Drugs downfall of speedway superstar
He was the pin-up boy of dirt track racing and had the world at his feet at the tender age of 21. But the reputation of one of East Anglia's most talented sport stars, who fell victim to a “rock and roll and drugs” culture, is in fresh tatters today.
He was the pin-up boy of dirt track racing and had the world at his feet at the tender age of 21.
But the reputation of one of East Anglia's most talented sport stars, who fell victim to a “rock and roll and drugs” culture, was in fresh tatters last night after former world speedway champion Michael Lee admitted growing thousands of pounds worth of cannabis at his Suffolk home.
The former King's Lynn Stars rider, who won a host of titles in the late 1970s and early 1980s, avoided a jail sentence after a court heard that the “heavy” user had turned to producing the class C drug to feed his expensive habit.
The case was the latest low for the fallen motorsport superstar, who won British championships as a teenager, was King's Lynn captain at 21, and became the youngest speedway rider to be crowned world champion in 1980.
The 48-year-old, who was jailed for three years in 1998 for a string of drugs offences, was yesterday ordered to complete 160 hours of unpaid work after pleading guilty to producing cannabis.
Ian Pells, prosecuting, told Ipswich Crown Court that the drugs and equipment needed to grow them were found during a police raid on Lee's home in Freckenham Road, Worlington, near Mildenhall, on February 15. The court heard that Lee had started to grow the cannabis plants because he could not afford to support his habit through dealers.
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“He is a heavy cannabis user and we accept he was not growing this for anyone else,” said Mr Pells.
Simon Spence, in mitigation, said his client had relied on large amounts of cannabis for many years and was determined not to get involved in the drugs business.
“He grows his own cannabis for his own use and no one else's. That was a year's supply with a value of about £3,000,” he said.
Judge John Holt told Lee that a second prison term would have been almost inevitable if the cannabis had been intended for other users. He also ordered the defendant to undertake a 14-month supervision order to help end his addiction to the drug.
Michael Lee, who was born in Cambridge, was inspired to get into speedway by his father Andy, who won multiple motocross and scramble events on the continent.
At the age of 16, Lee achieved his boyhood dream and signed for the King's Lynn Stars.
He spent a total of nine years racing for the Norfolk team, in which time he won the British title in 1977 and 1978, was the youngest to compete for the England team and helped the national side win the 1977 and 1980 World Cups. His crowning glory was winning the world championship title in Gothenburg, Sweden, at the age of 21, despite breaking his back in 1979.
Serious injury and controversy were never far away for the bad boy of speedway.
In a 40th anniversary book on the Stars, six-time world champion Ivan Mauger said: “Unfortunately he (Lee) was a victim of his time, when it was all rock and roll and drugs were coming into speedway.
“I have plenty of friends in America and none of them would deny that the Yanks started it in England and Michael got caught up in that scene. He was just overboard and it was a great shame.”
It was during the 1984/85 season, when Lee raced for Poole, that he was handed an initial five-year ban, which was reduced to one year on appeal, after he had to be restrained by officials at Lynn's Saddlebow Road track for confronting the referee after being adjudged to have caused a series of false starts.
He returned to King's Lynn for two seasons in the mid-80s before retiring. One last spell at the club was aborted in 1991 when he crushed his vertebrae during a practice season.
Lee was hired as the training instructor for the Milden-hall Fen Tigers in 2002.