The Class of 1992
The Conference League is now in its thirteenth season and has yet to produce a regular Grand Prix competitor. The league replaced the old Reserve League that was scrapped as it wasn't producing enough riders to justify the associated costs.
The Reserve League was dropped at the end of the 1992 season. In those days there were two senior leagues operating, simply called Division One and Division Two back in that straightforward pre-premiership/championship era. The Division One Reserve League was all-encompassing and run on a nationwide basis. Its second division equivalent was split into Northern and Southern leagues, presumably to manage costs.
So how many of the riders that appeared regularly in that final season went on to greater things? We look through the riders that represented each club, hopefully reminding you of a few once familiar names along the way.
Reserve League Division One
Colin 'Chalky' White is the name that stands out from this selection. He went on to captain the Hammers and be a solid heatleader at Premier League level. He's still involved in the sport today making kevlars as "CW Racewear" (formerly GTS). Robert Ledwith developed into a reserve standard rider but found it difficult to combine speedway with his full-time job.
Only Jon Armstrong is still racing in 2006. He's presently captain of the Mildenhall Fen Tigers after several seasons in the Conference League. Lewthwaite, Hampson and Scully all became regulars in professional racing although none ever hit the heights. Scully perhaps achieved most by progressing to heat-leader standard with Premier League Hull. Jason Handley never made the impact on shale that he did on the grasstracks.
Darren Pearson also appeared for the Dukes first team in 1992 but struggled for points. He was something of a hot prospect but never progressed as expected. He now appears in short track racing. Stuart Swales, of the famous Cleveland racing family, went on to enjoy success with Middlesbrough, Newcastle and finished his career with a short spell at Glasgow.
Jamie 'The Pink Panther' Habbin turned out 13 times for the Bees in the reserve league. That's rather strange as he had already appeared many times in professional racing in a career that started in the mid eighties. None of his team mates made a significant impact on the sport. Chris Clarence did appear in the British Final, though this was as a track reserve rather than as a qualifier.
There's no doubt that Scott 'Scud' Smith was the biggest name to emerge from the Heathens' side. He has a British Under 21 Championship to his name and made hundreds of appearances in a career that took in Sheffield and Berwick as well as the Heathens. Justin Walker had already made his name in the sport prior to 1992 and had even appeared in the National League Pairs a couple of years previously. Carl Checketts and Shaun Naylor both turned out for Buxton in their inaugural campaign in 1994.
The hirsute Grayling was in and out of the Eagles side over a number of seasons but failed to progress beyond reserve level. Scott Swain developed into a solid middle order rider with Peterborough and the Isle of Wight. Sadly, Nathan Gaymer is no longer with us. A memorial meeting is staged for him each season at Sittingbourne.
Ipswich won the reserve league in 1992 with this collection of up-and-comers, they lost only one league match on their way to the title. Ben Howe was a gilt-edged prospect who was tipped as a future World Champion. He ultimately fell well short of that standard but was a solid team man for the Witches for several seasons before injuries reduced his effectiveness. He later turned out for Newport although even at Premier League level he failed to dominate as one may have expected. Savalas Clouting and Shaun Tacey also made it into the Ipswich side. Tacey stages a testimonial meeting at Mildenhall later this year. Laurence Hare rode professionally for Rye House, Edinburgh, Oxford, Exeter and Newport. His career was ended in a track crash that left him in a wheelchair.
It's fair to say that none of this side went on to achieve great fame from the sport. Fairweather, Gage and Spicer all made it into the professional leagues but without any prolonged success.
Glen Cunningham has enjoyed a consistently successful career since 1992. He now races for the Somerset Rebels in the Premier League. New Zealander Spencer Timmo had already amassed a fair bit of experience before 1992, he always seemed to be a rider whose efforts deserved more points than he actually got.
We've already mentioned Scott Swain as he also turned out for Eastbourne. He became the most successful of this team. Martin Willis is probably best remembered for an early season retirement that allowed Poole to use guests for virtually a full season.
I don't think it would be unfair to say that Phil Morris' achievements totally eclipse those of his 1992 team mates. The Welshman went on to have a long association with the Racers and captain the club. He now appears for Belle Vue in the Elite League where he uses his vast experience to good effect.
Steve Masters proved to be the pick of this crop, although at the time Justin Elkins was the one tipped for greatness. Masters proved to be an honest performer who could score points at both Premier and Elite League level. Elkins became best known for his notoriously unreliable machinery and his early promise was never fulfilled. Matthew Cross and Steve Masters both re-emerged in later years to ride at Conference League level.
Stephen Morris was also a regular in the Wolves senior side throughout the 1992 season and one of the stars of the reserve league. He held his place in the side for a few seasons without ever making it really big. Simon Wolstenholme started his career at Arena Essex before making the move to Wolves, he was a big scorer in the Conference League in later seasons. Craig Taylor was arguably the most successful of the side in a career that took in Berwick, Stoke and Newport as well as the Wolves senior side.
Reserve League Division Two
Chris Readshaw averaged an astonishing 10.97 in his twelve matches at this level. He also turned out for the Bandits senior side where he averaged over five points a meeting. He seemed to be a rider of genuine potential but his star quickly burned out and he never hit the big time. Scotsman Michael Lowrie made numerous appearances for the Bandits and also had a short spell with Edinburgh. Paul Coward is perhaps best remembered for an article in Middlesbrough fanzine - "One More Lap". The article suggested that his persistent efforts to make the grade were going to be rewarded with a testimonial.
