Profiles of some of the people behind the scenes at Arlington
All over the country each speedway club has volunteers who give up many our to the sport and the club that they love. Without this unpaid labour many clubs couldn’t run or function as well as they do. I like to think that my books have given an airing to many of the neglected but important voices that make up the sport and make it the vibrant community that it is. Obviously, we wouldn’t have anything to go along to without the riders, promoters and officials but the fans and helpers are also as essential and vital part of the speedway community.
This season again I was lucky enough to be Writer in Residence at Eastbourne Speedway club. I was initially invited by Bob Brimson and was able to carry on under Martin Hagon. This season I wrote a weekly column for the programme (edited by the patient, kindly and knowledgeable Mick Corby) called ‘Left, Left, Left and Left Again‘. These are the snapshot profiles that appeared.
Ashley Wooler – Mechanic
A casual glance into the pits on race night – home or away – will quickly reveal it to be a hive of frenetic activity, frantic mechanical work and occasional raised voices. In rare moments of calm, you’ll find Cameron Woodward’s mechanic, the taciturn Ashley Wooler, rolling or smoking one of his trademark cigarettes. While he watched the new slim line Cameron Woodward pose for photos on a windy and drizzle swept centre green, the modest Ashley took a few moments to fill me in on the motorbiking pedigree that brought him to pit lane every week on race night.
“I came to Arlington as a toddler in the late 50’s, early 60’s because my dad Phil – being a local farmer – used to rotivate the track for Charlie Dugard. So really I’ve been coming here for as long as I can remember. I always come, even when I was racing myself but only a couple of times a year then. I started road racing as a sidecar passenger in 1976 and my second ever race was the Isle of Man TT. I did seven years running there before I retired in 1983 and took up show jumping. It wasn’t long before I was back racing on motorbikes again with off roadside cars. I did the British Championship Enduro’s and won three championships in the late 80’s, early 90’s. I forget the exact dates. Then I took up motocross in 1992 and, on exactly the same day that I took it up, I remember Martin Hagon and I lining up on the start line together. I worked my way up into the Top 30 and then was in the Top 10 for the rest of my career. I won a few things in Britain and did the GP’s as well for three years. In my last season, I went abroad 30 times but I retired at 40 because I decided it was time to stop! My all time favourite victory was when I was the 1992 Weston-super-Mare Beach race – that gave me a lot of satisfaction, mainly because I’d been trying so hard to win it!”
“I started coming to Arlington every week again but looking over the fence at everyone else doing things wasn’t for me – I had to get involved. Eventually I became Andrew Moore’s mechanic in his second year here, after he’d come back from his broken leg. Now I work with Cameron. I only do race day because I’m only a volunteer – I don’t get paid unlike some of the superstar mechanics who, obviously, do a lot more of the daily preparation that I don’t do. I’m going to do some of that this year for Cameron. To succeed in life, speedway or any form of motorcycle racing – it takes hard work and determination and Cameron has got loads of that. My main ambition for Cameron would be to stay safe. When I first did the TT’s older, wiser riders used to give me advice about how I could be safer – they’d have been the age I am now – but I didn’t listen. Looking back on it, I was really lucky. Safety is so important. I’d also like Cameron to work hard to improve his average this season –if you get those two things right, everything else will come with it. He’s worked hard on his fitness and lost five kilo’s and he’s lost another five off the bike, well thrown it off by getting rid of some nuts and bolts and that. The mental side of things is crucial nowadays if you want to get to the top and I’ve a close friend – Kevin Hollister of KHR – who runs some motocross workshops. He’s very good at getting his head round things and has tried to advise Cam with some positive thinking. He sponsors him but they’ve become friends now. Cam has a good few sponsors now [proudly shows me the list of them on the arm of his Cameron Woodward sweatshirt] but then that’s only natural because not only can they see his potential but you only have to spend a minute with him to see his friendly attitude. It’s genuine and he’s unaffected – Cam is always very grateful for any help and always lets everyone know. His parents should be very proud of how they’ve brought up their son. I’m sure he’s gonna get better and better – he deserves to excel with his attitude and hard work – but the main thing is staying safe.”
Alan Boniface – Track Shop Worker
I had hoped to interview Eagles track shop manager and Brighton fan, Martin Dadswell, but he refused citing shyness and the fact that his assistant Alan Boniface had greater longevity of service at the club as well as a wealth of stories. A nod is as good as wink, so I was able to grab a man the Argus dubbed in 2005 “the Sam Ermolenko of the Hellingley Lions” in recognition of the fact that he still regularly and wholeheartedly competed at cycle speedway – aged 47! “Cycle speedway is exactly the same as speedway except we don’t have engines. For many years, there was a natural progression from one sport to the other. Great names like Ronnie Moore and Ivan Mauger did it – everyone did it – Len Silver and Kevin Coombes too. There used to be a really close connection between the clubs I remember in 1970 when the Eagles came and raced against us with a side that included Dave Jessup along with Dave and Gordon Kennett. There was also a race in aid of the benefit of Matt Woodford who crashed at Stoke and broke his neck.”
“I was first brought along to Arlington aged 11 by my mum, Brenda, in 1969. She went with my step dad Reg Fox, who’d been going since the 50’s. We came every week and used to sit up the top of the old scaffolding stand, they had on the back straight before they had the one they have now. Looking back, they’re good memories, good days and the riders were close to the fans. Speedway was much more controversial then. It’s faster nowadays, of course, but it doesn’t make it better does it? Why do they need lay down engines – what was wrong with the old uprights? We went to all the home meetings and pretty well all the away ones because my dad used to do the coaches. We’d always take two or three coaches all over the place but going to Rayleigh, Romford, Crayford and Canterbury stand out. Canterbury were our deadly rivals and all hell used to break out; that said, there was always controversy even when we rode against Workington. It’s funny what you remember from back then – there was the time Terry Stone of Rayleigh had a fight with Bob Dugard on the centre green because he slightly wet him with the hose. Or when the coaches got smashed and we had to get a Police escort out of Canterbury because Bob knocked Ted Hubbard off.”
“I still hate to miss any meetings but it’s not the be all and end all it used to be. It’s a different era and the atmosphere is not the same. People have other things to do and many of the generation of fans who started when I did, don’t come any more. There used to be 5,000 here every week and you thought nothing of it. Just like cycle speedway (I eventually packed up at 47), coming here to Arlington to see the speedway has been my life. All the friends I’ve made and the camaraderie – it’s been unbelievable. You just can’t beat it – it’s hard to describe. The action, the adrenalin, the smell, four blokes going hell for leather and putting their lives on the line! The biggest disappointment in life used to be when it rained on a Sunday morning! I like collecting and I have so many things from over the years – for example, I have 2,500 photographs from 1969 alone. Mick Corby used to put my photos in the programme asking people if they could identify the odd mystery person. They couldn’t, of course, because we already knew (almost) everyone except for these mystery ones. Though it won’t go back to how it used to be, I have to say that this season feels different and more like old times after the disappointments and set backs of last year. There’s speedway people back in charge now and, hopefully, with a team of young riders – mostly British riders – still to reach their full potential we’ll get some of the excitement back. Hopefully, people will hear about it and start to come back like they used to!”
John Strudwick – Training Instructor
When Eastbourne “first started in the second division in 1969”, John came to watch with a friends neighbour and has been coming ever since, “apart from a brief spell hooked on Barry Sheene in his prime and I got back when my uncle George died and we brought his son Keith – who rode for Eastbourne Juniors – down to cheer him up!” John is much more of a man of action than words but soon warms to the theme of his speedway life in and around Arlington. “I rode speedway between 1978 and 1981. At my best I got to what is now conference league reserve and my claim to riding fame is that I used to regularly beat Mark Loram! Mind you, he was only about 14 at the time! In late 1980, I had a crash and broke my knee joint (tibia spine) and was put in plaster from top of my thigh to the tip of my toe. While I was in plaster, I went to watch at Sittingbourne – then known as Iwade – only to get run down by a young girl who had lost control of her bike. From this I sustained a broken thighbone, gained two metal plates and 13 screws plus I had to take six months off work. I then retired and went back to watching it every week, hoping from then on it was safer than riding!”
