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A sport of speed and exhilaration....by David Hensby

Ryan Sullivan

Over the years of speedway racing right from its inception, it has caused a thrill inside spectators. Many different feelings are felt whilst watching a speedway race, butterflies, sweating, dry mouth, shaking, goose bumps etc.... similar to those when you get when you see your first love!

Love, of course is what drives humans and passion gives the thrills that we feel. Speedway racing is one of the few sports that uses all our five senses to complete our experience and also leaves us wanting more!

Over the 30+ years I have been watching speedway, I still to this day get goose bumps and butterflies when I hear and smell that distinctive smell of the Castrol R and Methanol mix. My love for the sport only grows bigger, and the envy and awe that I feel watching the top-performers riding right on the limit is without question, a real high!

Speedway has also changed over this time, the main things that reflect in the sport is the bike design. The engines now 'laydown' and the front forks allow better and smoother control. Engine size and capacity hasn't really differed, but the tuning and technology that now is available provides us with amazing increases of speed. Take for instance the lap record at the Wimborne Road track in Poole, was in late 70's - 67.2 secs, now it stands at 57.06secs - set by Ryan Sullivan in 2004! The track size is the same; the surface is basically the same, so how can a speedway bike go so much faster?

Some questions that come to mind:

  • Has the rider's skill level increased over time?
  • Is their attitude different today, with the higher pace of life we now live? Is this reflective upon their on-track performance?
  • How much has technology really pushed the riders?

    With this vast increase in speeds, how much has safety been increased to keep up with it? We still see many injuries that are either very serious or have taken a life, but these are becoming a lot rarer in the world of speedway. It is still a risk though, that every rider who straps on the steel shoe takes and knows, each time they enter the track!

    The elimination of concrete walls, wire fences and trackside overhanging lighting, has seriously reduced some hard spectacular crashes from a rider being carried off in an ambulance, to getting up and shaking it off! The introduction of air fences has dramatically assisted in this advancement. You will witness many a rider going flat out head-first into the air fence and walk away basically unscathed. An amazing invention that should I feel be mandatory at all speedway events!

    So, where do we see speedway going from here?

  • A sport that is growing in popularity worldwide is now producing many new countries, with new stars.
  • Technology is taking it to new levels that will lead to maybe new fuel types, engine materials etc.
  • Riders taking more risks with the added confidence in the safety measures in place.

    These all provide us with some issues surrounding the actual sport, but what about the tracks, promoters, local council rules - that's another story!


    This article was first published on 17th March 2006


  • Dudley Jones:

    "I have just read David Hensby's interesting article. I have been watching speedway for more than 40 years and I think that there is one aspect that he has missed - quality of racing. This depends very much on the track, Kings Lynn, Ipswich and Somerset are examples of good ones. However, the modern bikes may be faster, but does that make better racing? I first became aware, at the Golden Greats meeting at Coventry in 1988, that modern bikes did not mean better racing. In terms of entertainment, the riders of the 60's and 70's were much better racers. The meeting also contained then modern Division 2 racers, who tended to go wider and full throttle, but lacked the shoulder to shoulder stuff which kept me going back to the terraces at Norwich, Rayleigh and Ipswich. Ove Fundin, in his new biography, makes the point very clearly. I believe that we should take a tip from F1, and ensure that the bikes are the optimum racing machines, not the optimum speed machines. "

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