The Non-Essential Guide to....Skegness Speedway
|Brett Woodifield in action for Skegness Braves|
When was speedway first staged in Skegness?
The track first opened in 1997 under the promotion of Peter Oakes and Sarah Gudgeon. Oakes and Gudgeon were already actively involved in the sport as they promoted the Peterborough Panthers in the Elite League and the Peterborough Thundercats in the Amateur (Conference) League. They wanted to field a team in the middle league also, thus allowing riders to progress their careers under a single promotion. They initially looked at Yarmouth Stadium but felt there were already too many other activities taking place there, so they turned to Skegness.
Where did the team race?
They raced at the stockcar stadium in Skegness. The initial plan was to build a small circuit inside the existing stockcar track, something along the lines of the famous Costa Mesa circuit in America. However, agreement was later reached with the stadium owners to convert the tarmac stockcar track to a shale circuit that could be user by both sports. Riders David Nix and Andy Giddings were both involved in the construction of the track and facilities.
What was the team called?
The team was christened the Skegness Braves and was sponsored by Lamberts Transport. Richard Hellsen the former Swedish international was the team manager.
Who rode for the Braves?
The team was led by first-season Aussies Brett Woodifield and Nigel Sadler. Both were still in their teens but were marked down as riders of considerable potential. Woodifield had ridden in the Swedish leagues in 1996 and seemed certain to be a big scorer at Premier League level. The full side on their maiden appearance, in a 55-34 defeat at Hull on 25/03/1997, was: Brett Woodifield; Paul Clews; Nigel Sadler; Wayne Carter; John Wilson R/R; Jon Underwood and Gavin Hedge. Woodifield was excluded on the two-minute time allowance in heat one, a rather inauspicious start. Wayne Carter was the Braves first ever heat-winner when he took the chequered flag in heat five.
When was the first meeting at Skegness?
The track opened on 13th April 1997 when an individual meeting, the Central Lincolnshire Trophy, was staged. Jan Pedersen won the opening race in front of around a thousand spectators. Brent Werner of Long Eaton won the meeting with an impeccable fifteen point maximum.
What about the first home meeting for the team?
That followed on the 20th of April. Unfortunately it was a bit of a disaster as the visiting Long Eaton Invaders triumphed by sixty points to thirty. Not the kind of result a promotion would have wanted to open a new track. Sadly the young home side lacked the experience or home track knowledge required to get the better of a quality side like the Invaders.
Did it affect crowds?
Yes to an extent, as did cruel weather that forced the cancellation of three of the early meetings at the track. The club was under pressure to complete their Premier Trophy fixtures and had to resort to staging a double-header to ease the fixture congestion - a financial blow the club could have done without. In fact the fixture problems became so bad that the club's 'home' meeting against Oxford was staged at Peterborough. Crowds were poor and the promotion decided that they had to cut their losses and decided to look into relocating the club elsewhere. The fifth and last meeting they staged at Skegness was against Arena Essex on the 29th of May.
What happened next?
They considered moving their entire operation to either Mildenhall or to St. Austell. Neither venue ultimately proved suitable so they turned their attention to the Isle of Wight. Speedway had drawn reasonable crowds on the Island since the Wight Wizards, an amateur league club, were launched the previous year. It was decided to test the water by staging the Braves' four team qualifying round on the Island with a view to moving there if it looked to be financially viable.
How did the experiment go?
It was largely inconclusive. A crowd of 900 turned up, lower than the numbers that had been attracted to some Amateur League encounters, and with the greatly increased operating expenses the figures didn't seem to add up. After a few weeks consideration it was eventually agreed that the Braves would move to the Island, thus ensuring that the riders stayed in work. The team was rechristened the 'Isle of Wight Islanders' and ran in parallel with the existing Wight Wizards team. This arrangement persisted until the end of the season when Oakes and Gudgeon withdrew, after suffering heavy losses, and a consortium was formed to take over the club.
So, was that the end of the Skegness story?