John then stayed on the other side of the safety fence until 2000 when start marshal Alan Rolfe “invited me to give him a hand on the starting gate – to grade the track and that. In 2001, I started helping out at the junior track, and for the last four years have been a licensed training instructor along with Colin Ackroyd who had to stand down at end of last season. I firmly believe it’s important to catch the youngsters early, as they are the seeds of our sport – not even the grassroots – for the future. Even if they don’t go on to become a speedway rider, for every one that rides we usually get two adults and more children coming along and getting the bug, if only to watch. The sport always needs new fans but needs British riders even more. In the past it has been very difficult to get promoters interested. This year I’m a training instructor along with Martin Dugard and Martin Hagon, so there’s already an awful lot more interest in the youth side of the Eagles and to run a junior track on Saturday afternoons. With support and backing from the promoters – Martin and Martin and their willingness to help out – I’m personally so much more enthusiastic! Plus what we have here in the senior team is exceptional – it’s Team England, really.”
John also helps erect the air fence at Arlington. “We come down on a Thursday night and, with five or six colleagues and friends, we erect it. Jon Cook agreed to second half racing as quid pro quo for putting it up and taking it down. If we get a full team of volunteers (10 people), it takes nearly three quarters of an hour to take down. It’s a filthy, horrible job that has to be done and we’re always looking for volunteers who want to play an important part at the club. I also co-ordinate the second halves – they just don’t run themselves – it involves work on the night checking licences and the like but also at home on the phone and doing paperwork. My opinion is that access to tracks for the youngsters – the riders of tomorrow – is the biggest issue facing the sport. You have Eastbourne, Sittingbourne and Scunthorpe, plus the good work of the Southern Track Amateur Speedway Club who run 15 events mainly at places like King’s Lynn, Newport and, recently, Rye House. But still there’s a lack of support overall in speedway for youngsters and my big worry is if it disappeared! People really don’t know what they have until it’s gone.”
“I must say, what I like about speedway is, that as a supporter, you can wonder through the pits and talk to the world’s top riders – unlike most other motor sports, well any sport. You always make friends at speedway. I almost had to give up speedway (including retiring my son, Niall) last season when my wife, Annette, was diagnosed with cancer. But, with a lot of help and support from some good friends, I was able to continue. And to those friends I would like to say a big ‘thank you’!”
Kevin Coombes –Announcer/Presenter
Kevin started on the microphone at Arlington in 1993 and hasn’t looked back since then in his speedway presentational career! Widely recognised for his innovative work in the sport, nowadays he’s also the voice of the Cardiff Grand Prix for the fans but it might not have turned out like that. “I kind of found Arlington Stadium by accident in the late 70’s when my family were driving by in our Ford Corsair and heard all this noise. I first saw an Individual Knock Out Cup competition in second halves called the Golden Snowball. I got through the turnstiles for free – as no one was manning them – was totally hooked and like a little kid in a sweet shop. After that Sunday afternoons were always special with big crowds. There were all those brilliant riders who wore the Eagles colours: Kelly Moran, Ron Preston, Bobby Schwartz, the two Standing twins Dean and Darren, plus Floppy, Deano and the two Dugard’s. We used to travel on the road so I heard what other people were doing as far as speedway presentation as concerned. I fell into it by accident when car sharing to work I heard that the regular presenter Tom Garnell had went away for two weeks to watch F1 racing. I had my opinions on his personal style and said to my friends I could do a better job. I had some microphone experience as a DJ with my mobile disco, so it was time to put my money where my mouth was. Obviously, I was very nervous! It was a junior meeting in 1993 – the Arthur Nutley Memorial Trophy, won by Paul Dugard. Apparently Bob Dugard said ‘who was that doing the mike?’ and said he wanted me. I’ve been doing it ever since. I knew I didn’t want to do it like they did at other tracks then – two guys talking to each other forgetting about the crowd – I decided I could do it as one person provided I had great communication with box. Luckily I have Barrie Geer who’s brilliant, no gifted at what he does and makes my job so easy to do properly. He has been doing it longer than I have – since the mid-80’s when he was working under the watchful gaze of ‘Mr. Arlington Stadium’ himself, the great Charlie Dugard. You have to strike a balance and try to get it over to the fans what’s happening in the pits and also let them know what they want to know. You need the riders to be approachable cos you’ve got a job to do as well as them! I’ve got a very good rapport with the home and away riders that’s been built up through trust over time. I have enormous respect for what they do to entertain us. I love the sport and wish I could do it myself. The closest I came was a weekend training school at Arena in 1991 run by Greg Hancock. The bikes had big cowhorn handlebars and I wore Rick Miller’s leathers – so my speedway claim to fame is I’ve worn his race suit! But, for me, Eastbourne has been in my blood for years and I love nothing more than to see us win. I can recall all the big meetings, the real high’s: the KO Cup Finals we’ve had here against Cradley Heath and, obviously, when we won the League in 2000 against King’s Lynn with 6,500 fans, plus the World Cup qualifier with Team GB against Poland. However, cos of my work on the presenting side I have to be even handed and seen to be sitting on the fence. Which I do! If I can I introduce a little bit of razzmatazz to go with that served up on the track. At the end of the day, I’m just a speedway fan – albeit a hugely privileged one – I’m not a radio broadcaster, I was just a mobile disc jockey who happened to be in the right place at the right time who also loves this sport and Eastbourne. I don’t ever get jaundiced cos speedway really does it for me! It’s so unpredictable and exciting! Just to see it live and to smell it always delights me. Two minutes before on parade I take deep breaths, focus, think which way to go and then we’re off. And I’m doing the best job – a job I love – in the world!
Cameron Woodward – Rider
Cameron’s electrifying start to the 2008 campaign in England is also complemented by riding in Poland this season. I caught up with Cameron after he’d had an intensive day of cleaning the thick clay based East of England Showground mud from his bike for some insights from his initial forays into Eastern Europe to hone his skills as an all round speedway rider.
“I’ve been to Rzeszow (it’s said Jej-Joff) twice so far, once for a practice and once for a meeting. It’s not a permanent thing because I’m a back up rider in case any one is injured or out of form. I have a two year deal and I’ll do Open meetings and practice meetings along with as and when I’m called into the team. They have signed some Polish juniors too but my aim is to try to get better and better on these quicker tracks to make the case for my selection. It’s also a chance to really get to know each circuit well, which has to be good experience and good for my future in Poland. The Pole cats fly round there and it’s so competitive!”
“Davey Watt’s has been invaluable in providing advice about all sorts of things from the people, the tracks and set up’s as well as what to do about a few Polish managers talking to me about becoming my agent. Rzeszow ride in the hardest Polish league and the other ‘foreigners’ in my team are Scott, Kenneth Bjerre, Roman Povazhny and Matej Zagar. They’re looked on as a small club but get 10,000 at their home meetings and between 7,000 and 8,000 at a practice meeting! I went to Poland for the World Cup meeting two years ago as a mechanic so got a taste of their fanaticism then so I knew they were passionate but it’s still incredible. The stadium is unbelievable and they have an elevated pits. Below that is a whole workshop where they have everything you can imagine from lathes, mills to engine tuners. At the moment, they’ve supplied me a bike. If things go well, I will ship a couple of bikes and engines out there. I fly from Stansted on a Sunday, stay overnight after the meeting and fly back the next day. So, it’s an experience off the track too. It’s a bit hard with the language barrier and, though they’re not, they always sound like they’re arguing whenever you listen to them. They’re very friendly and can’t do enough for me. During the season, my diet can’t be as strict as it is in the summer [in Australia] because you can only get what you can get when you’re travelling and racing. They have really tasty food like spicy sausages and stuff.”
