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Niall Strudwick - My 2008

Last year we brought you the 'story so far' of young rider Niall Strudwick's career. Niall continued racing throughout 2008 and here's the story of his season.

Niall Strudwick

After an excellent season in 2007 by my own personal standards, I hoped to repeat the same again in 2008. As the months of January rolled around the practises came thick and fast, I was practising nearly every week at Eastbourne improving my track craft and way of riding the bike as well as breaking in my new pair of boots that I received from my parents as a Christmas present.

Once the practise sessions were done and dusted the real season came around with my first second half ride. The scene was set for a good nights racing in the second half, with my confidence high from the previous season I remember scanning down the programme to see who I was against in my rides and I remember thinking 'oh I can beat him' but when the tapes rose I was behind and I hadn't improved as much as I thought I had. I managed to win my first ride of the 2008 campaign, which was a big confidence booster to me. But when my second and third rides came around it wasn't the same, I managed to only pick up two points from those rides. So after a rocky start to the season I was hoping it would pick up as we went through the year.

I went to my first southern track riders meeting of the season in April at King's Lynn where I was promoted to the Open class, which had riders with Conference League experience in. This is the sort of competition I was looking for at the end of the 2007 season. I managed to score a creditable nine points in that meeting winning a couple of races as well but just missing out on the main final by a couple of points. I managed to win the B Final and that was a good end to the day and a boost for my confidence.

As the mid-way point of the season rolled around I was suffering from a lack of confidence. I had done some open meetings at Eastbourne against Conference League riders and made the wrong choice of gearing. Other feelings towards racing off track had also been rattling around, which affected my personal confidence.

The first of those Eastbourne meetings was the Junior Sussex Championship. I was too relaxed and over confident at that meeting and ended up only scoring about four points. The second one was the Steve Heath Memorial meeting; I had a better head on my shoulders for this meeting with having no real interference from other people around me. However the opposition was much tougher than the Sussex Championship and they were really going for it and they wanted it more than me, but I managed to score about 6pts from that meeting. But looking back it proved to be a good experience for me to have entered these meetings.

As we came towards the end of the season, meetings started coming thick and fast. I was making myself enter more meetings just to make up for my lack of confidence and the fact I didn't do many meetings at the start of the season. I entered several open meetings at Sittingbourne as well as doing more southern track meetings as well. With British weather being what it is, when I was booking for the meetings and getting myself prepared for them I would get a phone call or text message saying 'sorry meeting off' which is more annoying than anything else.

One of the funniest moments of the season came at King's Lynn during a southern track meeting. I had scored about eight points in the meeting and qualified for the B Final. However with the track being slick and watered regularly to keep the dust down it became icy and a lot of riders in the open class pulled out of the meeting. So in the B Final it read 'in red Niall Strudwick, in blue no one, in green no one and in yellow no one'. This was when I went up to Russell Paine who helps organise southern track riders along with Linda Taylor. As I was preparing to come up to the start line I sat about 15 metres away and did 'enny meanie minny mo' to the start line to choose my gate and I ended up being on gate two of all gates. When I came in afterwards Russell came up to me and said 'well done, you came last' and started laughing. Russell and me are good friends off track, also winding each other up when we see each other at meetings.

Niall in action

As the month of September passed and October rolled in I got a phone call from Mick Corby asking whether I would be interested in riding in Sittingbourne's last meeting of the season against Rye House, of course I replied 'yes I will be there'. I wouldn't turn down the chance to ride for Sittingbourne after all the times of helping me get started and the track time as well, plus its more Conference League experience as well. As we rolled up to Sittingbourne on a warm sunny day in October, the track looked grippy with the water being put on. I was number six in the team partnered with Danny Berwick in Heat 2. After watching the first race and seeing my cousin Lee coming off the same start that I would be coming off in the next heat it showed how slick it was off gate one. Lee made an okay start but was clearly spinning up on the run on to the first bend. As my Heat came around, I thought I would start off a different part gate one closer to the kerb than where Lee had started. But it wasn't any good I just sat there spinning all the way to the corner, luckily enough the race got stopped because Dan Blake was rolling at the start. So I changed my mind and went in the same rut as Lee had started from. What I did at the start was different though, instead of just waiting for the others to come into line I packed in a lot of loose shale towards the back of the rut so I could get some grip from a very slick start. As we were called into line I got in the rut bounced a couple of times on the seat so the tyre would dig in better, when the green light came on I rolled back to where I packed in the loose shale, when the tapes went up I was level with the other three but as we came out of the second bend they went past me as I was spinning up really badly on the inside, but I kept in touch for the four laps, but ended up coming in a disappointing last place.

