Tim Stone has sadly been prematurely snatched from his family and friends as well as the speedway community today. What you saw is what you got with Tim. Without his dedication and vision Newport Speedway wouldn’t have survived. Like he helped so many youngsters, Tim quietly and without fuss always helped me too (albeit in a slightly schoolmasterly way leavened with a sharp wit). Unlike many other promoters of his generation and though he didn’t know me from Adam, he spent a couple of hours on the phone to go through in thorough and painstaking detail the nuances of my draft chapter on Newport in Showered in Shale prior to its publication (“do you have to say ‘meagre crowd’? Can’t we say small or not mention it all?”). In my brief experience, Tim was an idiosyncratic, modest, strong minded and plainly spoken man who marched to his own tune and adhered to his own strong sense of values. In my view, he typifies why speedway remains community based and, despite attempts by commercial and vested interests, resolutely isn’t corporate. He remembered his (working class) roots and was passionate about South Wales too. He will be sadly missed.
Below is a brief snapshot I caught of the man in 2005 doing the thing he loved – running Newport Speedway.
Perched on the steps of the predominantly red coloured grandstand with its six rows of red seating, I shelter in its welcome shade and ponder the superb view it offers of the start gate, the home straight and, for that matter, the rest of the track. A short while later Tim passes by, with the slightly harassed look he has now definitely perfected. It’s the look of a man concerned with the million and one complex details involved in “owning the stadium and running your own speedway club” as he has done for the “last nine years”. He’s finally found sufficient ‘spare’ time to talk with me, but is immediately preoccupied with thoughts of accidents in combination with the present weather conditions, particularly the warm sunshine and the slight breeze. He worries that “if there’s big accident” at the meeting they’ll inevitably “lose the track for 15 or 20 minutes” and, with all the available bowsers temporarily stuck in the pits, the track conditions will quickly descend to such an extent that dust storms will be created, and thereby ruin things for the riders and the fans. Tim worries about many things to do with the speedway club, but this is one that could happen this afternoon, despite everyone’s hard preparatory work earlier, since the track dries out so quickly when it’s not regularly dowsed with water.
Tim is keen to stress that he always tries to do the best for the club and simultaneously fulfil his duties as the stadium owner and the club’s promoter. However, this level of responsibility is a thankless task – and in recent years there has been even less praise than usual – that Tim has done now for some considerable time without complaint. This is, of course, the natural state of affairs and the usual experience of all promoters; but, in Tim’s case, the situation has been exacerbated in the last few years by the continued poor results. Very few people understand, and even fewer ask, about the efforts that Tim regularly puts in on behalf of the club. Needless to say, when you meet Tim, you quickly realise his wholehearted commitment to the club is absolute, “my motivation is running Newport speedway, it’s my business, I don’t go anywhere else except when we visit other clubs”. His strong, but thoughtful opinions go hand in hand with this undiminished enthusiasm. He echoes the overriding but universal theme at this club, and many other speedway clubs, that it’s “labour of love”, throughout the season and “in the close season”. Tim often goes to bed at the end of the week after he’s “done 70 hours’ work”, which breaks the EU working time directive and is definitely a huge regular commitment on its own. However, since he spent “five years to find the land” he won’t stint on the effort required to maintain the club successfully, particularly since it’s “our buildings and everything”. The winter months provide no real respite from his speedway commitments. He intends to continue to maximise [Footnote 3 there is a school of thought that Tim could also stage non-speedway activities at the stadium and, thereby, further maximise its usage. Though, obviously, this suggestion is made in ignorance of the restrictions that the local council may have contractually imposed upon the use of the stadium, even though it is already centrally located within an industrial area. The need for additional revenue streams is presently something that Tim is actively researching, particularly given that he owns a facility that is over seven acres in size.] the use of the Hayley Stadium and its facilities; not only with his famous “only outdoor close season Winter speedway meeting” on the first Sunday of each New Year, but also the training schools as well as all the usual maintenance and repairs. Throughout the summer, Tim regularly issues press releases to the media and, he believes, the club receives “good coverage” in the local papers, but not on the radio since “they never speak to me, unless I commit to advertising with them”. He also notes that among the Premier League promoters there’s a “far amount of camaraderie” but, overall, the continued survival of the club comes down to the hard work of Tim and his committed band of volunteers, a persistence that he views as a result of “desire not luck!” Rather modestly and incongruously, though, he still claims to be “learning the job”.
