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Together in Electric Dreams
by Dave Green - 18/11/2005

The Way Forward?

After a few seasons of relative stability the sport of Speedway seems to be edging towards something of a crisis point this winter. The most recent blow is the revelation that Glasgow Tigers may be forced out of Ashfield on environmental grounds. It seems that residents of some newly constructed homes are unhappy with the sound levels emitting from Saracen Park each summer Sunday.

The Tigers have ridden in the residential area of Springburn since 1999, full planning permission having been granted in 2001 after a two season trial period. It always seemed an unlikely venue as tenement flats line the road outside the stadium and a housing estate is just along the road. Despite the presence of these residences the Tigers were granted permission to stage racing seven days a week. Now the Council have intervened and blocked further racing until noise levels can be reduced to acceptable levels, a virtually impossible task as things presently stand.

Noise has always been the number one bug-bear when planning applications for speedway tracks are made. Numerous stadia have been discounted immediately as it was clear that permission would never be granted, many other applications have been rejected out of hand by local councillors who were all too aware of the complaints local residents would make as soon as the first engine fires up. So can anything be done to reduce noise levels?

Some things have undoubtedly already been done, adding ever more effective silencers to bikes has been one initiative that has resulted in a reduction of volumes. Some tracks have also attempted to contain the sound by adding banking or acoustic boards to the periphery of their stadium. But is it time to look for a more effective long term solution?

I wonder if technological advances could entirely eliminate the noise nuisance that so many presently object to? This radical solution would require a complete move away from the methanol based engines we presently see on our tracks, these engines becoming worthless in the process. Our heroes of the dirt tracks would instead throw their leg over bikes running on electric motors.

Such a scenario will seem rather futuristic, and to an extent it is, but advances in electrically driven motors have been made in recent years and these will undoubtedly continue as the world looks for cleaner, more efficient ways to power vehicles. The Electric Motor Corp already offers an electric Moto-X bike that retails at around $7,500. The bike's top speed is only 40mph, not enough for speedway at present but not too far away from the top-end speeds we would require. The acceleration rate of 0-30 in 4 seconds isn't sufficient for our needs either, so clearly further development will be required before we could seriously expect to see Crumpy tearing round the track on a completely silent machine.

Speedway would undoubtedly suit electric motors more than most other motor sports. We need to power a light-weight machine, for short periods of time and at relatively low speeds. It would certainly be much more difficult to imagine the Superbikes series ever switching technologies.

I should also make it clear that I'm not a tree-hugger or an environmentalist with a personal agenda here. For many years I've owned, and continue to own, gas-guzzling performance cars that I drive at high-speed with little regard for the effect on the environment - I know that's wrong but I don't believe I'm any worse than the majority of the population. My only reason for advocating all-electric speedway is that I genuinely believe it could be a way forward for the sport.

So, what benefits would we see from swapping methanol for batteries? Well, firstly the noise elimination, as long as we keep the P.A. system low and don't cheer too loudly then no local council could ever block planning applications on the grounds of noise. Suddenly numerous new venues would become realistic prospects for aspiring promoters - we'd certainly be seeing the Birmingham Brummies back in action!

Secondly, we'd no longer be producing the fumes that limit the kinds of indoor venues we can currently use. New tracks could be built inside something akin to the light industrial units we see throughout the country, no sophisticated extractor fans would be required.

We're still years away from being able to consider a switch to electric motors, but if that point ever arrives, should we make the change? I'd certainly miss the roar of the engines that contributes a huge part to the speedway atmosphere, would it be the same without it? Probably not, would it be a worthwhile sacrifice if it meant we were seeing competitive racing in city centre venues? I'll leave that for others to decide.


  • Phil Fitzgerald:

    "A very interesting, albeit confronting, article by Dave Green. I've often pondered what will be of our beloved sport in 2050. I must admit the idea of silent and "methanoless" speedway does depress me. The romance of speedway I believe is largely due to its bombardment on the spectators' senses. Take the sound and smell away and suddenly your left with a somewhat sterile display."

  • Tony Mowles:

    "I think this is where we will end up sooner rather than later particularly if someone runs a few 'trial' meetings, word will get round councils that they could 'encourage' existing tracks to switch to the new bike format.

    The point that that speedway is more suited to electric motors seems to be lost on some people - personally I go to watch the racing and now the 'smell of speedway' has gone don't really care if the sound goes too."

  • Cary Cotterman:

    "Having just read Dave Green's proposal to equip speedway bikes with electric motors, I must conclude that, like Jonathan Swift with his proposal to use Irish children as a food supplement, Mr. Green is joking.

    While admitting that noise has become a problem for speedway with the encroachment of housing developmnets on stadia, I still lament the introduction of silencers in the mid-1970s. I think there's more to speedway than simply 'who finishes first'. The sport also has an aesthetic component, which includes the beauty of a rider sliding around a bend, the plume of shale issuing from his rear wheel (somewhat diminished today by shallow tracks and those funny little fender things on the back), the smell of fuel, oil, and damp shale, and not least of all -- the roar of those thoroughbred engines. It's nothing today like the music of the unmuffled JAPs and Jawas of old, but at least there's still something left.

    Electric motors will probably never be able to produce the torque necessary to spin the back wheel -- essential to speedway unless the tracks are to be paved and the technique to be changed to the Japanese style. One advantage, however, would be that a faster rider could come up behind a rival and shout 'get out of my way!'. On the other hand, riders would be able to hear insults yelled by spectators."

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