The Highs and Lows of the Incredible Methanol Men...
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? The sport is noisy, it’s super-competitive and unpredictable. And its stars aren’t show ponies. They are men of the people.
Away from the crowds and the July heat in the cool and cavernous air of the stadium, you find it impossible not to smile, watching the riders tearing round the track on their practice laps.
With the high compression roar and that gleaming orange track surface spraying against the crash barriers, there is something of the fairground about the spectacle.
And while the noise, colour and speed ignites memories of the Waltzer and the Wall of Death it also awakens Hollywood mediated images of the amphitheaters of Ancient Rome and their gleaming, breakneck charioteers.
There is something all-in and balls-out about the beautiful simplicity of this sport. Four Bikes. No gears. No brakes. Four Laps. Strategy: get past the guy in front and stay on your machine.
Forty thousand plus fans in Cardiff attest to its popularity right now but this was once a sport that saw over ten million fans attend across a British season. Yet this blue collar motorsports has a number of times in its history nearly dwindled into non existence.
To get some perspective here’s our rundown of the highs and lows of this motorised Ben Hur on methanol.
1923: An early version of speedway is born at the West Maitland Showground, New South Wales, Australia in an event organised by Jonnie S Hoskins.
1926/27: Speedway reaches Britain in print form only in the shape of articles in the popular motorcycle magazines of the day. Mental seeds are sown.
1928: The first accredited British Speedway meet is held at High Beech in Epping Forest. Probably attended by around 30,000 spectators it hit the front pages of the Nationals and kick started the sport in the UK.
1939-45: Like everything else in the country, the sport was heavily affected by WWII but it survived due to regular competition, even during those years, at Belle Vue in Manchester.
2016: The new National Speedway Stadium will be opened at Belle Vue Manchester with a Grand Prix style event. The stadium will be home to the Belle Vue Aces who have been racing continuously in Manchester for 87 years. It will also house a National Speedway Academy.
*There is still much debate about, and numerous claims to, the first ‘real’ speedway events both in Australia and England. In researching the above we have leaned heavily on the expertise and knowledge of Reg Fearman – former star rider, England team Manager and promoter.
Reg’s 2014 book ‘Both Sides Of The Fence’ is a great read, full of in depth historical information on the sport as well as no holds barred insider insights on speedway politics and characters over its turbulent history.
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