After a disastrous 2012 season, fans in Britain have not been slow to provide their feedback to those running our clubs. One of the most frequently raised complaints is around value for money - suggesting that £15 for 15 minutes of action does not provide sufficient 'bang for your buck'.
Most clubs are already running at a loss, so neither reducing the admission costs or staging more races is likely to be possible. Does the answer lie in providing additional entertainment to be staged before, during or after the meeting?
For the hardened speedway fan the answer is possibly 'no', but it might just entice some new faces through the turnstiles.
Back in 2002, Steve Harland interviewed long-time promoter Reg Fearman. Fearman certainly believed it was beneficial in the era in which he promoted:
The idea was to have a personality visit the speedway either to open the season or appear during the season as a guest. It's called Promotion, Publicity and Presentation. Among those who came were Elsie Tanner (Pat Phoenix) and Jed Stone (Ken Cope) from Coronation Street. The interval attractions starred such people as Stan Lindbergh, on fire, through fire, into fire. He dived into a six foot deep pool from a 50 foot tower, setting himself on fire at the top and an assistant setting fire to petrol that had been poured on top of the water. Marcello on the swaying pole were just that - interval attractions and also they drew extra people through the turnstiles and one hoped to keep a few of those as regulars.
Times have obviously changed, but providing extra talking points throughout the meeting has always been a good thing and can enliven an encounter where the on track action is lacking or predictable.
Should promoters be hiring acts that have appeared on "Britain's Got Talent" to do a 'turn' during the interval? Should we bring back the majorettes, marching bands and Police Dog display teams that were en-vogue during the 70s?
Or should we be even more extreme in what is presented during the interval?
While browsing some of the programmes on the Old Time Speedway Programme Archive, I was struck by one event from the end of the 1945 season at Glasgow. With the War just won, fans were flocking back to the tracks for a long awaited sight of speedway. The Glasgow track was promoted by Johnnie Hoskins at that time and his programme notes on 17th October included the following:
I don't know what's afoot, but if the riders are in last week's mood there will be mischief and devilry abroad this night.
A wee girl was watching Bill Kitchen's antics with the shot-gun last week and when he said "I'll finish him this time", and lined "Singer" Eric Chitty up against the post, she closed her eyes and put her fingers in her ears. When she looked again Eric was lying apparently out. When he jumped up and walked away she screamed, "He's not dead. He's walking".
You always have to take Johnnie's yarns with a pinch of salt, but can you imagine the Daily Mail's outrage if a rider emerged onto the centre green carrying a firearm these days? A gaol sentence would follow for the miscreant. It's probably best if some forms of 'entertainment' are left in the past?
Get in touch and let us know whether additional entertainment is something that appeals to you and (more importantly) what could be affordably provided in 2013.
This article was first published on 25th November 2012
"What about the Singing Speedway Riders, West Ham had both Eric Chitty and Reg Luckhurst who realesed a record, I heard Len Silver could belt out a song as well. On a slighly different note (see the Pun!) well done to Lakesdie and Ipswich for their Football match for Lee`s charity, but what about a few more such Matches, with Football having an almost God-Like following, prehaps some of these would get the football fans attending and therfore try Speedway. Lakside could always Challenge West Ham United to a match, then a return leg of Speedway (O/K I accept they may have to be made of Proper riders as I do not think United management would want to risk their Players, but the players could at least attend to get the crowds Interested), and then a play-off Cricket Match!"
"Interval entertainment was expected in the 60's and 70's, but today is vastly different. I would go about promoting speedway a different way. There must be celebrities and pop stars out there who are (or were) big speedway fans. What's wrong with hard-pressed promoters inviting them for a free night at the track for them and their families, everything thrown in, in return for them making a public appearance. I believe that either Jimmy Page or Robert Plant (can't remember which one) are regulars at Monmore Green for the speedway and Molineux for the football at Wolverhampton every week. It's just a thought, but imagine the publicity for our much maligned sport that could be gained. Even mentions on TV during celeb interviews would help. Just a thought, but unless we get the message across that speedway is alive and well (if not exactly thriving) we will sadly die a slow and painful death."
"I remember both Pat Pheonix (aka Elsie Tanner) and Stan Linbergh appearing at Long Eaton Speedway ( one of Reg's promotions) in the mid sixties. Pat came to present the Coronation Street Trophy (won by either Dougie Templeton or George Major, not sure which, memory fades with time) and Stan was amazing, a real live human fireball. I recall the last interval entertainment I saw was at Cradley Heath's Dudley Wood Stadium. When a guy lay in a coffin and blew himself up with Dynamite!! CRAZY but fun.
Would this work now days? NO I DON'T THINK IT WOULD. The cost of hiring a Star would be to much money, and people don't want to see look-a-likes. NO I THINK SPEEDWAY NEEDS TO PUT IT'S HOUSE IN ORDER, IT NEEDS TO IMPROVE THE PRODUCT. There was a time supporters could look into the pits and see what was going on. And a time when fans could walk round the pits and have a chat with their favourite rider get his autograph for perhaps the 24th time, but it didn't matter, you were there with your hero. SPEEDWAY HAS LOST TOUCH WITH ITS FANS, how many times have we read on this very website people saying I remember carrying bike parts into the pits for such and such a rider, it doesn't happen anymore.
This will not of course bring Fans flooding through the gates, it just shows how Speedway used to be a FAMILY SPORT something I NOW THINK ITS LOST So what would I like to see return to Speedway. Every Track have an OPEN DAY on a race day (During a kids school holiday) have all their riders dressed in their Kevlars and race jackets, let the fans walk round the pits let them ask the rider questions, start a couple of bikes up. Get Riders And Fans involved in some sort of competition build a bond. John Turner at Long Eaton used to have fans racing riders over a B.M.X course. Imagine the joy of some youngster who can go around bragging he beat his favourite rider. Then watching his favourite in action, that same night. NO it's not going to fill the Stadium, but it might bring that kid and their family back the next week and they may bring a friend."
"Trick riders doing high jumps and flips on motocross bikes, novelty races of portly, bearded Harley-Davidson riders on their choppers, and local rock-and-roll bands are some of the interval attractions seen today at California speedway venues. In the '70s and '80s, we sometimes saw demonstrations of champion Frisbee-catching dogs, speedway riders having donkey races, and lovely young female fans in bikini contests. Crowds were large in the past, and are relatively small today, and don't seem to be affected one way or the other when such 'show business' attractions are added to the racing. "
"The recent question by Robert Rogers, 'what about the singing speedway riders?' brought to mind my well-worn copy of Johny McNeill's unforgettable recording of, 'I Wanna Be Like Ivan Mauger'. I immediately went to my storage room and dug through my dusty pile of 45-rpm discs until I found it (see accompanying photo). There was also an American speedway rider in the late '60s called Sammy Tanner who once recorded a song about himself, titled (owing to his diminutive stature) 'The Flying Flea'. I wonder how many other speedway riders have moonlighted as crooners?"
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