Surprisingly, no. Former Boston promoter Cyril Crane expressed interest in the venue and felt that it could support Conference League speedway. He worked closely with Stephen Lambert, the initial sponsor of the Braves, and negotiated the rights to run speedway at the stadium. He was joined in the promotion by Alan Hodkinson, James Easter and Stephen Blyth.
How did the new team fare?
Initially very well. Their first appearance was at Buxton on 3rd May 1998 and they won by 60 points to 30. The team lined up as follows: Peter Boast; Mark Blackwell; Lee Dixon; Jason McKenna; Simon Wolstenholme; Darren Smith and Freddie Stephenson. Wolstenholme and Boast were both unbeaten. Later results however were not as good!
How did their first home meeting go?
Badly. The start of the meeting was delayed as remedial work was performed on the safety fence, all of this being witnessed by a crowd of around 600. Mildenhall were the visitors and won by 48 to 40. Young Oliver Allen led the scoring for the Fen Tigers. The match took place on 24th May 1998.
Were subsequent meetings more successful?
The next meeting saw the Braves defeat King's Lynn Jousters in a challenge match. Unfortunately the circuit was a dust bowl, hardly conducive to attracting newcomers to the sport. The third and final meeting, on June 7th, saw the visiting St. Austell Gulls win by 51 to 38.
Third and Final?
Yes, although nobody knew it at the time, that meeting was the last to ever be staged at Skegness. The honour of last heat winner going to Steve Bishop of the Gulls. The meeting the following week, a qualifying round for the riders' championship, was postponed due to wet weather. Meantime the situation at the stadium was becoming difficult as reconstruction work was interfering with the smooth operation of the speedway. As a result the promotion decided to make a 'temporary' switch to King's Lynn with the intention of returning to Skegness before the end of July.
What happened next?
Crowds at King's Lynn proved to be reasonable and it made financial sense to stay there. The reputation of the sport in Skegness had been damaged by the meetings that had already been staged and the promotion decided to cut their losses. The team initially retained the Skegness name but within a few weeks had been re-branded as the Norfolk Braves. Over the years that followed the club would evolve into the present day Boston Barracuda-Braves and Stephen Lambert is still involved.
Why was Skegness so unsuccessful as a venue?
A number of different reasons really. The poor start the team got off to certainly played a part, as did the rather fragmented start to the 1997 season - the weather making it impossible to build up the necessary continuity. The promoters also made the misguided assumption that former Boston fans would travel to support the team, for some reason that just never seemed to happen. If either of the ventures had lasted until the summer then there would have been potential to attract along holidaymakers, perhaps off-setting early and late season losses, but we'll never know.
Does the stadium still exist?
Yes, although the tarmac track has been re-instated. It still stages stockcar racing and you can find out more at www.skegness-stadium.info/.
This article was first published on 17th December 2004
"What a shame speedway never worked at Skegness, looks like a great track.
It's also a shame that speedway is not promoted to the general public these days, I am sure
more would go if they knew where and when it was on."
"Great to see the Skegness stuff. Like many fans I was disappointed to miss this track."
"Just caught up with this interesting site, and was interested to see the
pictures of the short-lived circuit at Skegness - and Mike Hunter's regret that
he didn't get there. Having missed the brief Peter Oakes-inspired Premier
League Braves spell, I was determined to go when it was announced the team was
being revived. I watched two of the (I think) three Conference League meetings
which followed. The St Austell match, destined to become the final meeting at
the venue, was truly awful. The track was in such a bad state that the riders
had to two-wheel round the bends and the dust was terrible. Reminiscent of
some of the dire 'racing' at the original Buxton venue! Don't like to see
tracks close, but maybe this wasn't much of a loss. I gather it has now
reverted to a tarmac surface. "
"I went to the last meeting at Premier League level
against Arena Essex. The crowd was very poor, no more than 300. The stadium was situated in the middle of nowhere with limited public transport links."
"My cousin is Brett Woodifield and I remember this all too well."
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