Bob Tasker – speedway fan, filmmaker and wit

It’s really extremely sad news that Bob Tasker of GRT Media has passed away today in Newcastle after a short illness. Bob was a lover of life, people, gossip and speedway – preferably all four at once. He travelled the speedway tracks of the UK tirelessly and, like so many, he did this much more for love than for money. In his work, Bob aimed for excellence and also delivered. He never rested on his laurels and always looked to innovate and improve. Even after his diagnosis, Bob continued to scheme and ponder about better ways to improve his work but also to harness new technology – whether it was camera angles, rider interviews on Periscope or his new idea for automating individual filmed birthday messages to fans from their favourite riders that he planned to perfect and implement for the 2016 season to boost fan engagement and club revenues – to spread the speedway gospel. Indeed, earlier this month, the sheer volume of online viewers in a very short time to a brief filmed piece on Kevin Doolan’s fork cover design to fundraise for Darcy Ward amazed Bob, confirmed his view of a technology aided future and sparked his imagination about how he could apply this knowledge and insight for the benefit of speedway in general.

Whenever you spoke with Bob, you got to enjoy his wry, often waspish, view of the world and life. “You know you’re in a bit of plight when you say to Lewis Kerr [eight weeks since his crash] ‘how are you?’ and he says, ‘never mind me, how about you? You look rubbish!’”

Something that was beyond the defence mechanisms of his sharp wit was the sudden death after a very brief illness in January 2014 that robbed Bob of his wife, confidant, soul mate and best friend Susan. That this huge unfairness should be followed so soon afterwards by Bob’s own untimely death is a great loss for his family, friends and speedway. All who knew Bob will miss his uplifting and perceptive but wry comments about and enjoyment of the everyday ironies and foibles of life and speedway. May Bob and Susan both Rest in Peace.

Like many other genuine speedway people, Bob & Susan appears in many of my books. A brief Bob Tasker selection is below:

 

Quantum of Shale

Newcastle

Bob highlights the sheer volume of requests that have to be announced on race night, “Barry has an unenviable list of announcements to make, I don’t know how remembers them all! I used to have an advert in the programme but I now sponsor heat 5 which really helps bump up mention of DVDs further up his list!” Like the occasionally intense rivalry that besets the speedway trackshop world, the British speedway DVD market is equally competitive among its various producers. Bob mischievously highlights that one of his erstwhile rivals took “29 days to get the 2008 PL Pairs DVD on sale. When you think how many people wanted to see that semi-final decision, it’s amazing! If we’d been doing it, it would’ve been on sale within a day or two. For all my speedway DVDs, Dalbers [Andrew Dalby] voices the DVD from the GRT studio (i.e., it’s our kitchen) after it’s been in the editing suite (i.e., our back bedroom). Did you see the 2007 PL Pairs DVD? I’ve never thought of tying a camera to a dog and having it run round the place but, if I did, I think I’d then edit it!”

Shale Trek

Cardiff

GRT Media have the stall next to mine. Their range of well-produced DVDs, from a number of Northern speedway clubs (Newcastle, Redcar, Scunthorpe, Sheffield, Workington and Berwick) attracts good interest. GRT owner, cameraman, film editor and marketer, Bob Tasker, attends along with his wife Susan. Unlike her husband she likes the Grand Prix series, “Bob wouldn’t cross the road to watch the Elite League or the Grands Prix!” Though he watches Premier League racing on a regular basis, Bob wasn’t that impressed with the staging of the PL Pairs last night at Somerset. “So, 24 races in two and a half hours and they only have one paramedic! At Newcastle, we have two, which saves what happens with Shane [in heat 2] where we waited for the paramedic to treat him on the track and then waited again for him to see him in the pits. Luckily they could run the meeting quickly by not grading the track hardly at all. It wasn’t the Super7 more like the Shitty7!”

Newport

Never short of insight, Bob Tasker doesn’t disappoint, “I’m pleased Jason Crump won. He was head and shoulders above the rest. It would have been a travesty if he hadn’t – it was man against boys! And before Andrew Dolby tells you, I didn’t make a 9-year-old girl cry, though I did shout ‘Hit him, Emil’. We saw it again later on the telly back at the hotel and it was a lot funnier! Scott seemed to be upset about the way Emil rode. I couldn’t see anything wrong with it myself. Scott fights like a girl and kept battering away while Emil has got a bit about him and looked like he’d done that before, judged by the couple of punches he threw before he was dragged off. If you punch up and under the helmet, you can get the chin and he certainly knew that. That upset Scott, he should try it with Michal Makovsky buzzing on his tail, he wouldn’t be looking for a fight – he’d be looking for the keys for his van!” For one night each season Cardiff is a speedway Mecca. Sadly, awareness levels about the sport in the principality isn’t quite what it should be, “When I checked into the Hilton on Friday night the woman behind the desk said ‘Are you here for the speedway? We have some leaflets for Newport but many people don’t know ’cause it ain’t in the local paper enough’.”