“I’m keen to carry on learning and getting better everywhere I ride. I rode in Sweden last season for a second division club and did eight meetings. It was cool and where I was racing, they weren’t big clubs but I’m learning my trade and learning the [Swedish] First Division tracks. The plan is to do well in the lower league, win some races and get my confidence up. They ride on a Thursday night so it’s a bit of a gap filler when I haven’t got an Elite League meeting to go to. There are quite a few tracks that ride here on a Thursday – Swindon, Peterborough and Poole – so, obviously, Eastbourne is always my priority then. I’m taking over two bikes next week. Wherever I ride I want to win but, just as importantly, I want to learn and gain experience. Things have started well for the Eagles, we’ve got a great team and I just want to carry on doing my part for us!”
Mike Hinves – Photographer
“It’s a privilege to be able to watch any speedway meeting from the centre green” so says Eagles track photographer Mike Hinves. Like many who spend their time behind the lens of the camera, Mike shuns the spotlight whenever he can and quietly gets on with his job. Asked to sum up what he does in a few words, Mike thinks for a moment and then modestly notes, “I just try to help people out”. He started going to watch speedway in 1976 when he went along to watch the action at White City, “when the license came to Eastbourne in, around, 1979 we came down then and followed Gordon Kennett and Kai Niemi. At the end of the 70s, start of the 80s I was one of the blokes who stood by the starting gate. Well, we had to stand next to the rider in case they stalled or, if anyone fell, you had to pull them off the track if you could. I was the man in the blue overalls, then.” After an initial spell with the track staff, Mike “went round with Lee Richardson’s granddad, Eric, when he mechanicked for Kelly Moran. We used to travel with them sometimes and load up the bikes and just help with things like that. I took Kelly to the airport before the World Final and was generally just a nuisance.” Helping riders out with transport or the offer of overnight accommodation near to Heathrow – “our house is open house for the riders. Five years ago we had most of the Eastbourne team stay after the Wolves meeting before they flew out to Sweden” – has become a popular habit for riders and a tradition within the Hinves household. “Speedway has become a way of life for us. We travel as a family. My daughter Lauren (18) went to every Eastbourne home and away meeting last season – she’s been brought up with it since she came as a baby aged three months – and, along with my wife Bev, we’ve just been making a small contribution to something we love.” Understanding in the Hinves household has to be the order of the day since a quarter century of photography has created a substantial archive of material. “I started working in speedway photography in the mid-80s when Kelly Moran moved away from Eastbourne after Russell Lanning took over as co-promoter here. Originally no one was prepared to do it, so I did the work for the Star and a few of the local papers that cover and support speedway in Sussex – the Gazette, the Herald and the Argus. Anything that helped promote speedway and the club as well as show them in a favourable light was always going to be good to be involved with. I’m happy to do it at my expense, as it’s something I love and definitely find fulfilling. Since the move to digital it’s much easier to store material nowadays but, all my years spent during the develop and print era of photography, means we have quite a few boxes stored at home! I reckon roughly two million [photos] would cover it. This morning [at Poole] I took 350 and that’s just about average, I’d say.” Asked what the sport could do to make things even better and become more popular, Mike answers diplomatically, “You haven’t got enough paper to write down what could be improved! Let’s just say that people should remember that without the riders we wouldn’t have a sport. Maybe a sensible starting point would be to take some of the bureaucracy out of it!” When it comes to the Eagles, Mike is ebullient, “there’s much more a buzz about the place this year – people seem much more into it and, if we avoid injuries, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we did really well this season!”
Mick Corby – Programme Editor
Mick went to his first meeting at Arlington in 1962 on a Saturday night aged 14, “It was rained off – it should have told me something!” The journey there from Brighton took some dedication, “the only way to get there was to walk to the train station, get the train to Polegate, walk some more, get a bus to Hailsham and then walk to the stadium. It took the best part of a couple of hours. It was well worth it, though. Not that you’d recognise the place from back then – it was a basic track with a corrugated iron fence. I thought the racing was brilliant along with the smell and the noise. Bob Dugard was riding then, in non-League meetings that ran every fortnight then they ran spasmodically for a few years and I went everywhere round the country to watch speedway. I was a regular on Saturdays at Wimbledon – we first went there when Bob was riding there – and then, in 1969, Division 2 came to Arlington. So I saw the cream of Division I one night – Ronnie Moore was my favourite of all time because he was brilliant and totally without controversy – and the up and coming riders at the weekend.”
Mick has been a world record holder and appeared in the Guinness Book of Records as part of the team that set a bar billiard record (120 hours 15 minutes) on 30th May 1973 at the ‘Royal Hussar’, Brighton. “It was beaten the following week but the book had gone to press by then. There are all sorts of complex rules – things you can and can’t do – a bit like speedway really. Only a few weeks later (June 20th) I caught the meningitis that caused my paraplegia. I was in the wrong place at the right time!” Having got a real taste for speedway, Mick took it much further in 1986 when he “got involved with the consortium behind Boston speedway” after a couple of cycle speedway mates “asked if I wanted to become part of things. They ran for a season and half during a period when top riders like Dave Jessup, Gordon Kennett and Kevin Jolly dropped down a division and upped the ante cost-wise. “Most fans really have no idea how much goes into running a whole track, the stadium and a team. It is a phenomenal and all consuming job. There is just so much to organise and do. At Boston, I ran the junior team in the second halves. When Gareth Rogers took over at Eastbourne in 1988 for three seasons, I started to help with the programme. In 1991 we didn’t run at all and in 1992 the Eagles were reborn! I then got really involved as Junior Team manager on and off until this season when John Strudwick has taken on things. I was purely a manager and organiser because really ex-riders should always do junior coaching. These riders will be the lifeblood of the sport but, sadly, we don’t have enough coming through nowadays. At Eastbourne we’re lucky with our location and the facilities and benefit from the genuine enthusiasm of Martin Hagon and Martin Dugard for the youngsters, as they really believe in the need for their development. But the chances for them to ride has really reduced in this country since many clubs don’t own their stadiums, there are also noise restrictions and curfews so it’s become more and more difficult. Never mind that youngsters have so many alternative things to do and choose from – I’d love to be young again and have all those choices. There has also been the rise of Moto-X, which is really an individual thing whereas speedway is, ultimately, a team sport where you have to have more commitment and dedication. Not just the travel but also all the preparation and cleaning. We need more riders but some are so talented – riders like Edward and Lewis – that they would have by-passed the second half system of any era. You’ve got to provide the structure so people can have a chance to ride, that’s the measure of success not necessarily the outcome. That said, I’d like to think I’d helped Bobby Eldridge and Shane Colvin make it in the Premier League as well as some others at Conference level.”
Mick is modestly proud of his work as Eagles programme editor. “The club won the Best Programme Award in 2005 – good for everyone concerned – and when you get into a routine things go swimmingly. I’m lucky because I have a good working relationship with Les at Fineprint and the contributors, especially Kevin Ling, have been brilliant. I also do the Sittingbourne programme, which is the complete opposite to Eastbourne but each are enjoyable in their own different way!”
“People say how much faster the sport is now and how much better the racing was in the past but it’s still a very exciting sport as it is. I have travelled all over the world to watch speedway, including some of the more unusual countries staging meetings. It’s been fascinating and you make friends, of course. Then, that’s speedway, standing on the terraces in the sunshine with good friends putting the sport and the world to rights.”
Sid Shine – Supporters Club
Sid went to watch speedway in the late ‘40s at Harringay where his favourite rider was Vic Duggan “’cos he rarely got beat”. Work, National Service and family then intervened for half a century and his interest “fizzled out”. During these years, Sid was the Head Reader at Greenaways – the printing firm who have been printing for the Royal Family since Queen Victoria was on the throne and later, the Government and the Bank of England were among the Company’s clients. This thereby gives Eastbourne speedway a connection to the wedding of Charles and Di as Sid worked on all the Ceremonial and Marriage documents, including the Order of Service along with the Processional details for July 29, 1981. He also worked on Prince Andrew and Sarah Fergusson’s big day on July 23, 1986.Keeping some sort of order in pit lane after it closes to the public on race night is a doddle in comparison.
