Kenny Smith 1954-2009
From Scunthorpe Press Release
13th July 2009
Kenneth Ian Smith 1954-2009 R.I.P.
After a near three-year battle against throat cancer, Kenny Smith, the Scorpions’ Team Manager, died on Monday morning at 6.15 a.m. at his home in Yarm. Over recent weeks his condition had deteriorated but after being told he only had days to live early last week he pledged to lead his side one last time. On Saturday his courage was on show for all to see as, unable to walk any significant distance, he was taken around the track on the back of David Howe’s bike for two emotional laps of honour.
Kenny’s grandfather was one of the pioneer riders in the 1920’s and he began his own racing career in grasstrack before taking up speedway in the late sixties at Doncaster. However, he will be best remembered for his days in team management at Newcastle and over the last five years with Scunthorpe. After being involved at Middlesbrough he switched to Newcastle when the Teesside club’s Cleveland Park track closed. Newcastle Promoter and Team Manager, George English, soon made him Assistant Team Manager and Kenny took responsibility for the Newcastle Gems when they entered a side in the Conference League. During that time there were few young riders in the North who hadn’t been influenced by Kenny and after the Gems withdrew from the Conference League Kenny offered his services to us at Scunthorpe.
Early links with his past saw Byron Bekker and Ashley Johnson join the club but he had an exceptional talent for managing riders. He was well-respected by his riders and that is no small feat in the adrenaline-filled cauldron that is a speedway pits when charged with the onerous task of taking away a riders’ opportunity to earn a living. Ever since Kenny joined Scunthorpe Speedway it has benefitted from Kenny’s unswerving passion for the sport and our club. His commitment and dedication to the club was rewarded in 2007 when he became a co-promoter and the club could have never wished for a greater ambassador.
A devastated Scunthorpe promoter Rob Godfrey commented: “Kenny has been a great friend and we knew his death was coming but that doesn’t make it any easier. It was an very emotional night for all concerned on Saturday and we are all devastated at losing him. It has been an honour to have Kenny in our lives for the last five years. He was a great inspiration to me and he touched the hearts of so many people. He will forever be a part of Scunthorpe Speedway.”
Sheffield promoter Neil Machin was one of the first to join the wave of tributes to Kenny. “One of the conditions of Scunthorpe moving into the Premier League was that they had a good man in charge as team manager. I recommended Kenny. He was dedicated to the sport and it was a mark of his courage that he was at Scunthorpe on Saturday.”
Somerset General Manager Dave Croucher added “Kenny’s passing is a great loss to the sport and I am sure there will be many hundreds of riders, officials and staff at tracks all over the UK who will miss his company and have happy memories of this lovely man.”
Kenny’s funeral will take place on Tuesday, July 21, starting with a service at the Eddie Wright Raceway from 10 am. The funeral itself will be held at Woodlands Crematorium, Brumby Wood Lane, Scunthorpe, from 11 am. No flowers but donations are welcome to be made to the Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Cards can be sent to: Scunthorpe Raceway Ltd, 157 Moorwell Road, Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire, DN17 2SX.
For further information contact:
157 Moorwell Road
or visit the club website
From Concrete for Breakfast
The place is already a hive of activity in the pits, on the track and in the general environs of the club grounds. On the way to the loos I bump into Scunthorpe Scorpions team manager, the endlessly hail and hearty “Kenneth Smith” (as the programme calls him), who’s so smartly dressed in jacket, collared shirt and tie that he could easily have just come from conducting some local Sunday School services. He’s always affable and chatty whenever I meet him and looks fit and healthy. I mention this only because the Speedway Star reported that he’s recently ‘battled’ with cancer. Last time I saw him I studiously didn’t mention it – I understand the last thing you need if you have cancer is prurient albeit well meaning curiosity about the exact details and the present state of play – but this time I do. Kenny makes very light of the situation and appears genuinely embarrassed that public record of the news has somehow made him unnecessarily the centre of attention when his preference would have been to keep it quiet. Almost predictably given his attitude to people and life, he couches his comments in the language of good fortune, opportunity and respect for the skills of all the medical practitioners he met as well as concern for the worry and stress that it’s caused his family and friends. He has a strong life force about him and an easy confidence, allied to a self-deprecating sense of humour that can only come naturally rather than be affected. “When the news came out in the Star, I didn’t know until the phone rang and I was asked if I was selling my Long Track bikes. I’m not but when I asked ‘why?’ they said, ‘well you won’t be needing them any more!’” After some more chatter, Kenny bustles off to get on with something he loves and relishes – his speedway duties.
On the subject of dreams, the Scunthorpe riders have come out on their bikes for a victory parade to celebrate their convincing triumph. One of those on a machine is Kenny Smith who cuts an incongruously dashing figure in collared shirt, jacket flapping along with his ponytail. He pootles past grinning broadly and smirkingly catches the eye of his partner Julie Harrowven stood on the grass hillock in the knot of Scunny supporters, “that was to wind me up ’cause I told him I don’t want to push him in a wheelchair!” The backstory, as they’ve started to say in fashionable media circles nowadays, is slightly complicated since it mixes Kenny’s desire to beat his illness and pay tribute to a deceased young rider and his family. “He often says to me ‘I just want to ride four laps’. He wants to ride in the David Nix memorial meeting – ’cause he was there that night – but when he had his glands out it weakened a plated shoulder. He’ll make light of it and I know how good he is on a bike but if he needed to correct things, he’d be too weak to do it since the operation and that’s what I worry about!”
From Quantum of Shale
In the bar of my hotel, I bump into Scunthorpe team manager Kenny Smith ….[He] remains his usual cheerful, outgoing and clubbable self. His hair is tied into his trademark ponytail …an ex- speedway rider himself, Kenny takes a practical and sympathetic approach to young men he manages directly as well as those he’s previously worked with…. “I spoke to Charles Wright at Redcar on Thursday and asked him, what had happened there. He told me, ‘Auty had elbowed me first time out so I returned the favour’. I told him, ‘Lots of people will elbow you,’ and, he knows that…. At Scunthorpe Josh and Tai used to race all the time against each other when they were on the same team! I told them to ride as a team now and race each other in the World Final – as you’ll have plenty of time then!” Kenny has a casual modesty about his own racing career and skill as a rider. He has some unrepeatable stories about riding with Malcolm ‘Mad Wellie’ Holloway and some good stories about his experiences with Dave Mullett. He’s curious about what will happened to Reading speedway with the closure of Smallmead and also fondly recalls his days riding at Tilehurst. Various reminiscences from his time as a rider round the tracks blurt out, “I was taught how to ride at Exeter by Vaclav Verner. He said to aim at the fence and, then, brush your back wheel off it – woomph! Vaclav used to say his wheel only lasted eight meetings. We used to get up to all sorts. I remember Dave Kennett knocking me off (to break my wrist or arm) when he was really aiming to knock off second placed Dave Mullett – but I’d suddenly accelerated into that position! It’s different now to when I was a rider with lots of new tracks that we didn’t have then”
“It’s amazing how honest most people in speedway are. I got called to the gate at Scunny for a man who’d lost his wallet and I lent him £10 and the promoter said, ‘You’ll never see that again!’ And I said, ‘I’d have helped him anyway.’ The next week I was called back to the gate and repaid my money, he paid his entrance fee twice and spoke to Julie about a donation [£75] to the Riders’ Support Fund. I told him, ‘Take your cheque back, it wasn’t so you’d donate!’ He wouldn’t and the man even refused to give us his name (“just Alan”) for listing in the programme.”