Paul Bellamy – the excitement & impact of his years at the helm of the Speedway Grand Prix recalled

Not known for their philanthropy or diffident approach to business, the venture capital owners of global sports, events and talent management company IMG probably remain completely unaware of the Speedway Grand Prix, let alone BSI Speedway managing director Paul Bellamy. That said, a debacle on the scale of the recent Warsaw Speedway Grand Prix – in front of the biggest speedway crowd of the modern era is huge in speedway terms but in IMG terms, sadly, it would be overlooked and, if actually noticed, laughed off. Coming as it did after other recent (ongoing) debacles and bungles effortlessly accomplished during the Paul “full investigation” Bellamy management era at BSI Speedway – whether it’s Riga, the reputational blowback from the scandal of Darcy Ward failed breath test, the endless diet of mean-nothing processional meetings often on the temporary tracks Bellamy endlessly valorised – only the most generous employer would failure to ask questions about his leadership, strategic vision and accomplishments. You would like to think after all those mistakes and this singular lack of vision or leadership, Paul Bellamy would be fired for so obviously just phoning it in rather than moved sideways midway through the SGP 2015 series. However, it does appear that this sudden IMG ‘promotion’ could be viewed as a sideways move to elsewhere in the organisation where Bellamy can do little or no damage as well as to continue on the payroll beneath the media and organisational radar.

One explanation of this ‘rich deserved’ promotion could be that the Speedway Grand Prix series (and Speedway World Cup) is such an insignificant pimple on the generous but sweaty IMG sports properties backside – in terms of status, revenues and national/global media profile – that it effectively has the gravitas of the kind of business-cum-hobby-cum-toy rich parents find for their dimmer children when they wish to create the appearance and faux veneer of vague capability. More likely, the explanation is that IMG (like BSI Speedway) holds speedway and (SGP) speedway fans in almost complete contempt – psychologically, organisationally and corporately.

That said, if elsewhere you read or listen to Bellamy’s relentless solicitous boosters in the speedway media or on speedway social media you’d be forgiven for worriedly thinking: Will speedway ever be the same again? Indeed, what now for the future of the Speedway after the sudden premature closure of Bellamy World? Though, understandably, absolutely no Speedway Grand Prix fans openly wept at the news, speedway media ‘experts’ who have and continue to enjoy actual or in-kind commercial/financial benefits connected to their relationship to or with the Speedway Grand Prix rushed to heap praise on the great man. Apparently after bestriding the sport like a colossus, we formally learnt the shock news – buried where everyone will immediately skim over it on page 3 of the Speedway Star (dated 15th August 2015) – that speedway visionary and, until recently, BSI Speedway managing director Paul Bellamy has actually gone onto bigger and better things with IMG (namely what they term the “burgeoning World Rallycross Championship division” – whatever that is when it’s at home).

Widely viewed to have risen without trace, Bellamy – after completing an unimpressive but error strewn apprenticeship as amanuensis to John Postlethwaite – stepped out from this microscopic shadow to deliver his own litany of bizarre self-inflicted snafus along with a host of innovations. These include:

Relentless incomprehension of and condescension about speedway culture ‘globally’* & nationally

Ongoing almost catastrophic collapse in attendances

Painfully obvious cost-cutting: whether in equipment, material quality, preparation, entertainment or planning

Inept management of event franchise partners (while milking diminishing roster of ‘prestige’ events deigned to be actually run by BSI themselves)

In depth every stone unturned investigations from unforced Speedway Grand Prix debacles (lack of space on the world wide web prevents a comprehensive listing but who can forget Bellamy’s part in the triumphs of SGPs in Riga, Gelsenkirchen, Cardiff, Warsaw &, oh, Gelsenkirchen or Gelsenkirchen)

Ongoing (reluctantly only following FIM instructions) freeze in prize monies

Broke into new ‘global’ speedway markets – only to almost immediately desert them again when locals quickly cottoned onto what pap they are

Bravely retained dull proven format

Assembled glorious management team of all talents at BSI Speedway

Almost total lack of high profile media coverage

Processional racing on temporary tracks ill suited to BSI claims to want to test the world’s best riders on the finest racing surfaces

Dressed expensively & inappropriately wherever possible (awkwardly worn corporate anoraks or caps decidedly very optional)

Failure to fulfill own strategic goals – for example, massively didn’t break into new speedway markets whether judged by continent (India; North America; Africa; Asia & Australasia) or country (Russia, Argentina, Brazil)

End of Sky Sports Speedway contract – in exchange for Eurosport, the sports satellite television equivalent of a posting to Siberian gulag

Provision of state of the art toilets and hand driers

Serial failure to ‘pick’ best (or in form or stars of the future) riders

Introduced speedway equivalent of a ‘Brazilian’ with revolutionary almost shale bare tracks

Guaranteed excitement free speedway ‘racing’

Wore either benign, beatific or pained expressions (with trendy glasses and three years off trend dad Dancing sense of style)

BSI Speedway SGP website apparently designed as tribute to a last minute school homework project from the dial up Internet era (comes with free training scheme for Bournemouth University media graduates)

Converted harum scarum speedway thrills into look-away-now processional ‘races’

