Rules are made to be forgotten
Pick a guest...any guest
Few sports seem to fiddle with the rules quite as regularly as speedway does. It often seems that the promoters are unable to complete their annual conference without endorsing at least one outlandish idea proposed by one of their number. Sometimes these changes become accepted as part of the sport, but sometimes the rules are dropped as suddenly as they appeared - usually after a single season. We look back at some of the new regulations that didn't stick around.
A test of endurance
Back in 1999 the powers that be decided that each Elite league meeting needed a dramatic ending. They stipulated that each heat 15 would be raced over six laps rather than the usual four. The change led to safety problems as riders often forgot about the change and slowed up after the fourth lap. The riders campaigned to have it scrapped, Gary Havelock being particularly outspoken on the issue, and they got their way.
A nice little bonus
The 1995 Knockout Cup was notable as bonus points scored were included in the match result. This meant that a 5-1 became a 6-1, a 3-3 became a 4-3 or 3-4 etc. An idea that was designed to promote team riding led to rather too much confusion. Messily filled programmes were the order of the day as fans struggled with the extra thinking required. The idea was dropped after it became clear it was too complex and added nothing to the meeting.
Two rides are better than one
In the early nineties the rider replacement ruling was modified so that one rider could take two such rides. In those days the facility could only be used if one of your heatleaders was missing. By allowing one rider, and it was any rider in those days, to take two extra rides made it easier to cover for a missing number one. This really wasn't such a bad rule actually.
Second Highest Scoring Away Rider
The 'traditional' second half competition, three or four heats leading to a final, was generally a reasonably fun way to end a meeting and nobody took it too seriously. In 1981 the National League decided to turn it into a season long competition leading to a grand final. Up to that point the home track had allocated positions in the qualifying heats in whichever way they liked. Such a system wasn't deemed fair if something worthwhile was at stake, so a common formula of allocating riders to heats was adopted. Rather than showing a riders' name in the programme a description associated with each position was included - something along the lines of 'Third Highest Scoring Away Rider' or 'Highest Scoring Home Reserve'. The fans then had to fill in the competitors at the conclusion of the main meeting. It was deeply unpopular with the fans who, quite reasonably, didn't want to complete all this extra detail. It was dropped before the season was too old.
The amalgamation of first and second divisions into a combined British Premier League in 1995 caused problems for team building. Former top league sides, like Cradley and Eastbourne, refused to release top end riders to the newly promoted clubs. This left some teams desperately weak and struggling to come to the tapes. In order to ease the imbalance it was decided that the weakest sides could name a 'ghost' rider in their line up, put simply, a rider that didn't exist. The average allocated to this imaginary rider was the shortfall between the team's combined average and the points limit. Guests up to this figure could then be used for each and every meeting!
Way above average
In 2002 the principles for choosing guests were amended to introduce a more equitable system. Generally a rider's overall average, taking into account both home and away matches, is used to restrict the calibre of rider that can be used as a guest replacement. In this particular year it was decided to base the calculation on solely a home or away average. So if your team was missing a rider who averaged 10 at home and 3 away, then you could have a 10 point guest on your own shale but only a 3 point guest on the road. Strangely when selecting a guest you used his combined average rather than his home/away split. This led to some strange situations where top line riders were guesting in home matches but it was difficult to find adequate replacements for the away trips. To be fair it wasn't such a bad rule, it just introduced some unnecessary complexity, and it often seemed that the team managers couldn't understand it.
Having fun with numbers
1997 was one of the sport's watershed years. The combined BPL of '95 and '96 gave way to a three divisional structure and clubs like Newcastle, Berwick and Stoke made a return to the professional ranks. These new teams required riders, who simply weren't available in the requisite numbers, and so team sizes were reduced from seven riders to six. Additionally the allocation of rider numbers was changed for the first time in the sport's history. The home riders were numbered from one to six, the away riders from 7 to 12. Each team could also nominate a seventh rider who had no programmed rides, but who could be used as and when required. This rider was named the 'track reserve' and their racejacket carried 'TR' on the back in place of a number. Altogether bizarre and thankfully it only lasted one year.
The 1998 Elite League again tracked six rider teams, but they adopted a race formula that called for seven riders! They compensated for the shortfall by effectively tracking rider replacement in the number three position of all teams. This meant that there were an additional four nominated race positions to be utilised throughout the meeting. This did leave more scope for team managers to make an impact on the match, but it wasn't popular with the fans.
It remains to be seen which current regulations will become a distant memory in seasons ahead. The tactical ride and squad numbers seem the most likely candidates!
This article was first published on 5th February 2006
"Just to add to the article I remember 1981 also having in the NLKOC a no R/R or guest
rule (guests were rare anyway) which meant some one sided matches that year. Strangely
Berwick were allowed a guest in the final because it was outwith the season (November)!!"
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