… all of which goes to prove that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drunk.

Now, where was I?

Ah Yes. I have here scribbled on the back of my hand in biro ‘Write about bones’.  So I will.

A handful of broken ribs – which point to the likelihood of a punctured lung, four or five fractured vertabrae, a broken ankle and a dislocated shoulder and elbow.

No. Not the haul from some archeological dig, but the injury list after Rye House Rockets speedway team play host the Ipswich Witches in a League Cup clash. The riders who take to the track in this particular form of motor sport on powerful 500cc machines without brakes, are sanguine about the possibility of injury. The stock reply when quizzed is

‘Well, that’s Speedway isn’t it?

And indeed it is.

Not surprisingly, you find exactly the same mindset in the more glamourous, higher profile, yet equally dangerous ‘road racing’ classes of motorcycle sport, for example Moto GP and Superbikes.

The Moto GP race from the British Grand Prix at Silverstone last week was an exciting three way battle to effectively see whose collarbone lasted the longest.  Dani  Pedrosa whose bone was not plated after his injury and was therefore relying on nature to take its course.  Jorge Lorenzo, who broke his in practice at Assen in June, flew home to Barcelona to have it plated that evening, returning the following day to ride to fifth position!  –  (only to high side at the Sachsenring in the very next GP and twist the titanium plate, meaning fresh surgery as a result). Then there was rookie Marc Marquez leading the championship in his first year. He dislocated his collarbone in the morning at Silverstone yet rode to second in the afternoon GP race.

Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Marquez locos!

Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Marquez locos!

Not surprisingly, the motorcycling fraternity have a robust lack of sympathy for other sportspeople, particularly top flight professional footballers who over-dramatise or feign injury. While many a time I have seen speedway or ‘road racers’ dust themselves off after the most appalling looking falls or collisions and rejoin a race, or if the referee so decides, to take part in a re-run.

Safety First!

Improvements in safety at road circuits in recent years, such as gravel run-offs have meant far fewer serious injuries or fatalities, likewise in Speedway, where air fences are mandatory in GPs and the Elite League (Though not in the lower leagues) But this in itself means the bar becomes raised a notch higher, with some riders prepared to take even greater risks resulting in what seems to be a worrying trend to riders succumbing to multiple injuries.

And so to this week’s quiz. Whose legs are these?


The Carbon Fibre’s In The Kitty Litter

I know this is a bit of a specialist subject, but  lately I’ve become fascinated more than somewhat by the work of three pairs of British motorcycle  racing commentators, namely Julian Ryder and Toby Moody who cover Moto GP, Moto 2, and the 125 class, for British Eurosport. Jack Burnicle and former rider James Whitham who commentate on World and British Superbikes, also for British Eurosport; and Nigel Pearson with former England rider and ex-World Longtrack champion Kelvin Tatum, who cover the Speedway for Sky Sports.

(Moody, Ryder, Burnicle, Whitham, Pearson and Tatum)

So, what is it that makes them all so compelling? What common links exist between these six disparate characters, other than their habit of hanging around in twos at race venues? Obviously, as befitting of people in their position they are almost all completely immersed in the world of motorcycle competition – and in  particular their own areas of specialism in the sport, either as a former rider (Whitham, Tatum) or as serious enthusiast (possessor of  frighteningly comprehensive encyclopaedic knowledge, Ryder; highly articulate, often comically tongue-tied Moody, informed ‘giddy spectator’ Burnicle and Pearson, genial apologist for Speedway, everyone’s ‘Love it or loathe it’ sport)

I used to think commentators were superfluous – I think some still are. Dave Lanning, the voice of Speedway in the ’70s changed that. A good commentator, I feel should not be there simply to give you information, or explain; for example in the way  you might have to explain to those who have never attended or watched such an event before what is going on: especially when it means everyone who has is forced to hear it again and again. (Hope you’re reading this Tony Millard)  A good commentator should be in that place where audience and sportsperson meet; they should engage with the experience that their audience is having, develop and deepen it. This is what Lanning did. He knew the riders, the teams, the tracks, a ‘sufficient’ amount about the machinery to explain the reasons why riders did  the things they did and why events on the track took the turns they did. (No pun – honestly!- intended) with authority and humour. Watching speedway today, I sometimes find myself slipping into ‘Lanning-Speak’ as, distracted, I mentally commentate. (“Oh I say! What a fine piece of speedway!” “It doesn’t get much tighter than that, you could throw a handkerchief over all four of them” “He’s going out to the fence, he’s taking the high, wide and handsome route”)

Do any of  my crop of six come close to the Big Man? Well let’s say they are at their best, when, like sharps of flint they crackle and spark off each  other with a vitality that the common herd can only watch and envy. Okay, maybe that’s going a bit far in some cases, but tune in to British Eurosport, or Sky Sports, catch this lot on form and you’ll see what I mean.

