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Short, Sharp, Blocks
By Dave Green

I went to the pictures recently to see a great film, it lasted 105 minutes and I was surprised to find it cost me less than a tenner - as a speedway fan I'm used to paying 'a pound a minute' for my entertainment so had expected to cough up a three figure sum at the flicks.

Not much of the above paragraph is true, but I've become increasingly concerned about the lack of value for money I'm receiving when I visit a speedway track. We're now paying around a quid for each race we're seeing - some of which are undoubtedly worth it, the majority probably not.

As a long-time fan I'm finding it increasingly difficult to justify the expenditure for what's on offer and I can't help feeling that new fans may also feel rather short -changed. So what's the answer - cut the prices, right?

Wrong! In my view that would be counter-productive as few tracks could afford to lose any revenue. Instead we need to provide more entertainment by increasing the number of races in a meeting.

Many tracks at present struggle to complete 15 heats in a reasonable time, for a variety of different reasons - sloppy presentation, lengthy track preparation, over-reliance on the same riders to appear in consecutive heats and unforeseen circumstances (crashes in particular). That's why I feel we need to make some fundamental changes to the way our meetings are structured.

We need to take a leaf out of the Grand Prix's book and organise heats into 'blocks' of races. I'd suggest that we go for blocks of three heats at a time - all staged in quick succession with the two minute warning sounding as soon as the previous heat has finished. After each block of three heats there would be a five minute interval to allow for track grading and to give the riders a chance to catch their breath.

Teams would be restructured to contain six team members - with no concept of reserves. Each rider would ride in only one heat in each block of three races. They would not have a fixed partner, but would take it in turns to ride with the other team members and against all members of the opposition.

By sticking with this rigid format (with no rider replacement, reserve changes or tactical substitutes) a rider would never be asked to ride in consecutive heats and many delays would be eliminated. Riders would be expected to be lined up at the pit gate as soon as the previous race was finished.

I would also allow each team to carry a seventh rider - not necessarily their worst rider - who could be slotted in as a replacement for any colleague, but who could only appear once in each block of three heats. This rider could be used simply to cover for injured or off-form colleagues, or could be used as a 'super-sub' and strategically inserted into particular heats to exploit weaknesses in the opposition's line up. They could only come into a heat as replacement for tape-breaking or two-minute exclusions if they had not already featured in that block of three heats. This would call on the team manager to weigh up the pros and cons of using a replacement as it could leave them shorthanded in an upcoming race. There would be no concept of minimum rides - this number seven rider could replace a colleague in all of their outings if the team manager wished.

One of the benefits of this approach to blocks of heats is its flexibility - it could be run over 15, 18 or 21 heats. My preference would be for 18. It would also be possible to get a 'fair' result from abandoned meetings by cutting off the scores after 12 or 15 heats, each rider having taken the same number of rides at those points.

The riders have a part to play here also. If we're not increasing the admission prices for these additional heats (and that's very definitely what I'm advocating) then they need to ride more races for the same overall return. By that I mean a small cut in their pay-per-point which is balanced out by an increased number of races (6 if we go to 18 heats, 7 if we go to 21).

I feel the proposals outlined below would allow meetings to run in a more efficient manner, would give team managers more scope to outwit their opposite number, would simplify the sport for newcomers and would give fans better value for money. It would also not fundamentally change the sport in any way - I'm not suggesting changes to starting procedures, number of laps or even helmet colours - just a sensible reorganisation to make the sport fit for the 21st century.

I'm sure the knowledgeable visitors to Speedway Plus will point out the numerous flaws in this approach - I really hope they do and that we can get a constructive debate going about the future of the sport in this country.

 

This article was first published on 7th October 2010


 

  • C Hodgson:

    "I think it was Cyril Crane who had the idea of "sets" of heats, the aggregate scores of which would give a point; the winner of the 1st set of 3 heats got 1 point, etc. His thinking was that teams away from home might lose the 1st 2 sets but still be in with a chance of making comeback in the meeting. Definitely worth exploring further. By the way the track pictures is my FAVOURITE feature!!"

  • Martin Miles:

    "Some very interesting ideas Dave - but I'd like to take issue with you on a few points. Firstly, I think �15 or �16 for the average league speedway meeting is excellent value for money compared to other popular sports (football especially), and I certainly don't feel short-changed at �1 a race. Incidentally last time I went to the cinema it was �12 each so that's no longer the cheap alternative it once may have been.

    Personally I find 15 heats about right for a meeting and wouldn't want to see it extended. Even in the days of 13-heat meetings as now I rarely stayed for the 'second half', preferring to either fit in a pint or two afterwards or simply get home in decent time - so regular 18 or 21 heat meetings would hold little appeal to those like me.

    I do agree that more could be done by some tracks to 'crack on with it' and certainly the GP series and other live television has proved this is possible (although some GP meetings can still take 3 hours to complete). Much is down to the referee and some have always been far quicker on the 2-minute buzzer than others - there's little a Clerk of the Course can do to urge riders on if they know the ref is lax with the stopwatch!

    Perhaps TV has spoiled us in that when we go to a live meeting we notice the gaps more because we're so used to pitside interviews, action replays and endless 'analyis' filling the time between heats. A meeting I attended recently was held up for 45 minutes (over two incidents) because the ambulance and medics were involved in treating injured riders, even though the track had been cleared. Short of doubling up on all medical facilities there's not much that could have been done about that, but what was interesting was that once normality had been restored, for all remaining races the referee did exactly what you're suggesting and sounded the 2-minutes as soon as the chequered flag dropped. The looming curfew focused the mind beautifully on getting through the remaining races - which just goes to prove it can be done when needed.

    As I said, perhaps TV spoils us, but there's always a trade-off in any sport between watching at home and going to a live event. In speedway breaks between races are inevitable, but perhaps tracks could think a bit harder about how that time is filled - for example roving presenters could be much more imaginative by interviewing riders in the pits or describing the frantic activity going on behind the scenes that the crowd can't see (I'm showing my age now, but the legendary Dick Barrie made the time between races fly at the old Belle Vue track in the 80s - and technology's moved on hugely since then).

    Finally, open debate about the future of our beloved sport is always healthy, but in the many years I've been following speedway I've seen so many changes for the sake of it and it would be nice to simply acknowledge that the basic product is sound, fantastic entertainment and that perhaps for one winter at least to leave it as it is! "

  • Speed Pete:

    "I like it sounds like a good idea, have the powers that be, been told of this and if not why not? I do hate this r/r thing when they put a rider in race one, normally one of the reserves and then they delay the next heat, because the reserve has two on the trot. Bring it on."

  • Jim Henry:

    "If you are looking to bring back the old Test Match format - forget it. It is probably the most boring of all formats ever. "

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