Stewart McDonald was the only senior rider to emerge from this side. His career was short but he managed to win league titles with both Wolves and Glasgow before calling it quits. Mike McLuskey often seemed likely to make the breakthrough but always seemed to struggle for points when pitched into the first team. Paul Taylor and Grant Blackie turned out for Linlithgow Lightning but their appearances in the professional leagues were few and far between.
Palmer and Pegler both progressed into the Exeter side and had spells with other clubs. Palmer was something of a big track specialist and enjoyed spells with Sheffield and the Isle of Wight. Pegler moved onto Newport and spearheaded their Conference League side for many years.
No prizes for spotting that James Grieves emerged as the star of this side. Like the aforementioned Stewart McDonald, he's won league titles with Glasgow and Wolverhampton. Grieves continues to race as a heat-leader in the Premier League for Newcastle Diamonds. Coleman is best remembered for his crash at Linlithgow when both rider and machine left the stadium and ended up in the adjoining cow field.
Quite possibly the side that yielded least of all. None of these riders went on to become regulars in professional speedway. Jason Reed was a rider with excellent gear but couldn't get it moving quickly enough.
In contrast to Long Eaton, this side produced Pickering, Swales and Beveridge who graduated to the professional ranks. Pickering has enjoyed a long and successful career but is currently sidelined with injuries picked up in early 2005. Hopefully we'll see him back on track in the years ahead. Beveridge's career was a bit of a slow burner and peaked when he became captain of Glasgow in 1999. We've already mentioned Swales in our comments on Bradford.
David Nagel was an impressive performer in the Diamonds junior campaign and looked an excellent prospect. He played his part in Glasgow's title win the following season but drifted away from the sport thereafter. Andy Howe's biggest moment came in 1994 when he was the Third Division (Conference League) Riders Champion. Despite that award he was afforded few outings in the professional leagues. Paul Gould turned out for Edinburgh and Newcastle in the late nineties.
None of these junior Panthers feature much when the sport's greatest names are discussed. Michael Howe was a competent performer at this level and seemed likely to progress further but seemed to disappear without trace. Dean Garrod can probably claim to be the most successful of the troupe on account of his many appearances at Conference League level.
Martin Cobbin and the lanky Chris Young did make some appearances for the Rye House senior side, but that's about your lot for these young Rockets.
Steve Knott was the pick of this crop and went on to appear for Cradley Heath and King's Lynn. He seemed to have the tools to make it to the top of the sport, but somewhere along the line it all went wrong.
This article was first published on 22nd June 2006
"Great article - brought some memories flooding back. One More Lap, the Middlesbrough fanzine you mention, used to sponsor the juniors at Cleveland Park. We had a pretty good team in those days and have continued to support junior speedway since August 2002 with the Boro Bears and now at Redcar with the Cleveland Bays and Tees Valley Tigers. Chris Readshaw used to live in the same street as me and I once bumped into him in the newsagents and said:" You don't often bump into too many King's Lynn reserves in a Stockton-on-Tees newsagents on a Sunday morning!". Middlesbrough let Chris go because they reckoned he needed a better mechanic than his father Brian was. He was working for a car auction company. Craig Rathbone now works as a telephone engineer for NTL. Jason Handley turned down the option of a speedway career with Middlesbrough to support his father's haulage business in Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria, but the old bugger still rides on the grass!"
Chris Readshaw used to live in the same street as me and I once bumped into him in the newsagents and said:" You don't often bump into too many King's Lynn reserves in a Stockton-on-Tees newsagents on a Sunday morning!". Middlesbrough let Chris go because they reckoned he needed a better mechanic than his father Brian was. He was working for a car auction company. Craig Rathbone now works as a telephone engineer for NTL. Jason Handley turned down the option of a speedway career with Middlesbrough to support his father's haulage business in Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria, but the old bugger still rides on the grass!"
"Scott Wormleighton was in the British Final at Coventry on the same day as Chris Clarence. They shared track reserve duties, Scott however scored a point when Graham Jones fell off - 1 point more than Alun Rossiter who scored 0 making him finish in 14th place."
"Richard Webb's band The Magoos were playing in the fanzone at Cardiff Grand Prix weekend - and very good they were too. Richard has an excellent voice and the band did some great covers: The Cult, The Hives, Guns 'N' Roses, etc. He mentioned if anyone was from Exeter, apparently he broke his back there? Didn't he also ride grasstrack for a few years as well as Conference level speedway?"
"Chris Harris has competed in the GP regularly now for quite a few years, so it's wrong to say the Third Division, Amatuer League, Conference League and its present incarnation the National League hasn't produced a regular GP rider! Chris Harris began his League career at Conference League St Austell way back in 1998! Anyway without the formation of the 3rd Division, many present PL teams wouldn't of opened and my local NL team Mildenhall, one of the best value speedway anywhere I think, would definately not reopened!"
"Was expecting to see my name in the Peterborough line up, especially as Carl Johnson only made a few appearances in my absence (broken arm)."
"Belle Vue's Steve Cope went on to ride for Sheffield but got fed up of smashing himself to bits lol, so enough was enough in 1995!"
"Emerson Fairweather, who rode for King's Lynn, is still around the tracks these days - he is now a leading driver in banger racing, mainly at Ipswich meetings."
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