"A prose that possesses a kind of petrol-driven Dirty Realism, as though Raymond Carver had decided to turn up at a speedway meeting" The Times
By Jeff Scott:
Like a medieval astrologer peering at the heavens, author Jeff Scott continues to interpret the cycles, epicycles, and motorcycles of the spinning planets of Speedway in this his latest book: Quantum of Shale.
As he engages with the myriad social and cultural gears that power this unique engine of British sport, Scott seeks to determine whether the forces that turn these wheels within wheels are centrifugal or centripetal. Will Speedway adjust to the increasing challenges of 21st Century Britain and so plot an enduring course towards significance and survival?
As in his other critically acclaimed works documenting the current status of Speedway, Quantum of Shale follows Scott’s travels around Britain as he visits Speedway tracks on race day. There he observes and participates in the sport’s rituals, culture and traditions that have engendered the fierce loyalties of its primarily blue collar fan base. Yet, while he does this with respect and affection, Scott also acknowledges those trends that appear to conspire to knock Speedway from its orbit and sets his visits within the context of a pitiless economic calculus that scars the curve of a beautiful but undervalued sport.
Speedway Plus Review, 25th June 2009
The big Cardiff weekend is now a speedway tradition dating back to the turn of the century. In recent years another tradition has emerged at this time of year – Jeff Scott publishes his latest book.
His 2009 offering is entitled “Quantum of Shale – Round the Tracks” and, as before, is published under the Methanol Press brand.
His 2008 offering ‘Concrete for Breakfast’ was nominated in the Best Biography category at the British Sports Book Awards 2009 and this has obviously given him the boost required to carry on with his writing. I’m sure that Jeff would admit that the critical acclaim his books have received has not (yet) been reflected in the sales levels.
This is the fourth consecutive season that Scott has published a travelogue of his trips to the tracks. So many of the riders, promoters and tracks featured in his 2005 adventures are no longer part of the speedway scene that it’s almost now a historical document. His books in general will certainly bear repeated reading in years to come and will offer valuable insights into the sport in the early part of this century.
If you’re familiar with Scott’s earlier books then you’ll know exactly what you’re getting with this one, there’s no dramatic change of concept or tone this time around. He simply tells it as it is, though this approach does seem to make him enemies as well as friends. His technique of quoting conversations ‘verbatim’ has always been controversial. Martin Dadswell from Eastbourne nurses a grievance about last year’s book claiming “He’s misquoted me again in it. I wouldn’t call him numbnuts, would I? I’d call him a ****!”. Brian Oldham is another that takes this up with the author – “You misquoted…..I would never have said that. At least, I now know you write fiction.”
That Jeff includes these comments in the book shows that he’s not above poking fun at himself as well as others.
When so many quotes are included there’s always a very good chance that such things will happen. The only alternative would be to leave out the quotes entirely, but then we’d miss out on valuable insights such as:
“I’ll tell you what I’m doing, I’m asking each rider for their address and postcode as they arrive so I can work out the travel properly! The first rider through the gate – I’ll give you three guesses who – refused to tell me!” (Sheffield promoter Neil Machin on the PLRC night)
“At the start of the year, when crowds were poor, people said it was the credit crunch but, now we’re doing well, crowds are up. So, it shows people have it when they want it.” (Mike Hunter of Edinburgh)
On young speedway riders – ” They’re often boys in a man’s world! It’s a hard lifestyle – or lack of it, really – the travel, the injuries, the sports psychology. Unless you’ve done it, you just don’t know what’s involved! Or, as they say, unless you’ve felt the burn of the tyre on your leg you really have no idea what it’s like to ride a bike competitively!” (Claudia Stæchmann – Wife of Jan)
“In 2007, we used to get 1,200 fans and, in 2008, we get 600 to 650 fans. Last week it was 653 fans. The away fans have dropped off. Last week we had Sheffield and they brought about 30 people max. If we take £6k, I have to give a substantial amount straight to the VAT man. Everything costs. It’s unbelievable! The cleaning is £50 a week. It costs 350 quid to empty the septic tank. I have to pay the staff. We spend 350 quid per meeting on shale – we’ve used 100 tons this year so far. We lose tons of shale over the fence!” (Glyn Taylor)
That last quote comes from the chapter on the Redcar v Workington meeting in July which is as good a piece of speedway writing as you’re ever likely to read. It perfectly captures the stress that promoter Glyn Taylor is feeling in the build up to the meeting as his professional life appears to be spiralling out of control. He’s an honest man in debt and actually being physically sick with the resultant worry about the future of his riders, his track and himself.