In an interconnected 24/7 internet age, managed to make the speedway ‘world championship’ both anonymous and digitally absent

Created Fan Zone (with optional Magoos, UK residents only)

Massive empowerment of women (if hot enough to be a start line girl)

Commissioned hilariously inept (wannabe ‘trendy’) SGP television adverts

Introduced compulsory tattooing for all future speedway World Champions

Failure to invest in the future of speedway, young rider development or ‘give anything back’ to British/Polish/Swedish/Danish/Finnish/Latvian/Czech/Australian/Italian/New Zealand/Croatian speedway (delete as appropriate)

Perfected knowledge and insight free speedway thought leadership

Sourced foolish, mediocre, unknown or obscure sponsors (who often failed to return) plus cunning conversion of existing British speedway sponsors into SGP

Always available to speak to and with speedway fans – either in the Club Class Priority queue or even happier to briefly share a (free) drink with any speedway fans holding Gold or Silver Executive Club cards in the British Airways Executive Lounge

Worse still, or arguably more laughably, whenever and if ever Bellamy shared his ‘thoughts’ – whether via his tame staff or boosters pretending to be independent journalists – it was hard to know whether to laugh or cry about his distaste for nuance, knowledge and thoughtfulness, let alone his fear of strategic, honest or factual analysis. That said, though it’s hard to pick highlights (some historical reports are here and here plus a snapshot of his impact is here & here), there are just too many favourite Bellamy bon mots to make anything like a sensible ‘Best of Paul Bellamy on Speedway’ selection. It is best to imagine him “voicing” (as I believe it is called amongst the cognoscenti that frequent Speedway Grand Prix media circles) these thoughts from his own parallel speedway universe of Bellamy World in a nasal, entitled and avuncular voice:

“the fans may not realise it, but it’s attention to detail”

“as we bring the sport’s elite riders to bigger and better stadiums around the world”

“Could you get a couple of Indian nationals riding speedway bikes? Could you get some moto-cross guys, and I’m talking about a ten-year plan now, and put them on a speedway bike?”

“we looked at the logo, how could we make it more edgy, a bit cooler, so that people who see the logo don’t think it’s 30 years ago. It’s 2010 now, we’ve got to keep moving on.”

“you have to train your mind to think about what you’re doing rather than what can go wrong”

“The two-minute clock is a real focal point throughout a meeting and, as riders and fans count down those precious seconds until tapes up, the Meridian Lifts name takes pride of place.”

“understanding about the dirt, buying the dirt…I can tell you what the moisture content of our dirt…the optimum moisture content of that dirt is 7%.”

“We are very sorry for all the fans who have booked tickets and were looking forward to a great night of speedway. If there was any way we could have put this event on we would have, but the decision of the FIM Jury with regard to rider safety is paramount and we fully support this decision.”

Before Warsaw SGP 2015: “Given the popularity of speedway throughout Poland, it’s only fitting that our great sport is showcased on the country’s grandest stage. We’re delighted to be opening next year’s series at the Stadion Narodowy – a terrific venue with world-class facilities.”

After Warsaw SGP 2015: “I would like to apologise to all fans in the Stadion Narodowy, Warsaw, on behalf of BSI Speedway. We are terribly disappointed with how events unfolded on Saturday. We respect the FIM Jury decision to call the result after heat 12 due to the track conditions. A lot of the information reported in the media is inaccurate. We will require a full investigation on what happened from all concerned and will communicate the results once completed.”

“Speedway fans should be able to watch the sport at the highest level in really comfortable and fantastic facilities.”

“[Sponsors] will also be able to take advantage of the many business-to-business opportunities and reach out to new clients through the series’ impressive hospitality programme.”

“the continued success of both the FIM Speedway Grand Prix and the Monster Energy FIM Speedway World Cup”

 

The speedy sudden departure of Paul Bellamy from BSI Speedway to obscure but possibly IMG career ending pastures new probably means – though we have yet to get formal confirmation via any of the usual Bellamy communication routes: Speedway Star news item, British Airways Executive Lounge thought experiment or pathologically positive insider comment on the British Speedway Forum – that Mr Bellamy will probably no longer be able to continue in his surprise but pathbreaking role as (the uniquely titled) “Chief Executive Officer, Chief Executive Officer” at Methanol Press (HT ZoomInfo). We, obviously, wish to thank Paul for all the joy he brought to speedway life at Methanol Press towers and we’ll take a close interest in his future career successes and development.

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Whatever happens, it is safe to conclude that – whenever any future Speedway Grand Prix meeting is staged in front of a meagre crowd in an inappropriate but remote town of a country with no speedway tradition, when the SGP temporary track isn’t conducive to good racing, when SGP races are processional, when stadium toilets are top notch and the alcohol/catering overpriced or there is almost no shale on the track – our thoughts will inevitably affectionately turn again the truly great speedway legacy left behind for us to savour and enjoy by speedway visionary Paul Bellamy.

 

*by GLOBAL – judged by actions rather than words – BSI Speedway IMG appear to only mean the continent of Europe albeit sometimes temporarily supplemented with a few far flung destinations/debacles thrown in for show (and frequent flier miles)

 

 

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