Scunthorpe

Another man with a dry wit and keen insight into the everyday foibles of the speedway world is Bob Tasker from GRT Media. He’s in the process of humping his equipment up the stepladder that leads onto the roof of the trackshop. Bob also doesn’t exchange Christmas cards with this evening’s SCB official, Margaret Vardy. “We don’t get on at all. Whenever I get into the pits I always ask the ref’s if I can do so and promise I won’t get in the way. She said, ‘So long as you don’t record anything I say!’ I told her, ‘I would overdub it with bike noise, if I did happen to record anything.’ And she said ‘No, you can’t record anything I say because it could be used in future months and years!’ I promised that wouldn’t happen. After she’d gone, I couldn’t figure out what the goodness she was going to say. I’ve been going to speedway for a while now but when I look at the Christmas tree [set of lights usually located close to the start line controlled by the referee] I never know what I’ll see when she’s on the buttons!”

Bouquet of Shale

Sheffield

Shortly afterwards, the man with many hats at GRT Media, Bob Tasker, arrives to take his altogether much lighter equipment up the same staircase. “If you wait a minute, I’ll show you a view of Owlerton you won’t have seen before!” In the upstairs bar, Bob retrieves the key for a door to behind the scenes at Owlerton. Things look much different where only staff have any access. “Ten million pound refurbishment and you can see where it ended!” Bob bustles along a narrow passageway and up yet more stairs until we find ourselves perched on a gantry that overlooks bend one. From this vantage point we’ve an excellent view of the stadium, its terraces as well as the beauty of the surrounding area. “Even if I say so myself, the DVDs don’t do it justice! It’s 140 miles each way to get here but it’s worth it for later when Richard Hall will be dashing round there [points to bend four] – as he will be!”

Newcastle

Preparations for the meeting ahead continue apace on both sides of the Brough Park pits area that overlooks the first and second bends. Also setting up nearby is Bob Tasker of GRT Media. He’s well prepared with his own stepladder that he uses to climb on top of the metal sea container that’s really the track staff hut and storeroom but also – when you’re on top – provides a panoramic view of the circuit ideal for his film work. Bob went to the Cardiff Grand Prix and can provide an ad hoc estimate of the numbers inside the Millennium Stadium, “I’d say it was up a couple of hundred.” Though ongoing doubts exist about the veracity of the figures, officially it was supposedly up 150 people to a suspiciously rounded new record of 44,150. “There you are! Dalbers [Andrew Dalby] kept saying it was down. Because of where they put the Sky booth on the second bend this year, they had to rearrange the crowd – so it’s hard to compare. They had a packed home straight. What I want to know is how can they have a track so dry and have no dust? As you know, I get to see tractors four nights a week and, although they appear to have a grader on the front of the back (if you know what I mean), it appeared just to pack it down rather than smooth it out or rip it up! There wasn’t a great deal of passing during the meeting though.” A recent letter in the Speedway Star claims that it’s not passing that counts during a meeting but, instead, the metric we should admire is the skill of a rider as they hold the position in the first bend and how they subsequently repel advances. Like many old-fashioned fans, Bob’s sceptical, “They must be Lee Dicken fans then! Anders Andersen is a bit like that too! If he gets out in front, he’s impossible to pass – although he’s going no quicker than two farts a fortnight. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Lee just gets in all the awkward positions and there’s no way past at all! It helps he’s bigger because that makes it harder again.”

Bob’s GRT Media work means that he gets to see a lot of speedway, “The most impressive team I’ve seen at Sheffield was Newcastle. I’m not just saying that. How they only won by 4 points I don’t know as they absolutely humped them! And Newcastle winning there was a miracle in itself, if you think about the past. Not that Sheffield did anything wrong. The next week Sheffield rode exactly the same if you only look at the red-and-blue helmet colours – hard to do (but you know what I mean) – they rode the same but got 61 points! Something I want to know – and I don’t know if you can tell me – is about the Sky graphics? Sad, I know, but I can’t help noticing them! I do have a professional interest, of course. Sometimes they have to cut and paste the head of a rider onto some team colours but they pasted Jason King’s tiny sized head on the body of Matty Weathers with the neck brace thing he wears. Jason’s head could fall right down inside the neck brace. Another thing, I’d like to correct their graphics so that you can fit in the word “disqualified” rather than keep using the word “excluded!” When they cover football, they don’t use old terms or invent their own – how come they think they can do that at speedway? If they could change the white helmet colours to green (and change them back) to suit themselves, why can’t they use disqualified?”