That’s not the kind of thing you would ever read in Speedway Star magazine, the reports they publish would likely extend no further than commenting on ‘concerns’ over the financial position. That’s where this book comes into its own, it’s engaging, brutally honest and tells you about aspects of the 2008 season that would have otherwise gone unreported.
Strangely the weakest sections of the book are probably the descriptions of the racing itself, the insights gathered before and after each meeting are infinitely more interesting than the recap of the on track action. As always the coverage of the racing is mixed with the witty asides of the people standing around Jeff, many of them summing up the good nature so prevalent in speedway folk. During the 4TT at Workington an announcement concerning a window being left open on a Skoda solicited the following comment from one female spectator – “No one would want to nick that! Come on, the worst thing that could happen is that someone could throw litter into it!”. A good line and one now captured forever, along with many others, within the pages of this book.
Fittingly the book ends on an emotional evening in Berkshire as the Reading Racers staged the final meeting at Smallmead. The author first set eyes on the sport at that very same track and you suspect that the poignancy of the occasion affected him more than he lets on. Despite this he’s still able to make a few acerbic comments about the odd flaws in the celebration that evening.
If you’ve never read one of Jeff’s books then start with this one and work backwards. It provides an insight into a world that you’ll instantly recognise and introduce you to many of the characters involved in our wonderful sport. Fans of his previous books can rest assured that this is at least as good as what has come before it, perhaps even his best yet. It’s thought provoking, funny and controversial in equal measure and a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Weymouth Speedway programme
Quantum of Shale is the latest in Jeff Scott’s epic series of books covering the ups and downs of the great sport that is British speedway. As usual, Jeff takes an odyssey round the country and has behind the scenes peek at some of the people and places involved and embroiled in the cloistered world that is speedway. With insight and humour, the book delves into the lives of the people who are involved in the sport in almost every capacity from riders to promoters as well as fans and track staff, even vicars!
Weymouth is worthy of the attention of some key chapters in the book including our KO Cup Quarter-Final Second Leg with Plymouth and the return League meeting the next day.
These chapters typify the approach of the book as they combine a mix of behind the scenes information, observational detail and quirky reports upon racing. For the Cup meeting, Jeff travelled with myself and team manager Jem Dicken to Plymouth and back. The journey as ever started off with the warning to Jem to watch what he says as – even though Jeff was without note pad and pen for the journey – his capacity to recall conversations and overall observations in specific detail is staggering. However, by the time we returned to Weymouth (after another defeat in the wildlands of Plymouth), all caution had been thrown to the wind and subjects discussed ranged from what exactly Max Moseley had been up to, (I had never heard of some of the alleged practices although Jeff and Jem seemed worryingly clued up) to Jem’s heady rise from raker to team manager of what was to be Weymouth’s first League Championship side in 54 years.
Part of the following day, Jem and Jeff spent promoting the club with sandwich boards round the town centre and seafront before the author spent some time in the company of Luke Priest and Timothy Webster. This gave Jeff a valuable insight into the psyche of two of Weymouth’s most popular riders and how they spend the day preparing for one of the most important meetings of last season.
In this book, every track in the country is visited and the chapters capture the massive variations that exist from club to club as well as the strange mix of passion and obsessiveness the sport generates for participants, fans, promoters, track staff and riders alike. It would definitely make a lovely present for the speedway fan in your life. Jeff will be signing copies here tonight or the book can be ordered online at Amazon or at www.methanolpress.com