So, to business. My key areas of interest comprise:

  • PLOC
  • Background knowledge/Response to ‘On-Track’ events/Observational Skills
  • Favourite sayings and creativity in use of euphemisms for the word ‘Crash’

My findings are attached below:


(On board chasing Moto GP traffic. Let’s face it, you’d have to be bloody nuts wouldn’t you?)

(Ben Spies: making some noise in his first season of Moto GP – I knew he would)

PLOC: (or to give its full title Point of Loss of Control) – usually with reference to voice, but may apply to bodily functions as well, this denotes a point in a race: a frantic start, a particular passing move, fierce tussle, spill, collision and so on which is momentous enough to cause our commentator to lose all self-control in relation to both his immediate environment (the commentary box, his partner and any guests) as well as his listeners/viewers: affects  the volume, tone, timbre of voice and its level of hysteria as evidenced in ‘breaking’, shouting, screaming and in one or two cases singing.

  • A particular feature of Moody’s work, where PLOC is often found to have been reached, before the end of the first sentence. For example at the start of practically every Moto GP. Toby’s voice shifts semi-tones, up and down mirroring the riders’ changes of gear. This is made even more entertaining if his commentary position leaves him unsighted and relying only on the local TV director’s footage. Toby gets more and more tongue-tied and frustrated as he is unable to see who is who, but continues regardless: …. and look! Casey Stoner’s made a BRIIIILLIANT start on the …(up semi-tone) oh! but he’s being OVERTAKEN by  who……? Now THHHHAAAAATTTS (up semi-tone) Capirosi. But No! It’s… ( down semi-tone ) NICKY HAYDEN … Loris Capirosi … (down semi-tone) as they go into the right hander (up semi-tone) But where’s Stoner? WE’VE LOST CASEY STONER! (up a whole tone) etc…
  • Ryder avoids the hysterics. He is the ‘Steady Hand’ to Moody’s emotional outbursts.  His main problems when excited are forgetting to breathe and using unfeasibly long sentences.
  • Nigel Pearson and KelvinTatum feature quite strongly here I am afraid. For example, Pearson continuing to shout in a most disagreeable manner, despite the finish of the particular race he is supposed to be commentating on: “WELL, HAVE WE GOT A MEETING NOW, OR WHAT, KELVIN TATUM?” I just wish he wouldn’t expend so much of his (apparently limitless) energy trying to convince us we’re watching great racing. I think we’ll be the judge of that, Ta.
  • Tatum, too, is capable of allowing himself to rapidly spiral out of control, although he seems to take many of his cues from Pearson;  indeed, at times they will chorus in unison; for example, over a skilful piece ‘fence-scraping’  “Ohhhhhh! HOW did he do that?!” Nevertheless, he falls short of that daemonic, possessed quality that transforms Pearson from affable host to deranged nutcase: “IF YOU’RE SITTING AT HOME WITH PIZZA TAKEAWAY AND THE FOOD HAS GONE ALL OVER THE FLOOR DUE TO THE EXCITEMENT OF THAT RACE, PLEASE FORGIVE US!” Nonetheless, I do think it terribly endearing, however that Pearson and Tatum continue to model themselves on 70’s TV regulars, Fozzie Bear and Kermit. Next time you see the dynamic Sky Sports duo doing a discussion to camera, wearing their silly big headphones (What are they listening to: Deep Purple?) and nodding sagely in agreement at appropriate intervals, think Muppets.

  • Of the six, Burnicle and Whitham are probably the most restrained. In Whitham’s case, a riding career which saw him reach the heights of success, tempered by a catalogue of injuries that would make an orthopedic surgeon wince mean he has the ability to commentate with authority and experience. Add a touch of dry, gallows/paddock humour and he’s your man. Having been there, seen it, done it, he doesn’t tend to shout about it much. He finds more satisfaction teasing Burnicle, the enthusiast who comes across more like Whitham’s Dad.

(The irrepressible Rossi. Doesn’t like hospitals! )

Background knowledge/Response to ‘On-Track’ events/Observational Skills

  •  Background knowledge I am happy to report is very good in all cases and in some excellent.
  • Jack Burnicle, for instance, can always be relied upon to give you that extra insight:  (Re: Colin Edwards, World Superbikes and his choice of tyres) “Colin  had a hard on in practice earlier, and I bet he wished he had a hard on now” and “Simon only weighs 63kg and most of that’s his ears!”