Sid’s involvement in speedway was a thing of the past until a trip to the South Coast with his wife 13 years ago included a trip to Arlington, which saw his enthusiasm re-ignited (“We liked Eastbourne and tried a trip to the speedway”). He lives in Bethnal Green, but “I’ve been coming to Arlington ever since the Hackney track closed, but I still have the memory of that amazing left hook from Craig Boyce to floor Tomas Gollob.
“Within a year, in the late ‘90s, I was helping with the then Supporters club but creating a regular Newsletter, which contained stats on all the riders – it was all mainly Martin [Dugard] really, he was the star! It died out after a year or two. Then Sheila Maskell (who has been helping out for over 50 years!) asked me to help on gate 7, which is the one closest to the pits that all the riders use to get in and out of. It’s a great job watching the comings and goings, and I enjoy the atmosphere of race night and find all the different people you get to meet very friendly.
“I produce the riders signing sheet for each Home match which, to my knowledge, isn’t done anywhere else. It’s something the club has to do for insurance as well as health and safety purposes. Signing-in applies to all riders and staff from both teams. I also compile the team statistics and supply all the Eagles riders with their individual stats so they can see how they’re progressing during the season.
“This season, with the help of Martin and Charlotte Hagon, Chris Watts, Dennis Isaac (of Meridian Marquees) and Nick Walker, we have set up the Supporters Club again and, so far, it has been going well with over 70 members. I’d urge everyone who loves or follows the Eagles to join up! It’s great value at £5 per member or £10 for a family (of up to 4 members) per season. There are all sorts of benefits from joining, apart from helping the club, as it is there to help the riders and the members themselves.
“Along with Chris Watts, we started the 50-50 Club, which is very well supported, helping not only first and second half riders, but also encouraging the youngsters on the training track. The ‘Rider of the Week’ gets a medal and a certificate to acknowledge their accomplishment and to encourage them to try to do better. Chris and I have given out over £2,000 so far from the 50-50 Club.
“I also keep a record of all the Second Half riders at Arlington so that at the end of the season the Top Two will receive a cash bonus from the 50-50 Club – last year the Top Two each received £50 each.”
With the arrival of Martin Hagon as joint promoter at the club, Sid has noticed many positive changes but worries that the lower reaches of the Elite League and the upper echelons of the Premier League are gradually becoming closer in terms of the standard of riders, though still not quite inter-changeable. “I think we need a bigger sized league of, say, 15 or 16 teams who would race home and away only once a season. People would see more teams and, possibly, that would bring them back to the sport in bigger numbers. With more teams in the Elite League we would possibly see missing top riders like Michael Max, Nicki Pedersen, Rune Holta and Tomas Gollob back in this country. Even if that doesn’t happen, I would like to see Knock Out Cup that combines all the Elite and Premier teams. It may not work out financially but it would certainly add interest and get people talking!”
Brian Owen – Sports Reporter
Brian started his career in local journalism in 1987 in Horsham and started to cover sport from 1990. He moved to The Argus in 1998 as a sub-editor and, since he gained this foot on the ladder, has gradually increased the portfolio of sports he covers for the paper. As well as speedway, he covers Albion (as back up to Andy Naylor), writes the rugby page (“not a professional sport in Sussex”) and used to cover both the cricket (“until it got too much”) and basketball (“until they packed up”).
When John Freemantle covered the speedway at Arlington, Brian was the office-based sub-editor, “I felt I knew most of the names and the recent history before I ever set foot in the stadium because I’d been back in the office doing it all every week.” Since 2005, speedway has been his beat as reporter so he’s got to see behind the scenes at nearly every Elite League track in the country. “Eastbourne has the best feel to it of all the Elite tracks because of the buzz, the atmosphere and the vantage points you get as a journalist. I suppose it’s because it is a proper motorised sports stadium whereas some of the other clubs are only tenants in stadiums built for different sporting purposes. Oxford seemed on borrowed time when I went – I suppose it was on a downward spiral by then – and never knew quite what to make of Reading. I really enjoyed Coventry as it seemed like a real speedway club and Swindon felt like a good operation too! Arena felt awful when I went but I haven’t been back in the Jon Cook era and everyone says it’s different now. In an ideal world, it would be good if everyone had their own stadium but it’s not going to happen really!”
“I think speedway should have a set race night – the weekend is the obvious time of the week to stage meetings and, when I first started, I thought everyone raced on a Saturday night as that would be most logical. When you think about it, football still mainly kicks off on a Saturday at 3pm except for fixtures changed by the telly. So, everyone just about knows where they stand. The GP’s a problem and I know Bob Dugard talks about getting rid of all the GP riders but I also know people who just go to Arlington to watch Nicki or Scott, nowadays. From an excitement point of view, you want riders who struggle from the gate and have to fight their way back through the field. People like Lewis or Chris Harris. Nicki was always exciting to watch in the GP’s (not the Elite League as he was gone by the second corner most of the time). I really enjoy watching Scott now. I really didn’t know how good he is. He’s fascinating to watch and you really couldn’t beat the recent Swindon meeting for excitement. Nicki Pedersen is the most professional sportsman I’ve come across in any sport not just speedway – his preparation and organisation for everything is world class.”
“From a journalistic point of view, the best thing about speedway is the access to the riders (and the promoters). Everyone is open and honest – they say what’s on their mind rather than what they think they should say. I suppose the mentality of someone who wants to race at high speed on a bike without brakes means that they’re going to be interesting people to talk to. They always come up with something different. They’re generally less guarded about what they say than other sportsmen, though there are exceptions everywhere. Quite often I speak to them straight off their bike after Heat 15 and the lap of honour. It’s a high octane sport and they say what they think rather than half an hour later say some more measured and bland! You only have to glance at the Speedway Star to see all the strong opinions and arguments nearly every week to know that everyone is very up front. It’s a hard old sport and, looked at from the outside, it seems inevitable that you’re going to get injured. People who don’t know the sport have no idea about the travel involved let alone how they ride through a pain barrier no one else would even think about putting up with. It’s very enjoyable to cover for The Argus and I always look forward to a thrilling Saturday night watching the races!”
Sheila Maskell – Gate 7 Steward
A familiar face to anyone who has walked through or past gate number 7 at Arlington will be that of Sheila Maskell who has worked there for the last thirty or so years. That entrance gate is the one closest to the pits that all the riders, mechanics, officials and guests use to get in and out of on race night. Locally based in Cowbeech six miles from the stadium, Sheila has been coming to Eastbourne speedway for 53 years ever since she left school (“I came on my own and met friends here – it’s a very friendly sport”). She fell into her regular involvement with the club three decades ago, hasn’t looked back though she has seen “too many changes at the club to remember them all. My job is to look after everything to do with this gate. I get here about 3pm on race day and stay until after Heat 15. I don’t stay for the second half any more. I have to sign in all the riders, mechanics and second halfers so that they’re insured and legal at the stadium as well as help with whoever else we have to look after coming through on any night. Tonight we have all the Sky people so that adds to things. There are others who try to sneak in or say they should come in but they don’t! Mainly I know them who comes in and those who don’t. Obviously, there’s the riders in the team. But, equally, we get lots of old riders come over here: Mike Sampson, Dave and Gordon Kennett, Malcolm Ballard, Roger Johns and, of course, Trevor [Geer] still works here. Nicki Pedersen was my favourite because he always speaks to you and it’s nice to have Lee Richardson back as he always speaks too and is sociable, plus he’s one of the old boys who used to ride here when they were youngsters. I have been to some other tracks – my husband Chris has taken me to Arena and Poole – but they’re nothing like Arlington, which, I suppose, has spoilt me. I’m not sure what makes a good speedway club or stadium but, one thing is for sure, you need to have seats. I just love the general atmosphere at speedway and seeing all my friends. I just like coming over and it’s much better than just sitting at home. My younger brother [Ray] is interested too and he sponsors three of the riders and used to be the mechanic for David Norris. Not sure what we could improve here although I wish we’d get our team decided earlier in the [close] season and not wait to the last minute so we don’t have any real choices left and get the rubbish!’”
