Youngsters’ speedway hopes on right track thanks to Norfolk-based BSPA-backed programme
Sports reporter GAVIN CANEY finds out how a Norfolk-based national programme is faring a year after its launch.
Twelve months ago the focus on producing the future stars of British speedway turned to Norfolk.
Mattishall, near Dereham, to be precise. The home of Poultec – training specialists who, thanks to founder Ed Bales' love for motorsport, decided to launch a new programme. The British Speedway Promoters' Association (BSPA) Training Programme – overseen by former rider Olly Allen – arrived with plenty of promises. But has it delivered?
The answer would appear to be an overwhelming yes. Ten of the 13 youngsters who were taking a step into the unknown in 2015 now have an engineering NVQ under their belt and are beginning to make a living for themselves in a world of no brakes and no fear. Many are staying on for a second year to advance their learning on and off the track.
It's caught the imagination because plenty of young hopefuls turned up at the open day as they look to follow in the footsteps of young men like Connor Mountain who have evidently improved since being taken under Allen's wing.
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'Speedway is an individual sport disguised as a team sport,' said the former professional racer.
'Every rider is paid only for how they do, it doesn't matter what the team does. What that tends to create is a selfish attitude. We had no training programme and it took a long time for riders to learn the lessons that they needed to know. That was a major problem because other countries had training programmes and we didn't.'
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For the past year those lessons have now been learned in Britain for the first time. Youngsters have travelled from Devon, Scotland and Eastbourne to be a part of the experiment – and it looks like more are willing to do the same for 2016/17.
Three-day blocks of learning will continue that will allow students to not only progress on the shale – but off it in the classroom. The use of Poultec's engineering centre also provides another giant benefit and plays a huge part in the experiences of Allen's proteges – who are never far from his mind even when they're not physically with him.
'I'm so proud of them (first-year crop),' said the scheme's tutor.
'I take real pride in seeing their scores and hearing people talk about our programme. I'm always at the end of my phone and checking riders' scores on my laptop. They've all improved so much.'
Scheme gives us advantage, says teen trio
Prospective new recruits didn't need to look too far for living proof of the scheme's positive impact.
Year-one students Connor Mountain, Danyon Hume and Kelsey Dugard were wheeled out to give their views on how the programme's first generation have fared. The trio – Mountain in particular – are among the hottest up-and-coming talents in Britain and all spoke glowingly about their time under the watchful eye of programme manager Olly Allen and the staff at Poultec.
'We've been to Scunthorpe, Rye House, King's Lynn and when you go there with your league team you've already got an advantage over the opposition,' said Isle of Wight National League rider Dugard.
'One of the biggest parts in speedway is your head. We get a psychologist in and she talks to us about how we can get one over the opposition and how we can keep calm at the tapes in heat 15. It helps improve us at all times.
'The best thing about the course is if you have an injury or decide to give up speedway you've always got something to fall back on – the engineering qualification. Every rider that has been here has improved. We've all upped our average. It's a win, win situation and I hope to see you all in September.'
Birmingham's Hume said that Allen's desire to 'work on our weak points rather than our strong points' had helped the rookies improve hugely since joining.
Making them talk in front of an audience at the open day was noted as yet another way at helping the teenagers prepare for later life and the pressure of public speaking and dealing with the media.
Mountain, who has recently become Mildenhall's number one rider at the age of 18 during his third season with the club, added: 'Obviously Olly's really knowledgeable so every track day we have we can pick his brains and he can teach us different things on and off the track.
'We've all sat down and set some goals we wanted to achieve. Every time we've been here I think we've got closer to them goals with different aspects of what we learn.'
Fitness expert 'Suggy' geared up to do his bit at site's new gym
'You'll meet him – and hate him later I promise you,' chuckled Olly Allen.
No, he wasn't talking about a rider that can't be beaten at the tapes. The man at the helm of the British Speedway Promoters' Association (BSPA) Training Programme was talking about Paul Suggitt.
The fitness guru is as nice as they come but given his job is to put men and women through their paces it's no wonder Allen urged a note of caution.
'He tailors what he's doing for the individual, like I do on track,' said the recently-retired rider.
'He works on your weaknesses and makes you better. That's the idea. This is something you'll do every time you're here. We'll always do fitness sessions because I think it's a big part of the sport. The sport has changed a lot over the last couple of years and you have to be an athlete now.'
Tapping into Suggitt's knowledge is now a slicker process after Poultec splashed out on installing a swanky gym at their state-of-the-art complex in Mattishall. That move also gave the possible 2016/17 intake a chance to try out the equipment on site rather than travel to the UEA – another improved tweak to the programme's offering.
'Suggy comes in and works on every muscle in the body,' said first-year student Danyon Hume.
'Jason Doyle (Grand Prix rider who works with Suggitt) also came in and said how good the facilities are. All of this benefits us.'