Scunthorpe

GRT Media supremo Bob Tasker parks up his car adjacent to the compact covered home-straight grandstand. “If you get the chance to see Berwick away – go and see them! It’s like at Newcastle last year when they brought in René and Lemo – they had a poor team then and that transformed them! They’ve done so well because they kept them together this year. Well Complin – if you count him as a new rider because he crashed in his second race at the first meeting, he is really – plus Rempala are the two riders who transformed Berwick. You saw Rempala at his first meeting [versus Edinburgh] but he gets better and better every week. He’s something else to watch! There should be a big crowd today but it’s fallen off from what it was. There’s only been four Scorpions meeting here in June, July and August and – once people get out of the habit or come along and find it’s a National League meeting on a Friday – they don’t come back so often. Plus, they tried to run one in the rain when it was forecast to rain and abandoned it after six heats.”

Newcastle

Bob Tasker’s seen enough incidents on that particular bend to investigate their cause. “Someone explained to me that many riders don’t realise that when someone comes up the inside, they’ve been moved to the outside not mid-track. So, as it funnels into there, they get in the loose stuff and fall off, when usually they wouldn’t! Jason [Lyons] fell there when you were there and Ricky did last week. Actually I saw a first then because René bumped Ricky before the corner and it moved him to the outside and it caused him to come off when he didn’t, if you see what I mean! Ricky went back to the photographer Dave Lowes and was holding his camera up to referee Barbara Horley showing her he was bumped! It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a rider try to use photographic evidence to appeal against his exclusion.” Highly fancied, Newcastle’s recent substantial defeat at Berwick prompts much Internet speculation. “On the forums everyone says how poor Newcastle were but no one says how good Berwick were! They’re in form and I wouldn’t be surprised if they win the Young Shield. Dalbers [Andrew Dalby] said Berwick would get 55 against Newcastle but they got 61 because Newcastle was so poor.”

Each speedway club Bob visits every week (to film action DVDs) enjoy their own particular excitements and special appeal. Not only is Sheffield the country’s fastest track but also fans get the regular treat of the come-from-behind daredevil manoeuvres from both Josh Auty and Richard Hall. Recent seasons have seen Newcastle perform to a very high standard and also track star of the future, René Bach. Speedway at Berwick has shaken off an element of torpor since the arrival of Marcin Rempala while, by common consent, Scunthorpe usually serve up exciting speedway on a weekly basis, irrespective of the team riding. When you get to see top quality on a regular basis it’s only human nature to become inured to the thrill of the experience. “Last season you’d see 12 races here every week. They were brilliant! Now they’re still good but it’s definitely lost something. I don’t know what it is – the riders, the stockcars taking it out of the track, something else – but it’s definitely not what it was!”

Scunthorpe

Bob Tasker reminds me that 15 metres isn’t so much of a handicap at the Eddie Wright Raceway, “Scunthorpe is one of the few tracks you could win from 15! Did you hear when Joe Screen touched the tapes in heat 1 last week that the Glasgow management preferred to put in a reserve rather than let Joe start off 15? Just shows how likely they actually think it is to pass there! You always kind of assume that there is one racing line – if you can find it – but, maybe, there, there isn’t! Imagine how hard it is to pass Joe Screen and Lee Dicken anyway!”

26 Shades of Shale

Cardiff

GRT Media’s Bob Tasker also went. “In 35 years of going to speedway, it’s the first time I’ve said ‘Would you like to come under my umbrella and watch them water the track?’ The track was arid! I don’t know why they didn’t water and prepare it so we could have good racing and a possible rain-off rather than awful racing and no rain-off!”

……

GRT’s Bob Tasker no longer tries to solve the puzzle about what drives the sales of his products. “I had an 11-year break and, when I came back in 2005, Berwick were champions and, in 2007, they were awful but DVD sales – via the Shielfield Park trackshop – were excellent in 2007! Since then I’ve given up trying to figure out or care! Here’s a sports trivia question for you, ‘What’s the link between Sky Sports and GRT Media?’ In the Berwick team in 1991 we had Kelvin Tatum, Jimmy Nielson, Richard Knight, Scott Robinson and Kevin Little. Kelvin does occasional co-commentary for Sky and Kevin Little does co-commentary for us. See – your books contain tittle-tattle and controversy but now genuine sports trivia! I was chatting to Barry Briggs on the race suits versus tabards debate.”

“Is he a big race suit fan then?”

“Er, no! I’m a big fan of Eric Clapton, I’ve got all his albums, but would I want a pair of his jeans on my wall? I don’t think so. If I got a race jacket, I’d put it on my wall with pride but would I put a race suit on the wall? People come up and ask the funniest questions. I had to rescue my wife earlier, as one of the speedway fraternity was asking her who the rider was on the bottom left of our photographic display?”

 

 

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