While we speak Sheila multitasks – signing people in, waving, makes suggestions, offers instructions and scampers about to ensure a small child is safely out of harms way from a reversing vehicle. She has a word for everyone but does her work with matter of fact efficiency. The arrival of Scott Nicholls with his partner, Sophie Blake, and their daughter causes brief excitement. Everyone is officially signed in along with managing the most important item on gate 7 tonight – a Get Well Soon card for Chris Louis (“he’s here tonight for Sky so we can give it to him”). Sheila has the last word, “I can’t always remember what happened three weeks ago but I would never forget to come here on a Saturday (or whatever days we do) because it’s such fun and so friendly here!”
Ross Woodward – Speedway dad
When your son rides a high powered speedway bike without brakes for a living, it’s understandably bound to cause the odd parental anxiety. Cameron Woodward’s parents have the added complication that they live thousands of miles away in Australia. On his trip over to England, I caught up with Ross Woodward to find out how come their son is now making headway so successfully in the sport in this country. “I went to speedway in Mildura as a teenager but didn’t go regularly and I knew of Phil Crump before he went to England. My younger brother Graham had a motorbike wrecking shop – pulling parts off bikes – and he built a junior speedway bike for one lad one season. Cameron came round to the track to have a go on it aged 11 or 12. He had a few crashes on the day and was given advice by Jason Lyons who we knew through his dad, the late Rodney Lyons. Cameron and I both agree that the reason we have so many good junior and senior riders coming from Mildura is down to Rodney and Jason. There’s a huge list of them – off the top of my head there’s Jason Crump, Leigh Adams, Travis McGowan, Mark Lemon, Cory Gathercole and Tom Hedley. Cameron will be able to tell you more. Jason’s a thorough gentleman who helps everyone who needs it, including the away riders. He spots faults or notices if you’re doubtful about something and corrects it in a nice way!”
“It helps that we have an open policy at the Mildura track which means so long there’s two adults minimum in attendance, on any day you can access the track to practice as long as you like and use the facilities as well as the water truck, tractor and the like. Our senior track is 300 metres and we have a junior track too. Rodney was always there to help Cameron and anyone else. He was made a Life Member of the Mildura Motorcycle Club (and also the Aussie Rules Football Umpires Association). You only get nominated for these things because of the respect you’re held in by your community – the fact that he was elected a Life Member of two sports that shows how genuine a man he was! He’s still really sadly missed by everyone [he passed away in 2007].”
“I’m blessed with the best wife and three kids, so we used to travel as family (wife Jenni and daughters Kerryn and Kendall) to junior speedway to watch and support Cameron. Before that all I did was work seven days a week. In addition to being a speedway rider, Cameron is a fully qualified plumber but he has no ambition to return to the trade! I couldn’t be more proud of him – he’s a long way from home and has a lot of responsibility but I always knew he’d do well as he’s got good character and is a very honest person. He’s been here for a few years now and proved his independence as well as developed a sense of humour. I think the reason so many of the Aussies thrive here is – unlike the Brits, Poles, Swedes and Danes – they’re so far away from home that they can’t go sooking [translation = whinging and moaning] home to mum and dad. They just have to get on with it and make the success they can. We visit every year but Cameron is making his own way. The biggest shock about speedway in this country is how quickly the meetings are all over and done with here. At Mildura we start at 4.30pm and leave at 11pm, longer at an away track like Tamworth where it starts a couple of hours earlier and often finishes at midnight. There will be 70 events [of various motorcycle disciplines] raced during that time but then we don’t have to prep the track every four heats as, once it’s done, it stays good all night in Australia. I must say that at Eastbourne Cameron has been made really welcome. The people are fantastic; it’s marvellous how super friendly everyone has been! The promotion invited me out and I was amazed with how laid back and normal they were. Then, it’s a very professional operation here with tantrums or pretensions.”
Lee Richardson – International Speedway rider
We all know that most talented speedway riders eventually get to ply their trade in the major speedway leagues throughout Europe (Britain, Sweden and Poland) along with some minor ones like Denmark. In recent years the rise of Russian League speedway has added a whole new dimension to the travel itinerary of the ‘foreign’ (and even the home grown) speedway riders who compete there. One such rider is Eastbourne captain, Lee Richardson. “It’s a really long journey but it depends which way I’m going. If I go after a Swedish meeting, I’ll fly from Stockholm to Copenhagen (one hour) and then from there to Moscow (three hours). I’ll then take an internal flight to Samara, which is another three hours. After that it’s a drive of about an hour to ninety minutes to get to the track of my club, SK Turbina Balakovo. If I go from the UK then it’s four hours to Moscow and then on from there.”
“We all know Russia is a big country but not many people know that there are 11 time zones, more than any other country in the world. Balakovo is in the European part of the country, so in Russian terms it’s not too bad, there are two tracks, Togliatti and Salavat relatively close by. And Chervonograd in Ukraine isn’t a major problem, that isn’t too far from Poland. But the other League track Vladivostok is a different ball game altogether, in the Pacific region known as Primorsky Krai. They’re seven hours ahead of Moscow time, which is itself three hours ahead of UK time. They share the same time zone as New South Wales in Australia to give you an idea of the time difference we’re talking about! When you get there your body just doesn’t know what time it is. Vladivostok takes eight hours on the Russian national carrier airline, Aeroflot (they have nice new planes).
“When I arrive in Balakovo, often I just have a sleep for an hour or so and then I have to race. I take my kit bag with all my racing gear in it along with an engine, seat, exhaust, clutch and carburettor with me – oh, and my mechanic! – while they supply everything else including a chassis and the rest of the bike. Once you get outside Moscow – like all capital cities it’s very cosmopolitan – it’s really a pretty intense experience and a bit of an eye opener. They have no middle class really to speak of – everyone is either extremely rich or extremely poor. High profile people run the clubs themselves and there is a lot of money surrounding Russian speedway. The fans themselves don’t have much money though but are very committed. This year there are more meetings – about 20, I think – and their season runs from April to October. Obviously, a lot of Russians ride there – I think they’re really going to make big strides as a speedway nation in the coming years – as do lots of Poles. Though we’re obviously all very busy with the leagues we ride in regularly already, it’s definitely the case that more and more foreigners, not just the Poles, are riding there now. Togliatti have Nicki Pedersen and Ryan Sullivan (who now lives in Poland), while Salavat have Tomasz Gollob and riders the Eastbourne fans will know like Sergei Darkin and Renat Gafurov. In my team we have recognisable names like Protasiewicz, Gizatullin, Povazhny and Walasek. Anyone who underestimates the quality of the races or the meetings will get a shock with just how competitive it’s become, let alone when they realise how much it’s really growing. It’s a hell of an experience. Everyone is very friendly and I get on well there. Obviously, some things are very different. Their food is alright too – I tasted it once and enjoyed what I ate until I realised I’d just eaten cows tongue! Mind you, you’ll eat anything when you’re hungry!”
