‘It takes a special breed of kid to do this’. A journey into the world of youth motorcycling
Rarely has a bunch of kids ever been so important to the survival of their sport. In fact, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch to say motorcycle speedway’s very existence depends on these youngsters turning circles on shale.
Just seven years short of its centenary, British speedway is in the doldrums. If seeing the 2020 league season wiped out by Coronavirus wasn’t enough, an exodus of talent has left Britain’s league teams in the lurch.
The silver lining inside the thunder-black cloud: the British youth speedway championship, ready to supply young riders to fill teams, and fulfil their own dreams.
Speedway, for the uninitiated, is one of the craziest forms of motorcycle racing. Riders slow and steer brakeless machines by slamming the throttle open and forcing the back wheel to try and overtake the front. Whoever’s best at controlling the chaos wins. It’s like drifting a car, only a multitude of times more difficult and with no metal box to hide inside. When it goes wrong, it’s going to hurt.
Kids as young as eight hone their skills on 125cc machines before moving up to 250cc and then finally graduating to the same 500cc engines used by the professionals. Youth speedway championship organiser Neil Vatcher says: “It’s like a big school playground at a race. They all want to win on the track but they get on really well and all look after each other.”
Crashes are common. Thankfully, injuries beyond bumps and bruises are less so. Still, one of the early tests is how quickly they’re back in the saddle. “It takes a pretty special breed of kid to do it”, says Vatcher. “They’re all pretty tough, and they all bounce well”.
Of the 33 riders who raced past photographer Paul Calver’s lens at the Rye House track back in 2017, 13 have places for 2021 with either pro outfits or their feeder clubs. They’re all laying out a pathway for their young successors to follow. “It’s exciting as young riders can now see their dream of making it to being a professional speedway rider”, says Vatcher.
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