“We are all entitled to an opinion though, in some cases, it is better to defer to those who know best…the riders”

For those of us outside the charmed circle of speedway bigwigs and journalists who receive press releases from the BSI Press Office, we have to suffice with the thin informational pickings provided by the cleans whiter than white SGP website. Occasionally the SGP Press Officer, Philip Rising, selectively responds to real or imagined comments about the quality of the product on offer to the fans. As usual, Cardiff provoked a healthy postbag at the Speedway Star offices and prompted a “Point of View with Philip Rising” (July 18th issue) notionally in response to a letter from David Sturge. His repost conflated separate comments about the track prepared (“rubbish”) for the 2009 event and the quality of the staging venue itself.

Though we again still don’t have official attendance figures, those who did watch (or, indeed, race) at Cardiff we were treated to an event staged on track widely acknowledged as way better than the eight previous years. We can return to why it has taken so long to prepare such a track shortly but first let us savour the selective memory of Mr Rising’s appeal to the ultimate authority in these matters. He notes, “we are all entitled to an opinion though, in some cases, it is better to defer to those who know best…the riders.”

This sounds a reasonable enough point to make until you recall that for many years the riders have pointedly highlighted that the quality of the surface needed significant attention. This was for many reasons and these included it short-changed the viewing public, placed luck & chance ahead of skill and, most recently, verged on the dangerous. Rider and fan complaints about track quality have been the order of the day after many of the Cardiff stagings. Here are some relatively recent comments offered by the riders after the 2007 staging of the Cardiff event.

Hans Andersen: “the track was really, really rutty…it cut up badly…it broke up and became very hit and miss”
Jason Crump: “the track was a bit rougher than I’d hoped, probably a bit rougher than everyone had hoped”
David Howe: “I always struggle with deep ruts”
Tomasz Gollob: “I was just unable to master the track surface”
Jaroslaw Hampel: “the track surface is not very different to what we had used to ride in the previous years”
Greg Hancock: “the track was so demanding….although it makes the racing more interesting, it can make superstars look like amateurs at times”
Scott Nicholls: “it was like a minefield in places, you couldn’t see the ruts”
Nicki Pedersen: “The atmosphere at Cardiff is always fantastic, and it is great for the fans, but it is the worst track in the GP series. It cuts up so badly & you just can’t see the ruts…on a normal track you see the ruts coming”

Far from listening or learning from these comments, the BSI management sailed on regardless to oversee the preparation of an even more deleterious surface for the riders to race upon for the next Cardiff (2008) staging. The riders were even less happy with these conditions.

Leigh Adams: “it ruts up & it makes it dangerous”
Nicki Pedersen: “if this is going to happen again next year, I’m quite sure the riders are going to stick together & they’re going to end up with no events here in Cardiff”
Greg Hancock: “I hate to say it, but it was probably one of the worst tracks we’ve seen in Cardiff..I don’t mind the track being a little rough, it makes it more exciting, more fun & more technical, but it’s still got to be safe….I like it to be a little rough because it makes things happen, but not to a dangerous level and tonight was beyond that, it was dangerous & you saw a lot of crashes”
Krzysztof Kasprzak: “this track is terrible…I’ve heard the more experienced riders want to meet before the Czech GP to discuss the issue. I believe they will tell the organisers they will not race if such a track like Cardiff appears again.”
Tomasz Gollob: “the whole evening was bad for speedway. How can you call it any other way if riders fell off their bikes? What can you say when the eventual winner crosses the finishing line perpendicularly…safety first, and that was missing tonight”

Whether it was the threat of rider action or basic common sense that prompted change we will never know. However, that the solution was always close at hand and ‘easy’ to implement evaded the renowned management team behind this event who, instead, preferred to continue to invest in the wrapping rather than the present. For example, great play was made about the often pitiful and anodyne aural entertainment on offer rather than bother to try to fix the problematic track itself. It beggars belief that BSI ignored the opinions from the riders Mr Rising now suddenly valorises as authoritative. After plaudits for the 2009 event, a breathlessly excited and self-congratulatory Mr. Paul Bellamy reportedly commented that the SGP organisers have now finally invested in 4000 tones of ‘high quality’ Derbyshire shale (and brought in the required associated equipment needed to tend and install it properly). This is worthy of belated congratulation and so too is news that they will store it at Cardiff Docks so they can reuse it every year. However, ‘how come this took so long?’ would be a better question to ponder rather than castigate the temerity of readers letters? We could learn whether this decision was some deluded cost saving or just another example of teacher knows best? Mr Rising doesn’t give us the benefit of an insight into why such decisions took until the ninth year to arrive at. It’s all the more perplexing, given the huge revenues and profits generated by the Cardiff event alone, never mind that the shale was reputed to only cost in the region of £35 per ton and the storage costs aren’t likely to be killing (never mind that they’re both tax deductable expenses). Again, the organisers appear to historically have been penny wise but pound foolish at the expense of the competitors and fans alike.

If those paying customers (aka the “fans”) who cavil are peremptorily told by the Press Officer of the SGP series it’s “short sighted” to blame the (billiard table-esque almost shaleless) track for the lack of excitement and overtaking in 2009. Then, surely, it’s even more “short sighted” that such a simple and economical remedy with regard to the quality of materials used can have been ignored by the SGP management for the previous eight years to the detriment of their own flagship signature event? Though past performance indicates that this is unlikely, maybe now is the time for the organisers to do more listening to the riders and/or the fans if they wish to improve their SGP series before it wanes further?

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