Unfortunately I didn't trouble the score chart in my three rides, coming away with no points but with more valuable experience. The funny thing was Sittingbourne beat Rye House for their only win of the 2008 campaign. I remember Chris Hunt, Sittingbourne team manager, saying to me 'you must be our lucky charm' because of the victory.

That meeting was one of only three meetings for the month of October because of the rain. However I had a bit of fun on Eastbourne little track at the end of October when it was their annual dinner dance, promoter Martin Hagon and Martin Dugard organised a 140cc Championship meeting on the little track, but unfortunately the weather wasn't the best. It had been raining all of the Friday and most of Saturday morning when the meeting was due to start around 11 o'clock. My dad and me arrived there at about 9.30am to see whether they were still running and they were. I brought my 200cc junior bike down to see whether I could ride in the meeting for the other boys to try and catch me. Martin Dugard allowed me to ride in the meeting as Edward Kennett and Chris Geer were riding as well. My first ride was against Kennett, I managed to out-gate him but he squeezed me towards the fence and passed me but I concentrated on keeping second as no-one was going to pass in these conditions. As the track got worse I got better at the end of the meeting and I top scored in my group but my points didn't really count because it was designed for one of the little track riders to win. It was more of a fun event for a few others and myself. After the meeting we all went to the marquee, which was next to the bar where the awards were handed out.

Brandon Freemantle and myself were given both awards for 'most improved in the second half' - me in the 500's and Brandon in the 250's. So at least I managed to pick up something from an up and down season.

My final fixture of the 2008 season was an open meeting at Sittingbourne against some Belgian and Dutch riders, though there were several other young British riders in the field. The day was overcast with the threat of rain all day so Graham didn't water as much as he would have done normally. I was in the first race of the day coming off gate one. I made the start and was first into the bend that's where I stayed for that race taking the three points. In my remaining three rides I picked up second places all through the meeting and ended with a total of nine points going into my last ride needing a win for second place on the day. I was back on gate one again but by this time the rain had came and the track was slick in places and deep in others, especially coming off turn two. I made an okay start but the rider off gate four, who was unbeaten, came across and clamped me on the line so I was right behind him but he used the deep drive coming off the bend to power away and with the track getting worse I settled for second place.

However the race was short lived with a crash happening behind me as I started the third lap and the race was awarded. When the other races had been completed we looked at the score chart to find out that me and Tom Perry had tied on points, both having 11. But I somehow missed out on third place on a count back on the most race wins, Tom had three wins to my one. My argument was that Tom had been excluded when we met in our race, so I thought surely I should have got third place, but that wasn't the case unfortunately for me. I took a lot of positives from that meeting as well as things to work on when the winter months came about.

Apart from the racing having its ups and downs I also had a lot of off track problems as the season came to a close, which looking back did distract me from my racing, however I managed to sort out these problems over the Christmas break, which has taken a lot off my shoulders heading into 2009.

With the 2009 season approaching fast with practise and training sessions coming thick and fast, I feel confident in myself for a good year in 2009 and my aim is to do well in the British Under 21 Qualifier, providing I get chosen, to see if I can cause an upset and make the Final and aiming to get a National League spot on a regular basis. I am hoping for a great year in racing, make sure you keep up to date with my progress on the Team Strudwick Racing website.

 

This article was first published on 12th February 2009

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