Roger, Maureen, Mark and Paul Bruton – Refreshment kiosk staff
Based in his kiosk close to the pits, Roger Bruton and his wife Maureen have worked at Arlington on speedway nights for the past 22 years. “We weren’t new to it when we started because we had a shop in the High Street Precinct in Hailsham.” Like the sport itself has changed, the diet of speedway fans has altered over the years, “people make much more health conscious choices nowadays. Five years ago we hardly sold a bottle of water but it has become really big, though coke is still number one. We’re quite selective with what we stock generally and our philosophy is always to keep prices at a level that is affordable, fair and realistic. A cup of tea is 60p – something I’m told compares very favourably with prices at other stadiums elsewhere – and remains very popular (ours is the best at Arlington). The sport has definitely got more professional over the years. The riders have better equipment and there’s more track safety with the air fences. I think in some ways the sport has now caught up with how professionally things have traditionally been done here at Arlington. Margaret and Bob Dugard have always put in a huge amount of effort to provide an extremely well run track and stadium. Nowadays, Sky coverage has helped the profile since the sport has become more media orientated. But it has also been a mixed blessing since it’s had a bad impact on the domestic season with the disruption caused by the GP’s. Another worry over the last decade is the lack of talented, young British riders coming through the system. Here at Arlington, Martin Hagon and Martin Dugard make the facilities available for youngsters but very few tracks have that attitude or give that opportunity. It’s not just practice on the junior track or second halves but occasional proper meetings where they can ride on the senior track. Both our sons started out on the junior track over the back and our eldest son, Mark, progressed on and rode speedway here at one time as well as at Coventry and Long Eaton.”
Maureen Bruton adds, “we used to watch all the time then, though I used not to be able to look and thought he would fall off all the time. He was a bit of a tearaway and did have a nasty crash where he broke his pelvis. But he did ride again and he loved doing it, but really you can’t go out and enjoy yourself and also excel at speedway, can you?”
Based elsewhere in the stadium in the ideally placed kiosk that overlooks the third bend (with hair that appears to have inspired Adam Skornicki), Mark Bruton fondly recalls his time as a rider, “I first started as a rider in 1985 (aged 12), then had a break while I played some football before I started riding again at around 14 or 15. I’m proud I got to ride here and at a few other clubs. If someone would give me the sponsorship, I’d ride again tomorrow! To be honest with you, I think it’s got a little bit easier nowadays. When I rode each team always had three good heat leaders – for example, here we had Martin, Dean and David – whereas now it’s more like one or two really good ones plus youngsters. This season Eastbourne are on the up though I’d like to see us a bit stronger at reserve. Though, to be fair, James Brundle was starting to come good and then he has his accident. I know from experience (when I had my fractured pelvis), that injuries can set you back. That said, I still love it and stood here every week, not only do I have the best view in the house but I’m working too!”
On the opposite side of the track round at the kiosk close by the start line, Paul explains why he didn’t follow his brother into the sport, “dad made me stop speedway because I was a bit of a lunatic! I’ve been doing this on race night for the fifteen years since. I think the racing is much better nowadays than it was as rather than hugging the white line and being boring, more riders go round the outside. My favourite all-time rider was Bobby Ott – he was always on his back wheel – and Nicki was brilliant but whether he was my favourite, I don’t know. I’ve been to quite a few tracks when I used to ferry my brother about, so I’ve seen how they do things elsewhere at places like Poole or Coventry (including a British Final there). We’ve got things good here and things have lifted this season. I think it’s gonna be close this season and we’ll make the Play Off’s, if we do something at reserve. If not, we won’t.” Every single Bruton family member has assured me that the tea served at their kiosk is genuinely the best on offer in the stadium. Paul isn’t in doubt either, “theirs is very good but mine is by far the best cup of tea at Arlington.”
Edward Kennett – Grand Prix Wild Card
Since Martin Dugard’s wild card selection some years ago and David Noris more recently, Eastbourne haven’t had an English born rider compete in the blue riband event of the speedway calendar, the British round of the Grand Prix series. Whereas Martin won at Coventry, Edward will journey to the indoor circuit at the magnificent Millenium Stadium in Cardiff and ply his skills in front of 40,000 enthusiastic fans. There will be an added incentive to win since this is one of the four Super Prix rounds of the Grand Prix series. Some of those inside the stadium on June 28th will have come from East Sussex to loudly cheer on Super Ted, the already vastly experienced Hasting born rider who is still only 21 years old and still has the majority of his speedway career before him. Though this is a vital step in the career plan he has mapped out for himself, Edward is determined to follow the successful lead of Martin Dugard’s previous wild card triumph to ignore the associated razzmatazz of the day and just get on with the job in hand. “I’m just going to adopt my normal routine that I do for any meeting. We’ll go as we are! We’ll take two bikes with two set-ups and engines. This season I’ve changed engine tuners and Craig Boyce does mine now but he’s more than that as he offers advice too, given he’s been around he can provide the insight of an ex-rider at many tracks. I speak to him about things and took him to the British Final too. In the pits, I’ll have Chris [Geer] on the tools as well as Cameron [Woodward] and me dad will also be there, of course. My family and friends will also be in the stands but they would have been anyway. During the winter I worked hard every day on my fitness with lots of running and the like. I eat sensibly but don’t get obsessed enough to analyse my body fat percentages like, say, the Danes who’re pretty different to us. Obviously I take confidence from the fact that I’m pretty good indoors and Jon Cook has said some nice things about that in the Argus, which gives me that bit more of a boost and some additional belief that I can carry on my past Brighton Centre indoor form onto the Millenium Stadium. I’ve been there before as a reserve and the only real difference this time is that I’m older and more experienced, plus I’ll get all me rides. Obviously, I’ll still try to appreciate things on the day but really I’ll just be normal and not put any pressure on myself. Hopefully, I’ll make a few starts and, if I do, then may be I’ll become the first British rider to win a Grand Prix race this season! Who knows? My ambition is to qualify to be a full time member of the Grand Prix series. I’ve reached but I’m still to race the semi final stage of the 2009 qualification process. It would be really nice to do the whole series and to be an integral part of the thing throughout. The top 16 boys are the best in the whole world, so Cardiff is going to be a taste of that! On the day I’m just going to be myself, surround myself with good people and enjoy the experience. I’ll try my best and see where that takes me – the next day I’ll be back racing again at Arlington and we’ll all know what has happened by then, won’t we!”
Barrie Geer – Sound Manager (and Incident Recorder)
Another member of the Geer dynasty at Arlington – along with brother Chris (mechanic to Edward Kennett) and father Trevor (Eagles Team Manager) – is Barrie Geer who each race night has the best view in the house perched in race control overlooking the track (and start line) stood next to the referee. He’s the extremely capable right hand man with access to the race times and results with his finger permanently on the musical button. Barrie works seamlessly to ensure that his race day partner in crime, Eastbourne Announcer/Presenter Kevin Coombes, provides us all with information and entertainment we need during any meeting. With his dad riding for the club, Barrie has been coming along to Arlington on race day for nearly 28 years now – ever since he was a few weeks old baby. “I’ve grown up with speedway, it’s in built and in my blood. I’ve been coming for as long as I’ve lived. My earliest memories aren’t of my dad riding because I don’t remember that but of Martin Dugard, David Norris and Dean Barker when they all started out for the Eagles. You could say that I’ve seen speedway from all perspectives given I’ve been a fan, ridden for a short while [five years] and now work up here with the ref, stood with a great view of the action. It’s a unique and privileged position. I’ve been doing the music since 1992 when Wimbledon closed down and the licence moved here. I was 11 when I started and there have been many changes in the presentation on race day since then. Back then we had a tape deck in a little room at the back of the box. Actually, I wasn’t allowed in the box because Charlie Dugard had a rule that insisted that you had to be 16 to be allowed in it. So I used to hide out the back. All we used to have was a tape deck so the job just involved pressing the play button, the stop button and turning the tape over. Now we have all this [waves at a control panel that wouldn’t be out of place at NASA), so I’ve progressed from that to a mixing deck, cd’s and a couple of tape decks. My job is to blend the music into the overall presentation, make sure Kevin has all the information and detail he needs to do his job, do the scoreboard as well as to sound the buzzer and play the various jingles we have around the two minute warning time. Though I pre-exist Kevin working here, we hit it off from the outset and have always been a good partnership. It really works. You notice the difference when other people stand in for him because the timing and interaction changes. You always know what Kevin is going to do [I don’t ask if Barrie had predicted Kevin’s bright red shorts] and, there’s no doubt, he does the presentation excellently. We’re definitely a partnership and sit down together before the season starts to discuss how we want things to go, what we want to achieve presentationally as well as talk about the soundtrack. A lot of it is my music but it’s collaboration. Another part of my job is to complete some of the official paperwork – I record the exact detail of each and every incident on the track during a meeting – and along with some other forms, afterwards this get sent off after each meeting has ended. I also record the race times and update the scoreboard throughout the meeting. Stood next to the referee, I’m privileged to get a unique, panoramic viewpoint that no one else gets, plus I can watch the ref’s work and still see the action first hand. Apart from the introduction of lady officials, over the years I can’t say there have been many changes in referees really. If I could change anything about the sport myself, I would get rid of the double tactical as well as appoint an independent body to govern the sport. When the promoters come together now, they all still really have their own interests at heart and this sometimes takes you down the wrong direction. From here I’ve seen many riders take to the track in Eagles colours and I’ve got to say, for me Martin Dugard really stands out. For everything he could do on the track really, but particularly his trademark cut backs. When I was growing up, Bobby Ott was definitely someone else who stood out. I never saw anyone ride like he did, hanging off the bike like that! It was fantastic to watch!”
