"Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. The Adrian Flux FIM British Speedway Grand Prix. The place is packed to the rafters. It’s clear to see that speedway today has a large and loyal following. And why not? What’s not to like? "
Meet Richard Clark, editor of the world's leading speedway mag...
What do you think is the ongoing appeal of speedway as a motorsport?
The speed and the danger aspect are ever-present as part of its appeal, but one of the sport’s greatest assets is being able to see the whole race, and it’s over in a minute or so. If there’s a processional race, no problem, there’s the chance of something better in the next few minutes. And speedway fans are lucky in that their heroes are, almost without exception, very approachable and friendly. The team/individual contrast in the sport is also quite unique. Fans readily identify with their local team, but can also follow their favourite rider in pursuit of individual success.
How does today’s speedway scene compare with earlier eras?
Difficult to make direct comparisons. Today’s bikes are certainly much faster than of yore, and the advent of air fences have made tracks a lot safer than they were in the ‘bad old days’ of greyhound lighting pylons lurking immediately behind wooden safety fences. Some purists bemoan the loss of the one-off World Final, when Wembley Stadium would welcome crowds of 70,000-plus. But the Grand Prix series, initially introduced in 1995, has largely gone from strength to strength and is highly unlikely to throw up a ‘shock’ World Champion over 12 or so rounds. Like many other aspects of modern life, the sport has seen better days as regards attendances, it would be good to see someone like Tai Woffinden start to attract a young element on the terraces once more.
Does the forthcoming ‘national speedway stadium’ at Manchester herald a refreshed future for the sport?
It’s certainly a major step forward. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the site fairly recently and interview David Gordon and Chris Morton, the two main instigators behind it. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and when you look at the plans, and go round the site, the enormity of the thing hits you. But it is very important for the sport as a whole to embrace it. Many have argued that promoters of yesteryear missed an opportunity when they could have turned Coventry into a national stadium and centre. Now, the opportunity is within British Speedway’s grasp once again. And it’s vital they grab it.
How has Tai Woffinden influenced the current scene?
Greatly. He’s an amazing natural talent on a speedway bike, and very savvy about what’s required off-track. He seems prepared to try and ‘do his bit’ to help further the sport’s cause in this country, which is refreshing, and could yet prove to be his biggest influence. But his greatest attribute now is he’s already box office. This year’s Cardiff proved that if you were in any doubt. And, unlike what passes for box office in certain other sports, Tai really does deliver, and the fans love him for that. Like many of his contemporaries, he seems to be completely fearless and lacking in nerves, something us mere mortals can only marvel at. As for pain threshold…superhuman! A true champ. And I know Dad Rob’s looking down as proud as Punch.
Tell us about your personal experience in the sport – what are your greatest memories from a life in speedway?
There are just so many. I’ve been lucky to watch the sport in America, Austria, Australia, Germany, Czech Republic, Denmark, Italy, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, and, of course, Britain. I’ve interviewed most of the greats, certainly most World Champions since 1975 onwards and, as I said earlier, what always strikes you is how approachable most of them are. I’d like to think I’ve become friends with some, speedway really is like one big family and the fans, in general, really know their stuff, too. Amongst personal highlights are being there when Britain’s Michael Lee (1980), Gary Havelock (1992), Mark Loram (2000) and Tai Woffinden (2013) were crowned World Champions. Sometimes, it’s almost felt like a surreal existence. You do have to pinch yourself when you’re suddenly chatting to an Ivan Mauger, Tony Rickardsson, Barry Briggs, especially having paid my apprenticeship as a 12-year-old fan!
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