Book Extract: A World of My Own
IT IS a tough, demanding gig but Jason Crump has started the 2006 season in a manner which suggests he is again going to be a front-running contender for world championship honours.
He has also attracted plenty of acclaim for his newly-published life story A World of My Own, co-written with Australia-based journalist and former promoter Martin Rogers.
In this edited excerpt from the book, which is already breaking sales records in England and Europe, Jason discusses the demands of the hectic schedule which confronts the modern Grand Prix rider .
IN AMERICA, baseball and basketball players are out there doing their thing four or five times a week. Not many other sports demand so much of the participants, but speedway riders are able to identify with that sort of schedule. At the height of the season I might ride half a dozen times in a week in three or four different countries. It's a hectic and sometimes exhausting lifestyle. But then, at 6.30 or seven o'clock when it's time to compete, I just put on my race face and my weariness goes away for a while.
When the Grand Prix series is in full swing it's flying followed by practice followed by the race and back to the airport again. A successful season in England can involve 50 or 60 meetings. Then there are around 20-odd trips to Poland and Sweden during the year. I've been to Prague 30 times but, though people say it's one of the most beautiful cities in the world, I've never seen the sights. But there should be time for that later. My wife Mel and the kids get glimpses of some of the exotic locations because we've made it a habit to treat the GPs as our opportunity to travel as a family. It will be great to go back to some of those locations in a few years' time and have a proper look around.
In the meantime, it's business as usual. It would be a mistake to look too far ahead because in sport you never know what might happen next. My game plan for the start of 2006 was never going to be much different from previous years. I want to win the world championship. I hope to be capable of challenging for a few years yet.
The fact that Tony Rickardsson has announced that it will be his last season before he moves on to four wheels isn't going to affect my mindset too much, other than to say that this probably will be the last chance of beating him.
But nothing is for ever. Rickardsson starts 2006 level with everyone else on no points. If he performs this year as he did last, he'll be the benchmark again, but hey, several of us will go into the season determined to show that he can be beaten, that he's just another guy, that maybe it's time for a changing of the guard.
I have learned not to get too far ahead of myself. It's one step at a time. This year is yet another season in which, hopefully, a lot of little steps may take me to where I want to be. I'm encouraged by the thought that last season, things went a lot better for me in the later GP rounds, and need to focus on that. You win things by getting your own act together. Get that right and the consequences can take care of themselves.
At a club level, I am very keen to win a few more titles. We went so close at Belle Vue last year, winning the KO Cup and being pipped in the play-off final after being the team to beat in the league.
Going to Belle Vue was a challenge. There is so much history about the place, several of the best riders of all time have ridden for the Aces, and I would like to think I can do a job for them on par with all those other world champions.
I don't have any real recollection of the Hyde Road track and what you can see on video or DVD doesn't necessarily convey the full picture. A lot of the fans there still love to reminisce about how it was when Ivan, Peter Collins or even before them, Peter Craven ruled the roost.
Fortunately, the success we started to enjoy last season means that an increasing number of fans have a current team to excite them rather than having to rely on past memories. They happen to think that what's going on now is as good as it gets and I'm with them.
John Perrin battled for years to give the people of Manchester what they wanted and there were a lot of reasons why it didn't happen for him as he would have hoped. He was a straight shooter who I must say was very good to me, always backed me 110 per cent in any and every situation, and riders appreciate having a promoter like that.
Tony Mole has been responsible for reviving and resurrecting more tracks than it's decent to recount, but you sense he is getting as much pleasure from the Belle Vue revival as anything else he has done in the sport in the past. And if an owner is going to put his trust in an experienced promoter to front the show, they don't come much more canny than Ian Thomas.