Alan Rolfe – Start Marshal
One of the most familiar and distinctive race day figures at any Eastbourne speedway meeting is Start Marshal, Alan Rolfe. Before every race he goes through an elaborate series of mimes and gestures to encourage often recalcitrant riders to efficiently take their allotted place by the starting tapes. Growing up in London, Alan didn’t come to his first meeting at Arlington until 1969 during a time when the club raced fortnightly in the Southern League. “The start used to be on the other side of the track from where it is now but moved this side in 1970. I took over as starter from Roy Prodger in 1972 before that he used to drive the tractor and do the starts as well. I’ve done 36 years now and have missed only one meeting in that time because I was on holiday (it was a Wednesday).” Alan’s wife Kath also works at Arlington and on race day is mostly to be found in the speedway office by the turnstiles. “When we got married on a Saturday in 1969 we came to the speedway on the Sunday and then went on honeymoon!”
“I’ve been doing it so long that I’ve seen the fathers ride and now I’m seeing some of their sons ride too! Obviously, I’ve seen a lot of riders but I don’t have any favourites. In this job, you have to treat everyone the same whether they’re a home or an away rider. If they’re in the wrong place, I move them – it’s a simple as that! I’m so unbiased it’s scary! They’re just four riders sitting there and I have to ensure that everyone is lined up correctly at the tapes so that the referee can run each race properly. Obviously, the riders can’t hear me with the noise of their bikes and with wearing crash helmets, so you have to let them know what you want them to do with the odd touch, gestures or signals. It works well. Another part of the job is to count the laps and wave the appropriate flag – yellow to indicate the start of the last lap and, of course, use the chequered flag as each rider crosses the line, if they finish. I do this with Terry, who away from the track works at a golf course as a green keeper, and we work well and closely together. I have run the odd five-lap race twice (or maybe three times, if you count my first ever one on TV). That was a bit suspect. That was embarrassing. There’s no excuse but these things happen. The televised meetings present their own challenges with all the cameras and that, particularly as they like to get close up shots of the riders just prior to the start. It’s just another meeting in the end, though I do dress slightly differently so wear a tie. The first time they came to film here, I did have a brandy – for the only time – before a meeting to steady my nerves!”
Away from the track, Alan has been equally loyal to his employers, “I’ve only worked for two garages in 31 years.” Alan can’t stay away from Arlington, even when there is no speedway on. “Kath and I also come to stock cars days at Arlington too. We virtually come together as a pair and enjoy helping out in the car park. We go back a long way with Bob Dugard and whether it has been at White City or here, he’s always been great to work with. At the stock cars we talk a lot of stock car people into coming along to the speedway. A lot of the locally based riders have started to come along to watch too – well, Lee, Lewis and Edward, who has had a go. We used to run stockcars on the inside of the track but since we rebuilt the outside track in the 80s the two sports go their separate ways. We could learn something from stock cars – I think we should have solid starts rather than shale. It would save all this digging and kicking about that the riders do that achieves nothing. I doubt it’ll happen but it’s an idea.”
“Genuinely, I just love it here and each meeting just flies past in no time. I have a unique view but, as I’m working, you don’t really think about it with a job to do. I have no thoughts of retirement but referees have to finish at 65 and, if we last that long, in theory we go at 70. So, I’ve got plenty more years yet and I intend to enjoy them to the full!”
Pavel Vana – F.I.M. Referee
I caught up with Czech international referee, Pavel Vana, in the pits when he was a guest of the club for the meeting versus Belle Vue. He’d come over to England to watch the Cardiff Grand Prix and to take in a couple of other speedway meetings while he was over here. He comes from small village Kratonohy near Hradec Kralove, which is located in the Eastern Bohemia County area of the Czech Republic. Originally Pavel was an agricultural engineer before working for the biggest insurance company in the country. A love of speedway was inculcated in him from an early age by his dad and he has been going to speedway meetings since he was seven years old. “You know in 1975 my father brings me for the Czech Golden Helmet and I saw exciting riders like Barry Briggs, Ole Olsen, Anders Michanek and Ivan Mauger race. From this time I have only been looking for speedway meetings and I have travelled to watch them everywhere I could. I have been to see them in UK, Germany, Italy, Poland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden but also, of course, in the Czech Republic. I do about 15 domestic meetings a year as a referee and go to watch another 25 as a fan. Being a referee is a very hard job! When everything is okay you are a happy man but sometimes you are a very wrong man. People can always see things from another view within the stadium and that is a problem about the job. There are so many opinions but the referee has the one that counts, whether or not it is always right.”
Pavel refused to be drawn on the performance of his refereeing colleague from Poland’s performance at the Cardiff Grand Prix, “yes, er, it is very hard to say. It is a big meeting and there is a lot of pressure every moment. I know many referees and we all know how hard the job is. As usual there was a very nice atmosphere at Cardiff and it is a big event. Personally I prefer the Junior meetings when the young riders are starting out on their careers and showing their best! I did the Under 21 World Championship semi-final at Rye House and it was a brilliant meeting. Last week I was in Italy, where they competed for seven championship places and we had three different run offs. It all adds to the excitement – it’s real and it means something to them rather than being just another meeting!”
“I first came over to England when I was 20 and went to the Canterbury Crusaders stadium as it was the closest to Dover. It was closed in 1991. Since then I have made 25 visits to England for the best speedway racing is here. I went to the 1992 Overseas Final at Coventry – in fact, I have been there many times to see the GP in Coventry. I think I have been to about 15 stadiums here. It’s hard to say the one thing I enjoy about watching speedway here. It’s all of it from the track and the pit staff and everything going together for making the good meeting! I will always be coming back many more times to your country as a referee and a fan. I’m always made very welcome. I’m looked after here this time by your Michael Corby who, like many speedway fans, is a nice, friendly man!”