Apart from the day-to-day stresses involved in the management of the speedway club and both its teams throughout the season, Tim takes considerable pride in what he views as his key developmental role within the sport. He conceives his essential function, as a promoter, is “to find riders and bring them on” and to “try to give them a chance”. He achieves this by running Newport teams – the Wasps and the Mavericks – at the Premier and Conference League levels. It is the eighth season Newport have had a Conference League side and he endorses the belief that you “progress riders by riding them”; he doesn’t run either club as a charity, particularly the junior side where there’s “keen competition and not many wobblers”. He notes with interest that most of the junior riders come from the local area but some come from as far a field as “Bristol or further”. Always a Newport fan, Tim started going to Somerton Park in 1964 until it closed in 1977. During this time he worked as a mechanic to Phil Crump and Bob Coles besides “having a go at riding for a couple of years”, mostly for the Exeter Juniors. He has a number of good memories of his time riding, most notably the old track at Mildenhall, but most of all he’s pleased at the level of knowledge and understanding that his stint as a rider gave him and which he still brings to his job as a promoter. He was “hospitalised a couple of times” so has some personal insight into the difficulties and upset caused by the inevitable injuries that the sport inflicts on the riders. He also believes that until you’ve actually been on a speedway bike that “there’s a void of understanding, [and] until you’ve tried to race one you have no idea of the real power of the beast”. This lack of knowledge particularly prevails among the type of fan who complains about the lack of effort by the riders (“why didn’t he wind it on?”). The solution for this, Tim feels, is that “everyone should have had a go on one” before they’re entitled to criticise.
Tim’s diagnosis of the state of the sport is very economically based. He believes that “the sport has to reinvent itself every few years” and “just about manages to cope with every economic climate”, although things have been “difficult” since “Black Monday” when everything “flattened up”, and any talk of recovery is “all a lot of spin by the government”. Admittedly Monday 19th October 1987 saw the largest ever fall in stock market values throughout the world but, if Tim is correct, the reverberations of these events continue to echo in this part of South Wales. Nearly 10 years later, Tim himself would demonstrate his own sign of economic optimism within the area when decided to re-open the speedway club. Suddenly, just like an urban bush tracker, he invites me to “just listen and tell me what you hear?” Before I can reply, he answers his own question, “you can only hear the tractor today, everywhere else is silent, whereas, three or four years ago, you’d see the activity and hear the sound of the steelworks”. There’d be “lorries trundling up and down” but with the demise of this industry, “3,000 jobs have gone, plus 3,000 contractors”. With all those jobs gone and the “severe impact on their families” it all adds up to a nightmare; particularly if you assume “with only three people per family, that’s 18,000 people’s spending power gone”. Many people have gone hugely “in debt”, and the continual television adverts for “various money services” constitutes an “indictment of the economic climate”. It’s “the way of the world for everything to be in competition with everything”, particularly when it comes to “discretionary spending”. Added to that is the competition from television where, “you have the world at your fingertips with two AA batteries and a remote control”. This talk of television reminds Tim that Sky Sports has helped the sport become “far more glamorous” and the public’s “impression of it is being changed”. He enjoys watching the broadcasts with its “good production” values that highlight the intrinsic “gladiatorial” nature of the sport, “but it doesn’t get any more people into this stadium”. Tim feels that many tracks “suffer” from television’s impact, while Newport suffers “twice” since many “shared events [in Britain] are now on a Sunday” and so directly compete with Newport. In this climate where “people are more choosy with their money” Tim still views the position of the club as “robust really, considering the situation”. Another factor he believes is that very few clubs have the good fortune and control of their destiny afforded by the direct ownership of their facilities. “There’s me, Coventry and Eastbourne who own our own stadiums plus King’s Lynn, who’re here today”. But apart from that there’s “no one, though I don’t count Scunthorpe as – not being unkind – it’s not a stadium, it’s a track in a field”. Luckily for the sport, there are a lot of volunteers to help keep costs down and, fortunately, there’s no trouble “so speedway clubs don’t have to employ police” at considerable additional cost for their crowd control. Tim shrugs and phlegmatically observes, “I’m not Manchester United though, am I?”
Taken from Showered in Shale, Chapter 23 ‘The Club that Tim Built’
Tim Stone R.I.P.