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Cardiff GP 2009:
A beginner's view from Seat 16, Block M30
By Philip Dalling

After all these years of following and writing about speedway, I finally made it to the sport's big UK night out in Cardiff.

Edward Kennett was not the only Grand Prix debutante on June 27, although he certainly had a closer view of the action than I did from my (nevertheless excellent) seat in Block M30 on the back straight.

The ambitious young English star probably went home wishing he had scored a few more points. My own verdict on the night as I drove home? Well, to paraphrase a recently revived Star Trek character, `It's speedway Jim, but not as we have known it'.

It's important to say at the outset that I thoroughly enjoyed the 2009 British Speedway Grand Prix as an occasion. The tickets were a birthday present (Brenda - it was great). As a speedway meeting, I have reservations, which I suspect are shared by a good number of fans (at least those of a more mature status).

For a start, I couldn't understand why the meeting was run with the roof of the Millennium Stadium kept firmly closed, except for during an interval when it was opened for about a tenth of its extent. Perhaps some better-informed Cardiff attendee could enlighten me as to the reason.

Had the roof been open, it would have felt like a sporting event in a rather grand stadium. As it was, and given that the whole event lasted for a little over three hours, there were times when the atmosphere was more akin to a pop concert in an indoor arena, with a burst of track action every now and again.

It is ironic that as the years pass and speedway machines get faster and more reliable, the actual amount of racing time for the fan to enjoy decreases. About three minutes, or more than three actual races at the Grand Prix, have been lost on average.

Watching speedway in a modern all-seater stadium loses much of the intimacy of the average club track. Even at Wembley, with its greyhound track, you somehow seemed closer to the action. At most tracks it is possible to get fairly close to the pits and hear (and usually see) the bikes being prepared. At Cardiff, I never heard a single growl before the machines took to the track, and I certainly never caught a whiff of racing fuel.

Perhaps my view of the evening was also coloured by the fact that the result was never in any doubt. The bookies in St Mary Street in the early afternoon had Jason Crump as clear favourite and he certainly did not let them down. I have rarely seen such absolute mastery of machine and track and, despite being unceremoniously dumped in the dirt on one occasion, he was streets ahead of the opposition.

It took the rare wins by Scott Nicholls and Chris Harris to ignite the crowd and much of the racing was predictable and processional. Oh yes, and a bout of fisticuffs such as I have not seen on track for several years.

Like any event, Cardiff 2009 had its bright spots, and its downsides (the latter already mentioned). On the plus side was the amazing atmosphere on the streets of Cardiff pre-meeting, with national and club colours on display in every pub and bar, and a genuinely friendly, truly speedway atmosphere.

The actual track in the stadium appeared to have been immaculately prepared and the new binding agent used meant it kept in good condition throughout the event.

It was easy to get in and out of the stadium, which is soulless, like all modern arenas, but eminently fit for purpose. My seat was comfortable and the view of the track perfect.

The Grand Prix, for one weekend at least, gives speedway the sort of profile it once enjoyed but has long lost. That raises all sorts of questions. Given the sort of crowd figures that are occasionally reported in the speedway media - an Elite League track spokesperson recently enthused over a best-of-season attendance of 1,700 - then the reported 42,000 crowd for the Grand Prix would, I suspect, represent more than the entire audience for league speedway in Britain on an average week in the year.

Given the number of overseas supporters present at Cardiff, and the fact that by no means all supporters from all league tracks attend the Grand Prix, it stands to reason that for an awful lot of people this is their only visit to speedway in a year. The overall experience of the event is probably, and sadly, as much a draw for some as the actual racing.

So, to sum up. It was an experience I would not have missed for the world. Will I go again? Well ...

 

This article was first published on 2nd July 2009


 

  • Mali:

    " I really think the person responsible for the above comment should stay at home next year, and watch Strictly Come Dancing instead, what a misery guts, glad I wasn't sat next to them at Cardiff."