Ray Maskell – Rider Sponsor
Living locally in Cowbeech Ray Maskell first came to watch speedway at Arlington when his Eagles fanatic sister, Sheila, brought him 35 years ago. Right from the off, he caught the speedway bug and for many years watched from behind the safety fence. “I was a fan until six years ago when I got involved with Dave Norris as his sponsor. Obviously, I’d always been interested in speedway but the chance to support a local rider through my business was something I’d wanted to do for a while and, when the chance came, I took it to become his main sponsor. As a sponsor you get that bit more involved and also get to see behind the scenes on race night. From there things progressed and eventually I spent a couple of years as his mechanic. That’s a real step up in involvement terms because you’re right in the thick of action throughout the meeting and with Dave often riding in Heat 15 the adrenaline pumps until the end of the meeting. There’s often considerable time pressure as not only do you have to ensure that the bike is completely ready for each race. You’re often also changing things during the meeting as you go along in the light of the experience of previous races or, even worse, if the bike has got damaged at all. I only did race night rather than maintain the bikes during the week like some others do. Dave and I worked together really well. We were quite chatty during the meeting and developed a good understanding. The best memory was when Dave went to the Cardiff Grand Prix (in 2005). They say competing in the GP’s is the pinnacle of a riders career but the atmosphere when you walk out into the stadium as the mechanic is electric and something I’ll never forget and I didn’t even ride! Because I travelled round to all the other clubs I got to see what it was like everywhere. Poole was always a good track to go to and so was Wolverhampton, mainly because you were under cover (which always helps) and they had the better facilities. You can’t beat Arlington though in my opinion for overall professionalism and it’s so friendly. Since Dave retired I haven’t been involved on race night as a mechanic but I still come down and mingle with riders and stay in the pits. You get the atmosphere and it’s more relaxing but I do miss the adrenaline rush. I enjoy gardening and walking but I’d still like to mechanic again if the chance came up. I have the experience and I have quite a technical background.”
“I’m local (I live in Whitesmith near Lewes) and I like to support local clubs and local people. I sponsor Edward and Lee, I think highly of them but mainly sponsor them because they’re local lads really. They’re always popping in and, for the business, they often put people straight onto me if that’s what’s needed.”
“I don’t know what I’d suggest to improve the sport as so many things spring to mind. It’s definitely getting more and more expensive as a family sport but I think the big worry is that it’s going to get more like football with a big gulf between the good and bad ones, the rich clubs and the poor ones. We need as many clubs as possible being able to win the league each year if the sport is to survive in the long term. Like many people, I know on race night that there’s no place I’d rather be and I’d always want that to continue!”
Jane Wooller – Club Physiotherapist
Like speedway riders serve their apprenticeship to become stars of the shale, so it is with physiotherapists. The lady with the magic sponge and healing hands at Eastbourne is Jane Wooller who studied for three years at college before undertaking another year of intensive therapy to gain her qualifications. Physiotherapists are a rare breed within the sport and only a couple of other practitioners spring to Jane’s mind. “I love my job! And who wouldn’t, not that there’s many of us around. There’s Kevin at Belle Vue and massage/sports therapist Karen at Swindon who’s very holistic and pretty popular with the riders but not Rosco. Speedway is a dangerous sport and injuries are part and parcel of their lives. Some are very serious and require hospital treatment, whereas others I can help with on the night or between meetings. The typical injuries I get to see and treat on a regular basis come from the daily cut and thrust of speedway racing. Things like stretched ligaments, pulled muscles as well as bruising where they go out and get bashed. When I first started it was something new to the riders and there was some understandable initial scepticism but that was soon overcome once they’d had treatment or heard about it from other riders. I have a good rapport with the riders – obviously, particularly our riders but also those from other clubs who’ve ridden here for us or guested. For example, when Billy Janniro guested for us at Oxford a few years back, he got quite bashed up so between races I offered massages (along with soothing words) and he went out won a couple of races he otherwise might not have won, let alone rode in. The other week Edward Kennett came off at Lakeside and got gravel rash when he ripped his kevlars. Though he made nothing of it at the time, when I saw how bad the bruising was by the Saturday, I insisted on washing and dressing it properly. Many riders often make light of proper injuries and ignore day-to-day lumps and bumps but they now know that I can do something for them. Whether it’s treatment for physical injuries or even to let off steam if they want a verbal punching block. In the heat of the moment in the pits, feelings can run high and things can definitely get fraught so I have to be a keen judge of human nature to know when you can talk and when you should shut up and stay away. You learn through experience. They all know that I’m there for treatments and even for a bit of psychology just talking to them to boost them up, say after they’ve rode a good race but got a poor result that doesn’t reflect their effort. They all take me seriously, which is nice, and I genuinely think that we have an advantage and know that other clubs would benefit from the advice and skills of their own physiotherapist. I also try not to mother them but I can’t help it when they get hurt! That’s the hardest part, particularly as the riders at Eastbourne are such a friendly bunch and, with all the travel and time spent together, you do get close. Obviously, like every club, we have skilled medical people in attendance at every meeting to immediately judge and treat any race injuries so, though I often go out there straightaway, I don’t like to add to the crowd of people that surrounds any fallen rider. I keep my distance, despite my concern, and just observe so I can help when it’s most effective. Looking at the wider picture, it would be good if we could keep a settled management team so that the team knows that the same people and faces are behind them. Martin Hagon has come in and done a stonking job from the outset. He’s been learning quickly but most of all, really cares passionately about the club. He’s fitted right in with Martin and the rest of the Dugard family who’re, obviously, Eastbourne through and through. I’m very positive about what they can achieve in the future!”
Les Fineing – Programme Printer
Les first got involved with programme printing at Eastbourne in 1997 when he used to do the covers. In discussion with Jon Cook, Les later suggested that he could get better quality photographs and produce the programme to a higher standard by offset printing. Taken at his word his company Fineprint were soon involved with the Eagles on a weekly basis throughout the speedway season. “I started sponsoring the club in the second season that Terry Russell was there. SCV Vans were the number one sponsor, I was number two. I donated the programmes that year but couldn’t afford to keep doing that so now the club pay me for my work but because I’m an Eagles fan they get it at a discount. We got the Programme of the Year award in 2005 but the main thing is to produce a quality product that’s informative for the fans, carries the news well and showcases the club sponsors effectively. I enjoy working with Mick Corby – the programme editor – who does a great job very professionally and is easy to get things done with on time. I also do the programmes for Swindon and, last year, I did the Lakeside one which, I honestly think, should have been Programme of the Year if the judging was done fairly. Whatever was ultimately decided, I think pretty well everyone could recognise it was a quality document.”
“I’ve never sponsored a rider but always the club, I suppose you could say that I support the Eagles as a team. That said, I always look out for the youngsters like Cameron, Lewis and James because the young blood coming through is the future. I first started watching speedway in 1969 at Brooklands – which was where Romford rode. That was when I began my apprenticeship and could spend my own hard earned money going along to speedway. In 1978 we moved from Plaistow to Eastbourne and I soon came along to Arlington. From my early years, I particularly remember Paul Woods and Eric Dugard but, because I had a young family, I could only come occasionally in fits and starts. Speedway has always appealed to me – all the usual things from the fast intense action to the sound and the smell. I enjoy the atmosphere we have at Arlington. I’m a loyal Eagles supporter first and the club programme printer second. I enjoy watching from the pits but I still prefer to sit in the grandstand with the people I’ve always sat with. So, the community feel we have at Eastbourne is a significant factor with me but the most important thing is that it’s a true team motorsport – where team riding is a crucial part of the equation not just individual glory. I once had a go on 50cc bike on the training track and went over the handlebars with quite a thump. Martin Dugard was there and he said ‘what a great tank slapper’. I’ve always had the greatest respect for the lads who, when it comes down to it, take personal risks for our entertainment. They’re unsung heroes to my mind.”
“If I had the chance to change anything I really don’t know what it would be. I think Sky has brought a great profile to our sport but also taken some bums off seats too. This year I haven’t got it any longer and I think I’ve enjoyed my speedway better! Just to see it once a week in the flesh has brought the original pleasure back for me, just like it was in the old days when I first came along to watch the racing. Maybe we’d be better off without the coverage of the GP’s because then more people would have to get out of the house to watch it live and they’d possibly enjoy that better. They definitely would if they came to Arlington on a Saturday!”
I would like to thank everyone who kindly gave up their time to be interviewed and, hopefully, I’ll finally catch up with many more members of staff and volunteers who I missed (or were unavailable) this season.
Isn’t it time you bought my latest book Concrete for Breakfast? Why not treat yourself or the speedway fan in your life. Makes the ideal birthday, Christmas or thank you present!