Sometimes I watch the Speedway Grand Prix whether I want to fall asleep or not
Riders and some pundits have rightly complained that the Speedway Grand Prix series organisers (“BSI – an IMG Company”) wish to stage the various meetings on sub standard tracks that sometimes verge on the dangerous. There have been some real shockers, so thank goodness last night that round four of the Speedway Grand Prix was staged on the ‘best’ track so far. Actually, thinking about it, it’s been so dull entertainmentwise (again) this year that the random, unpredictability that a track like a rutty ploughed field at least creates some much needed drama and spectacle. Admittedly, last night, Nicki Pedersen – who increasingly becomes a Kevin Phillips look-a-like – was again unlucky when the track was the primary cause of his exclusion (it wasn’t exactly clear from the pictures and Polish commentary but was Emil Sayfutdinov spitting at him or merely giving helpful suggestions?). It makes a change from Nicki’s ‘victimisation’ by those naughty referees but effectively concluded his defence of his title (according to him, anyway, when interviewed immediately afterwards), unless injuries intervene above him in the table.
It’s impossible to deny that the meeting presentation in pictures for the telly/interweb is slick and professional but, sadly, the racing ‘product’ served up really is – bumps induced drama aside – relentlessly as dull as ditchwater. No amount of provocatively blown kisses from the start girls can disguise (or Kenneth Bjerre dressed in his bright yellow nuclear decontamination kevlars) that the racing mostly bores and that this series concept looks in terminal decline. Almost every fortnight, we get treated to the same riders (except for Emil S) manfully labouring through yet another thrill-less qualification process to then finally grind their way through the knock out stage to completion. Nicki’s exclusion aside, there was possibly one thrilling race, little or no passing in an ongoing series of follow my leader processional races. Even when we got to the semi finals, the extent of the drama was a tapes exclusion and a modicum of on track aggression. Even the notional excitement of the rise of the young challenger – and my doesn’t he make a compellingly charismatic interviewee – effectively ended as a possible narrative for this series, if the SGP press office and assorted boosters are honest. Injury notwithstanding, the 2009 series appears destined to be Jason’s (and good luck to him) after what the Speedway Grand Prix – Official Website calls his “majestic” victory.
Even the SGP Official Website reflects the dullness of the series but, magnificently, takes it to a whole new level of torpor! If Ole Olsen’s supervision of the track preparation suggests that he’s a fifth columnist sent by parties unknown to sabotage the ‘credibility’ of the event and the ‘reputation’ of the organisers, then he definitely has his counterpart as webmaster for the ‘revamped’ BSI/IMG site. They say don’t put lipstick on a pig but whoever is in charge of their interweb ‘presence’ quickly demonstrates that they can’t even manage that! Doubtless they do have one hand tied behind their back because as series organisers, they really only exist to sell television rights (find sponsors and sell commercial breaks etc) so can’t give away the Crown Jewels of the racing action for free to casual punters. However, while the dullness of the graphics and design is an artistic crime that deserves punishment but whoever came up the various content ideas should order a taxi. It’s so bad and there are so many mis-steps, it’s actually really compulsive viewing with almost car crash levels of dullness that completely fails to engage or thrill the casual surfer. I can’t help drinking in the full glory of the thing but who would voluntarily linger when life is so short? We do get to see a series of rather wonderful videos:
We have the thrill of the live (yes, live) draw. At least, the square building blocks used are an innovation but apart from that it’s dull with a capital D. The format stays roughly the same for each round – some notable buffer Bank manager type figure with no real connection to speedway makes the draw while one of the start girls has been dragged in a day early to dress skimpily and simper alongside said important middle aged person. Round 1 was, I think, drawn by HRG from Heroes (it’s a shame Sylar doesn’t get to go to the BSI/IMG management meetings), the second was drawn by someone impersonating a mad professor dressed for a court appearance (actually the Mayor of Leszno) and Friday’s featured some bloke with unexplained managerial connections to the latest modern staging stadium. He adopted a quizzical glazed throughout that suggested he’d been sedated in preparation for an unpleasant minor cosmetic operation. The draw did open with a modicum of drama when he shakily placed the first building block drawn in the wrong position. Unbelievably, we also get a running commentary and so thrill to news like, “it’s the first time that Grzegorz Walasek hasn’t been at number 16 this year!”
The really condescending thing about this live draw is that it’s supposed to counter grumbles and allegations (who felt these were important enough to actually make?) that draws previously weren’t transparently done. But also, more laughably, the fanfare round this new found openness supposedly illustrates the integrity and probity of the organisers. Remember, these are the very people who have yet to publish their own 2008 attendance figures (never mind ever have them independently audited) or still have yet to reveal the results of their investigations into a speedway meeting not held eight months ago! Another function of this live draw is that anyone who actually attends the meetings in person, this season can buy a glossy, overpriced programme that fails to include the race card for the event! Admittedly, the organisers selflessly provide all purchasers with an insert but why bother when you can have the fun of filling it in yourself (after you’ve downloaded said document template for free here)?
After the live draw, later in the day we can further excite ourselves with videos of some rider interviews where they give their reactions to practice or the news of their gate positions. There’s a Zen Groundhog Day quality to the repetition of the question, ‘ so XXX, how was your practice today?” With such investigative reporting on display, it’s hardly a surprise that all the riders confess the track is heaven on earth. Luckily the gate position questions can be a tad more exciting, “Jason Crump you start in heat 4 with the red helmet colour – what do you think of that?” Sensibly Jason masks his ecstasy and instead sounds like he’s reading from a ransom note while held at gunpoint, “with the draw I’ve been given, I’m starting inside and moving out!”
Even more likely to kill off the interest of the casual server is the highlights package served up afterwards by “BSI – an IMG Company” to showcase the thrills of the speedway events they organise. Quite what the thinking is behind the random fast moving selection of arty images (without recognisable narrative) overlaid with a horrid soundtrack that probably intones some key subliminal motivational messages but also informs us endlessly something along the lines of speedway’s version of “I have a dream’. Actually, it’s some guff about, “sometimes it’s hard to be a man/world champion/customer service representative” [delete as appropriate]. It’s hard to navigate in this sea of awful tosh, let alone determine whether the sound track or the montage of evocative images is the most brilliantly surreal. Still, as they say, all this coverage and publicity means speedway is the winner!