  • Ross Dow:

    "I have been to every Cardiff GP and would have to say that this year's was one of the poorest that I have seen. The new binding agent may have stopped the deep rutting of some previous years but the offset was a one line, over dry, over slick track and few opportunities to pass. In the years where the track dug up there was only one line but was less predictible due to bike control issues. Ole Olsen has failed too many times to produce a racetrack to be given further chances. I liked the story that one of the Australian team (name witheld to protect against repercussion) told in Poland about the WTC qualifier at Peterborough. Ole removed most of the dirt, graded the track really slick and smooth, then went for lunch. The track staff then replaced the dirt, regraded, watered then locked the stadium and left complete with tractor keys. Speedway is DIRT track racing and needs consistent grip to enable overtakes. It is time that the authorities realised this. The group which I travelled to Cardiff with all felt that the atmosphere was much quiter this year and that there were fewer Polish fans. These facts are related as the Polish supporters are always noisy and enthuastic."

  • Chris Stockwell:

    "An EXCELLENT Article, which sadly reflects the way Speedway is going. From reading Philip's words it seems the Speedway fan's (the life blood of the Sport) enjoyment is slowly being eroaded away. The SMELL is part & parcel of the Sport, the oppotunity to see the riders working on their machines, getting focused mentally or just chatting or signing autographs for the fans, all this as helped SPEEDWAY, become a family sport. Is it now going the way of other Motorcycle Sports such as the Motor GP, WSB'S, when a rider just becomes a figure in his racesuit and helmet, to be looked at and have no contact with his Ardent Fans? The only thing that never changes, England still can't produce a WORLD CHAMPION."

  • Ian Muir Martin:

    "Philip, coming from the same generation as yourself, I must say as a first time visitor to Cardiff myself I enjoyed the whole atmosphere both inside and outside the Stadium. I could have done without my two small plastic bottles of orange juice being barred by a zealous Security Guard. Perhaps it was my Australian Hat - maybe he thought I was an Aussie Terrorist. I thought a lot of the races WERE processional, but, I also thought that Jason Crump was magnificent. I was disappointed by the attitude of Emil Sayfutdinov, he obviously doesn't like losing.

    I am a BIG critic of the whole Grand? Prix System - too many chosen Riders for my liking. I honestly prefer the old one off World Final because anyone from Jason Crump down to any National League Rider could win it by QUALIFYING through all the various rounds. Some of the rounds used to be like World Finals themselves. If Jack Young was riding today he would not get a chance of winning the World Championship as a Premier (old Second Division) Rider and yet he won the old style World Championship as just that - a SECOND Division Rider.

    I WILL be returning to Cardiff next year, mainly because of the atmosphere and the friendliness of all the Supporters, Stadium Staff - even the Security Guard was polite and most of all the local people who really were GREAT. The Speedway - well - it was OK to watch but I have seen better Meetings in League Matches and Individual Meetings. The Track - held up well - seemed smooth all night thankfully. I am not a big fan of man made Tracks. My lasting memory is of a Polish gentleman standing on the Bridge in Cardiff having his photograph taken. One false move or slip and he was in the river. All in all a great all round experience - and - I will do it again God willing. "

  • David Cohen:

    "Excellent and balanced article, which is sometimes had to achieve at this level of debate. The Grand Prix, for one weekend at least, gives speedway the sort of profile it once enjoyed but has long lost. There have always been the people who, for whatever reason, attend just a few big meetings a year. However, the above comment really sums up where speedway is in the noughties. The Grand Prix, for some, _is_ speedway now - it's an event to rank alongside a lot of other top draw sporting events. Has the rest (the domestic UK scene) moved on in years (you decide what 'x' is)? The gulf just gets wider. Oh, and by the way, if I read the phrase (a favourite amongst die-hard shale fans) "the powers that be" one more time, I'll scream!"

  • Bryan Tungate:

    "The article by Philip Dalling sums up a GP night exactly. However I cannot accept that a GP at Cardiff will ever take the place of a World Final at the Empire Stadium, Wembley. Unfortunately the Empire Stadium has now been lost to the needs of football and is no more. I would willingly swap all the victories of modern day riders at Cardiff for a World Final victory by Ove Fundin at the Empire Stadium. But my days are gone and will never return. So I must make the best of a poor substitute, where the riders are but an invitational gathering without a chance of elimination and a surprise packet springing up to shake all & sundry with a shock result."77

  • Alan Blackwell:

    "I agree with most of the article but the track could have been raked as well as the tractors - the amount of shale on the outside was enough for planting. My main gripe was the 'tannoy'. At first I thought it could have been in Welsh, but soon realised it was just awful. How come a stadium in the 21st century cannot CLEARY communicate the results to its patrons. I'm told that it is always like that, so please get it right next time. "

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