when the Eagles competed in the inaugural British League Division 2 - the league that year consisted of 10 teams!
The Wizards became the Wildcats during the 1977/1978 winter. The man behind the change of moniker was Len Silver. Len was a man who promoted at many tracks under the banner of Allied Presentations. The change of name was a conscious effort to disassociate the new promotion from those that had preceded it. Len also spent a significant sum in improving the stadium and the team. The team was certainly better than in previous years and climbed from 17th(of 19) in 1977 to 13th(of 20) in 1978. The improvement can be largely attributed to the progress made by Danny Kennedy and Sean Wilmott, along with the introduction of the experienced Malcolm Shakespeare.
Brian Constable became promoter in 1979 but was still representing the Allied Presentations company. The team fell away again and ended up second bottom of the 19 strong table. The loss of Kennedy and Wilmott proved too difficult to overcome. Brian Woodward, a Wizard back in 1975, returned to lead the side but the tail was just too long. Crowds were also poor throughout the campaign and the closure of track was announced at the end of the season.
One man who could not accept that was Phil Lock. Lock had played a key backroom role in the 1979 operation and sought out a new owner for the club. Local businessman Mervyn Stewkesbury was brave enough to take on the club and the team raced on into the eighties.
The 1980 team building looked impressive on paper as Martin Yeates and Chris Pusey were recruited. Yeates had left the club after a successful season in 1976 but had never made the expected impact in the first division. His return was a massive boost as he was a guaranteed big scorer and raced to an average in excess of nine points a match.
The success of the Yeates was offset by the disappointing performances of Chris Pusey. The veteran had missed out entirely on the 1979 season but had been a solid middle order scorer in the British League (Div 1) the previous season. It was envisaged that a rider of his calibre and experience would clean up in the National League, an end of season average just short of six points a match was disappointing in the extreme.
A promising newcomer in that 1980 season was a 19 year old called Simon Wigg. 'Wiggy' had a good pedigree on the grass tracks but had never had a serious crack at a Speedway career. A 10 point return in his fourth meeting was an indication of the good things to come. He managed an end of season average in excess of six points a match and, as we know, was to go on to achieve great things in the sport.
Despite the efforts of Wigg and Yeates the season was not notable for any great team success. The team remained in the lower reaches of the table but the future of the club looked more secure than it had for several years.
The 1981 season was, in retrospect, probably the highlight of the Wildcats short life. The team finished second in the table that year and attendances were also on the rise. On track the Wildcats were strong from top to bottom. The team was led by Wigg and Yeates who both achieved ten point averages and between them picked up an astonishing 26 maximums (19 full). The team also featured the aforementioned Woodward and Shakespeare who also maintained averages in excess of seven points. The team handed out some real hammerings - Workington left Dorset with only 15 points and, despite having home advantage, Scunthorpe only managed 26!
The victory at Scunthorpe was achieved without the services of Les Rumsey. The balding Rumsey was signed from Wolverhampton in June and proved to be another high scorer. He was the third Wildcat to end the season with a double figure average - a rare, if not unique, feat.
Rumsey and Yeates were retained for 1982 as was, surprisingly, Simon Wigg. With those three in place nothing less than a strong title challenge was envisaged. Unfortunately Rumsey's form collapsed and Yeates was not quite the force of the previous season. Wigg was better than ever and helped himself to 19 maximums as the season progressed - his last in lower league racing. Wiggy also made the first of his many appearances in a British Final, he was the first Weymouth rider to ever represent the club in that particular meeting.
One of the key contributors in that 1982 campaign was Steve Schofield. The tiny racer had made steady progress in the previous couple of years and broke through to heat leader status that term. He later became a legend along the coast at Poole. The team finished in fifth place, albeit fifteen points behind winners Newcastle. The Wildcats did not however end the season trophy-less - Wigg and Yeates combined to win the National League Pairs at Swindon.
Wigg had moved on by March 1983 but a new recruit, Simon Cross, followed the same fast track to success. He didn't celebrate his 18th birthday until May but he scored plenty of points throughout the year. His progress was remarkable and in June he teamed up with Yeates to retain the pairs championship. Simon's career as a Wildcat was restricted to that single season, he moved on to race against the 'big boys' the following term.
The team enjoyed another successful year as they finished fourth in the league and lost out, by a single point, in the KO Cup final. Yeates was back to his very best in '83 and played a colossal part in a great year for the club.
The Wildcats last season was in 1984. Cross and Schofield moved on during the winter but newcomers David Biles and Alun Rossiter took their places. Rossiter had some previous experience with Exeter while Biles had come through the ranks. Both posted healthy averages in filling the second and third heat-leader berths. Rossiter enjoyed a good career in the years ahead but Biles retired before fulfilling his potential. The team finished 13th of 16 teams, their worst position in a number of years.
Martin Yeates was perhaps at the very peak of his powers that season and made good progress through the World Championship Qualifying Rounds. He eventually went out at the Overseas Final stage, the first National League rider to ever go that far.
Crowds had never been great at Radipole Lane and rumours of the impending sale of the stadium were rife, it therefore wasn't a huge surprise when talk of relocation surfaced in early 1985. Near neighbours Poole Pirates had gone into liquidation during that winter and had withdrawn from the British League. Mervyn Stewkesbury, the Wildcats promoter since 1980, saw a chance and took it. He moved the Wildcats to Poole and rechristened the side the 'Poole Wildcats'. The town of Weymouth had lost its Speedway team.
This article was first published on 26/07/2003
"Danny Kennedy was my hero and my cousin. What a great rider for Australia and The POOLE PIRATES 78-82. WE STILL THINK OF YOU."
"A legend and a star, my uncle, to always be rememered and never once forgotten. Always talked about, to ride jawa at full throttle."
|Please leave your comments on this article