Sure, I have a two and a half hour trip just to home meetings but no complaints about that, the place suits me in so many ways. The fans are good, they want access and that's understandable, but not being based in the city or even nearby does give me and the family the breathing space and privacy we like and to which we are all entitled. It can be quite different in Poland, which often tends to be pretty hectic. The fans are there in such numbers and they do like to get involved. It's definitely inspirational if you have several thousand of the crowd cheering for you and it has the ability to be a bit intimidating if you are at an away track and there's a close-to-unanimous disapproval rating going on. But whether they are for you or against you, the Polish speedway fans love to be entertained. If you put on a real show, they appreciate that. They've had a tough history, they appreciate people who put themselves on the line and for the most part the energy and excitement that's generated at meetings there is something special.
Riding full-time in three leagues, as I did for several years, is a huge commitment. Particularly with my GP ambitions in mind, it is something I simply did not want to continue to do indefinitely. Some people think you can lock into automatic and keep on doing the business day in, day out, in one country, then another, without a break. It's not as simple as it appears.
I am fortunate to have a great set-up, people around me who help organise my affairs, keep my schedule in order, make sure everything is ready to go on any given day of the week. But I've felt better since scaling back in Sweden and cutting my meetings from around 100 a year to something like 80-odd. And I'm certain it has helped me as far as the world championship is concerned.
As things stand, I enjoy racing in Sweden as much as I have done in the past, but if I was going to cut down on my schedule, this was the league which had to go. It suits me very well to do a limited number of meetings there and Bo Wirebrand at VMS Elit has been able to accommodate my wishes and still serve the best interests of his club.
Obviously if they are involved in a particularly important phase of the season and want me to do an extra meeting here or there, then I am going to do the best I can to help. But it's not smart to do someone else a favour if it can rebound on you and you end up doing yourself a disservice.
That might sound selfish, and to an extent it is, but that's the nature of elite sport. Don't forget, though, that a lot of people invest a great deal of time and effort into giving me the best possible chance of achieving my goals and it's only right that their take on it has to be considered as well.
As long as I am with the Aces, though, it's always going to be a tricky one to do the Swedish League on any sort of regular basis. There are plenty of good reasons for doing Poland - I'm riding for Wroclaw this year - and after going to and from for a while, Belle Vue have made Monday nights their own. That means backing up on Tuesdays a big ask. There's Poland every Sunday - sometimes arriving from a Grand Prix, other times flying out of England on the Saturday and stopping over in Copenhagen before completing the trip next day. Then there is the return trip to Manchester, as often as not getting in there in the afternoon and grabbing half an hour's rest before going off to race. You can never reckon to be back home and in bed before midnight and more often than not it's 12.30 or later.
When I was doing Sweden on a regular basis it was a case of setting the alarm for seven in the morning, off to the airport again - and rocking up at Norrkoping or some other track about six feeling like doing almost anything but getting on a bike to race. It is too easy to end up knackering yourself, failing to turn in the performances you expect of yourself and others expect of you, and it was getting out of order. Of course we have a limited career span, there always is the temptation to take every opportunity you can, but in the final analysis it wasn't doing me or my speedway any good,. I am sure it knocked some of the edge off me during the Grand Prix campaigns and honestly, I'd rather be doing 80 meetings and feel keen about all of them rather than doing 100 and wishing I was somewhere else on perhaps 30 per cent.
A lot of people who have to go to work five days a week probably think that pampered, overpaid sports stars shouldn't complain about their lot, and that's fair comment. It doesn't mean to say, though, that we should be held prisoner 24/7 by the expectation of the public or officials . It was no coincidence that the consistency and the staying power which got me to the world title at last coincided with the first year in something like seven or eight seasons in which I hadn't chased every meeting. The fact that I won in 2004, after some near misses and many years of trying, doesn't make me any less keen to show that I can do it again. Maybe you have to give up a world title to fully appreciate what it means to win one.
The whole point of racing speedway at the highest level is to expose yourself to the toughest test of skill, character and staying power. Negotiate one hurdle, there will be another one along in just a minute. Pass one test, then prepare for the next. And if at first you don't succeed, then you need tio do whatever it takes to sort yourself out and then come back for more, positive, focused and energed and with your attitude - and appetite - even stronger.
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