Inside Track 2014: World number three Niels-Kristian Iversen’s weekly look inside the Norfolk Arena
- Credit: Matthew Usher
It's definitely more difficult to get into speedway as a youngster in the UK than it is in my own country.
The tracks in Denmark are not privately owned, they're run by the local council. A couple of days a week they are open for practice. There is 50cc, 80cc and 500cc (full speedway bike) opportunities and always junior racing going on. It's a real family sport. I raced, my mum, dad and brother came with me, and there were leagues which saw us race against other teams. It's run like a 'club' and no-one is really out to make any money.
I got into the sport in 1993 when I was a teenager. We had an after-school club where you could play football and hockey but there were also opportunities to ride speedway and motocross bikes. That gave me my first taste. One day we were out there racing and Kenneth Bjerre (current team-mate) and I were riding the 50ccs. Kenneth's dad got a contact for a local team and that's where it all started.
I competed in mini-track 50cc behind a farm for two years. After that I rode the 80ccs for a couple of years and then by 1998 I went onto the real thing. I was definitely a bit of a late starter as there's plenty of kids in my homeland that are on 'Pee-Wee' bikes when they're three or four.
That early start is why there's so many Danes involved in the sport. They know the game by the time they get into adult speedway as they've ridden in tournaments and leagues for years. Nicki Pedersen, Hans Andersen and Bjarne Pedersen all progressed through the youth system and in my generation there was Kenneth, Mads Korneliussen, Jesper B Monberg and Ulrich Ostergaard.
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It clearly works in Demark where a lot of people know what speedway is thanks to the success of Ole Olsen (three-time world champion) in the 1970s. A lot of people watch it, after football and handball, and it's covered by all the big papers. It's not the same in England. Plus, over here promoters have to rent their way into stadiums so they have to find ways to recoup their money. You have one or two youngsters who can afford it but it's really expensive and there are no regular open track days. At the pro-level in Denmark it's about making money, but below that it's like an amateur football system. Riders pay a small fee to be involved and it's not all about profit, which is a good thing.
It's completely different again in Poland though. They have training schools and academy systems which work, so I'm not just saying the Danish way is the right way. The Brits have just got to make their own system work. There's three major leagues in the UK and lots of clubs so they can't adopt the way Denmark and Poland do things. The sport is run so differently here. They've just got to increase the opportunities to try and bring the next generation through, which they've realised they need to do by introducting things like the Fast Track draft system.
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'Race nights are just half of the battle'
I haven't got a PA so I book all my flights and complete any paperwork.
I know what is best for me and I try and work up to a month-and-a-half in advance. It's quick to book flights now as you just create a profile, pick a flight, and press a button. Doing it myself is cheaper than paying someone. Every second week I spend about half a day paying all my bills. It's not a big task though.
Some riders, like Nicki Pedersen and Tomasz Gollob, have got managers to do it for them. But they have won the world title and when that happens things get even busier. People want to get hold of you for more commercial events and it becomes necessary to have a PA or a boss. If I ever had one they'd need to know everything. I couldn't be spending more time sorting their mistakes out. I'm lucky that my mechanics look after themselves too as they just stick everything on a credit card which is connected to my account.
People think being a speedway rider is quite easy but so much goes on behind the scenes that is not seen. If anything, the racing is the easiest part of it all. I'll be honest, it is really hard work doing the organising and travelling. You do get tired. And sometimes you know, when you have a poor meeting, people forget that you might be shattered or not really in the mood.
Niels-Kristian Iversen was talking to Gavin Caney.
* To read Niels' exclusive weekly column first, and in print – plus an update on Rory Schlein's 'Shave the Roo' charity challenge, buy Wednesday's paper. Visit www.edp24.co.uk/sport/kings-lynn-stars for an archive of Iversen's articles.