It happened again, to be honest it happens a lot, too much. I always welcome the enquiry, it's a question I could supply a detailed answer forever, the question simply isn't the problem. The hollow gaze the one word, two syllable answer incites that's the problem. The blank eyes expose a steaming brain operating on overdrive, trawling its memory for some recollection, something vaguely familiar.
It seems bizarre a word which means so much to me is greeted with such ambiguity and emptiness by a majority of individuals that surround me. 'Speedway?' the person asks. 'Do you like motorbikes' The conversation usually quickly concludes with salt being rubbed into the already tender wound 'Oh... I've never seen that' The focus abruptly switches to altering the conversation and shifting to a more commonly shared interest.
It seems children born in the 80's were made to sign a contract which stated 'I must never be familiar with speedway' or hypnotized in such a way they were never to know about the sport because everyone of my generation seems clueless when I mention the word. Maybe promoters of that era rested on their laurels and did little to entice a younger audience. It is therefore refreshing today to see many promotions utilizing the kids for a quid scheme and recognising the necessity for future support.
I recently stumbled across an article published in the Newcastle Journal which boldly compared Speedway to Marmite by crudely applying the slogan, 'you either love it or you hate it'. Any hardened speedway fan will be aware this is far too basic and cliche to be applied to such a complex sport. Maybe the writer is a big admirer of black stuff but I prefer to employ a different analogy. Speedway can be compared to chicken. Hang on your thinking, chicken? It sounds ridiculous I admit, comparing four males racing at break neck speeds on loose dirt to a lump of poultry, just bear with me. If cooked correctly and combined with the right ingredients chicken is sublime, delicious, people will subsequently desire further consumption. However if prepared incorrectly chicken makes you sick, dissuades from attempting to cook it for a substantial period. If really sick it might even put you off chicken for life, or even worse turn you vegetarian.
The analogy is appropriate because when speedway works properly it can be extraordinarily powerful entertainment, in my opinion the best. But when it fails to work the sport can be absolutely dreadful which is why there is no room for mistakes, in a world swamped by entertainment this is something promoters must be increasingly aware of.
Accessibility is a hugely significant word in explaining Speedways often frustrating position of stagnation. There is simply not enough practice and training tracks nationwide for the sport to be a recognised force.
Much of the appeal of sports like football and cricket is that fans are able to respect professionals because they are able to relate to the activity, it is simple to participate. A football can cost as little as £5.99 where as a speedway bike will set you back £2,000 and crucially you can't play speedway with your mates at the park.
The BSPA should be looking to introduce practice and training tracks for all ages across the country. It is imperative to start advertising the sport at grass roots level in order to gain more support on the terraces. The British motocross scene is a clear example what audience participation can do for an activity. Walk into any newsagents and there will be at least three magazines dedicated to the sport, this is mainly because there are so many opportunities for amateur riders of all abilities to take part in the sport. Consequently interest in the professional motocross scene remains high because amateurs continually aspire to replicate the performance of their idols.
Quite simply the cost of a speedway bike is extremely hefty. It would be highly advantageous for the sport if Japanese engine makers such as Suzuki or Kawasaki became involved. These respected companies would surely be able to produce a cheaper and more reliable engine without extracting performance. The introduction of varying engine manufacturers would add a beneficial diversity to world speedway and insert an intriguing complexity to the grand prix series in particular.
Just a collection of thoughts inspired by the enigma that is British Speedway!
This article was first published on 2nd September 2005
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