Running for Cover
Promoters continually conjure elaborate excuses that attempt to explain why track covers aren't a financially viable option. Intrigued and frustrated by this recurrent reluctance to invest in such a simple, yet highly effective piece of apparatus, I conducted some of my own research. Refreshingly, but not surprisingly, my enquiries reveal that a set of tarpaulin covers wouldn't actually cost a frightening lump of money.
Idly watching the news over the festive period I noticed that Newbury Racecourse had used covers to shelter the turf from frost. So if a 2 mile long horse track and hundreds of cricket venues around the Country are able to realise the value of covers it makes no sense that speedway continually shrugs off their worth.
Arriving at a speedway track in full expectation of a night's entertainment with glorious sunshine drenching the evening is a fantastic feeling. However, being told the meeting has been abandoned because of a rogue shower an hour earlier is incredibly frustrating and induces a bitter taste on the premature journey home.
This farcical scenario could potentially obliterate the enthusiasm of a speedway virgin before they have even cast their beady eyes on the track. An uninformed newcomer is unsympathetic to the safety of the riders and apathetic about a freak cloud burst, instead they want to be suitably entertained with a beverage in hand.
In a nation grotesquely swamped by varying forms of immaculately presented entertainment, speedway must offer continuity by seeking to radically reduce rain offs. Only hardcore supporters will endure recurrent disruption, we are aware of speedway's entertainment value, the floating band of support desires regularity and will forever remember a controversial cancellation.
Track covers would shelter the sensitive racing surface from heavy daytime downpours and, providing the rain had stopped by the scheduled start time, leave the shale in perfect racing condition. A majority of supporters understand that a meeting cannot be run while rain is falling and this is generally deemed perfectly acceptable. It is however more difficult to fathom a cancellation when the dirty grey clouds have dried up and the puddles are disappearing.
Speedway cannot continue to take the damaging effects of the weather hard on the chin, the sport must find constructive methods that allow meetings to be staged in adverse weather conditions. Promoters must grab the bull by the horns and demonstrate that difficult circumstances can be overcome; our wonderful sport needs to stop blaming it on the proverbial weather man.
It is surprising that John Postlethwaite hasn't introduced track covers to the Grand Prix series. The World Championship rounds are held in the predominately dry summer months, however rain can still cause havoc as proven at Malilla last season and Prague '04.
The covers could be pulled over the track after Friday's practice session to protect the surface overnight and then packed away when necessary on Saturday. Sponsor's logos could be printed on the canvas to enhance exposure and it would undoubtedly add another degree of professionalism to the Benfield product.
The company that inspired this article specialises in providing a range of covers for sensitive sporting surfaces. They estimated supplying enough material to cover a track the size of Swindon - one of the largest in the Elite League would cost around £8,000. When Jon Perrin left Belle Vue he publicly stated that each rain off cost him around £3,000. (programmes, travel costs, stadium rental e.t.c) let's assume this figure applies to most Elite League clubs. Surely then it makes perfect sense to purchase covers right away, if they salvage three meetings a year then the investment has been made worthwhile.
If speedway is to be dragged into the C21st then track covers are a definite necessity, their inclusion amongst the British speedway scene, especially the Elite League must be made an immediate priority.
"Well put Chris, I agree totally. We were thinking of going to the World Cup this year but to travel all that way - from Norfolk - and face a rain off? No thanks! Bring on the covers."
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