The Pain of the Rain
Whatever happened to the once casually 'lugged about' speedway phrase 'He's good in the wet?' What modern day speedway riders can you confidently brand wet track riders? The introduction of air fences certainly hasn't encouraged top flight riders to brave the wet conditions, so why is it that the rain now plays a larger role in speedway than ever before?
Is the rain a scapegoat for many riders' true feelings? Does even the slightest drop of moisture reveal the lack of passion, and furthermore uncover the business characteristic, of being a top class speedway rider? And what has the sport in Britain done in the last ten years to actually confront the problem of rain? Where are the covers, the dry shale and the impetus to overcome adversity? How are we going to keep Sky Sports on our side when Formula 1, Motocross, Moto Gp and most other forms of motor sport can manage to operate in the wet? Why are we so fragile, flimsy, negative and quick to admit defeat?
The ELRC had the makings of a fantastic evening's entertainment. Some careful planning had made sure most of the top names were present and, despite a slight shower shortly before the off, everything looked set for a cracking night. It's fantastic for the sport staging a prestigious meeting like the ELRC in front of a big Easter Sunday audience with a prime time slot on Sky Sports 2. After six fairly decent races, which included some classic passes from Mark Loram and a slab of controversy courtesy of Hans Andersen, things were shaping up nicely. The track seemed to be improving and there was certainly no sign that any rider was struggling to adapt to the conditions. Lap times weren't phenomenally quick but they certainly weren't slow so it was a surprise when the track action took an abrupt halt after heat six. The following thirty minutes for any passionate speedway fan was horrendous, all the sport's darkest secrets were vividly splattered in front of a critical Sky Sports audience.
A psychologist would have thrived on the tension, animosity and ambiguity between riders, officials, fans and television pundits.
The riders were visibly weighing up the options, trying to subtly convey their true feelings through polite smiles and fake camaraderie. What was running through their minds? Maybe Poland the next day, would the meeting over run and therefore cause them to miss their flight? Or perhaps some were considering the opening round of the GP series a week down the line. During the Sky TV Coverage the jovial Steve Johnston, whilst being interviewed, joked that real Speedway fans were extremely resilient. This is undoubtedly very true and it's that group of supporters that every week during the season will follow the sport regardless. They're the backbone that pay the riders wages, the ones that allow individuals like Johno to make a living riding a motorcycle. Shouldn't they therefore be treated with slightly more respect?
It's not this hardcore, glutton for punishment, bunch that needs to be persuaded about the sport's entertainment value. What about the first time viewer? What would they have thought about a damp track, slight drizzle and a rabble of riders? I hate watching speedway gruesomely humiliate and shoot itself in the foot in front of thousands of people. To watch something in which you passionately believe unnecessarily degrade and destruct itself in the most farcical circumstances makes you wonder why you bother. Why am I writing this article? Why will I continue to closely follow a sport that is so horrendously disjointed? Because I know it's worth it, so do you. Try persuading the unsympathetic Joe Public, who reached for his remote and navigated away from Sky Sports Two on that Sunday evening, that this summer our sport could provide him with a fantastic night of entertainment.
This article was first published on 4th May 2006
"I feel not only should the riders be more commited, promoters should be covering tracks for big meetings and the old excuse 'it makes the track sweat' can be prevented by suspending covers from the top of the safety fence. I have been supporting speedway since 1964 when Newport opened at Somerton Park and hate to see what's going on now. It was good to see riders who were good in the wet, let's hope common sense prevails."
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