(Casey Stoner)

  • Whitham: (My job) “is to get across the subtlties of what is happening, what strategies they might be evolving, what’s going on with the tyres and so on” In response to track action, the assured Whitham sometimes employs an elegant spoiling tactic. When something he has said is about to be contradicted by actual  events as they happen (to be fair, not very often):  He diverts attention away to another area of the race course ” Look, Jack  Now ah knew that were gunna ‘appen. I knew sooner or later someone were gunna open a Heineken umbrella on that bit o’ banking …. I mean … “
  • And then there  is Ryder. He is eagle-eyed and has (seemingly at his fingertips) a mass of information about riders, and their pedigree, bikes, engines, teams, gossip, rumour, lap times, records and is able to – and this is where he scores trillions of points – put all this in context for the casual viewer. For example, as a result of watching coverage of free practice at the new Spanish Aragonese track, I now have a much more complete understanding of ‘wet’ tyre technology. It might not get me very far with the man on the Clapham omnibus, but if I ever find myself in the paddock on a wet raceday, I’ll be able to say: “Yeah! get the wets on, they’ll grip without compromising speed too much, Why? because … er … the heat … um … err … and the little bits … they squash … sort of … and …  Hang on a sec. I’ll just ask Jules”

(Going down the road)

  • In responding to on-track action, bear in mind that our six will know many of the riders personally. A close shave (or God forbid worse) for one or a number of  competitors elicit a uniform response, though these vary in their intensity and level of empathy depending on the circumstances. So we get:

“OOHHHHHHHHHHH!” (Ryder and Moody)


“OH NO! OOOOOOOHHH  AHHHHHHH  OOOOOOOOOOOH….!”  Poor Burnicle seems to feel every bump and scrape himself as riders come off and hit the hard asphalt or gravel traps: He then, to add insult to injury,  admonishes the fallen rider: “Oh Leon, what have you done? You silly boy!’ for his recklessness/speed/ill-timed braking/poor choice of tyres/big ears.

Whitham is more matter of fact “I see what’s ‘appened,  he’s front-ended on braking, going int’ corner, so he’s hit the deck fast.  Aye, he’s moving across that tarmac, mind you he’s missed t’ kerb. Nah, he’ll be all reyt”

Tatum seems to take an unhealthy over-interest in the trauma suffered by fallen riders as he puts each spill under his ‘Pain Microscope’

“If we take a look at that again Nige you’ll see … Ohhhhh! Look at him getting thrown around like a rag-doll … and thump on his head! … And now the bike runs over him! That’s got to hurt. Let’s have another look …..”

Favourite Sayings and creativity in use of euphemisms for the word ‘Crash’

  • Pearson insists on wishing stricken riders “All the very best” – Is it just me ? Isn’t that  the sort of thing you write on a Christmas Card?
  • Pearson: “Chris Louis in the pits there, and apologies if you heard one or two words which you may have found offensive”
  • Tatum: (Every week) “Y’know Nige, very often in the re-run it is not the rider who was leading the race when it was stopped who wins”
  • Tatum: “Well, Nige they’ve just not come to the races”
  • Ryder: “Valentino’s shoulder”
  • Whitham: “I knew that were gunna ‘appen.”

 Crash Pronunciation:/kraʃ/: collide violently with an obstacle or another vehicle. Not to be confused with a ‘Moment’ (When a rider almost comes to grief) Crashes are otherwise known as an ‘An Off’ ‘, ‘A Front/Back End’, Dropping It’, ‘High Side’ (When the machine bucks the rider off after going into a rear wheel slide),’Going Down The Road’  ‘Throwing the baby out with the bathwater’

but by far my favourite is from Toby Moody ‘The carbon fibre ‘s in the kitty litter!’ (Incidentally, there is one ‘bogus’ in the above list. Can you spot it?)

So in conclusion, between them, in spite (or perhaps because of) their foibles, idiosyncracies, things they say that drive me nuts, I enjoy their company. After all, if  it gets too much, I just turn the sound down.

Closing note: The Spanish Aragon GP 2010: King Juan Carlos presents winner Stoner with the trophy. Event sponsor’s logo given pride of place!


Moto GP

British Superbikes

World Superbikes

Elite League Speedway

Let me take you back to the dirtrack

James Whitham


Nigel Pearson

Julian Ryder Twitter MotoGPJules

Toby Moody Twitter tobymoody

 Neil Spalding  Twitter Spalders

Andy Daly   Twitter andydaly25


Jack Burnicle

Nigel Pearson ‘Take Away’ Quote: Jeff Scott ‘Showered in Shale’ Methanol Press 2006

This post is affectionately dedicated to those brave men who risk life and limb week after week at racetracks around the world for our enjoyment, namely Julian Ryder, Toby Moody, Jack Burnicle, James Whitham, Nigel Pearson and Kelvin Tatum.

First published  Sept. 2010

© Andy Daly  2010

Let me take you back to the dirt track


Now then. Hands up! Ever go to see speedway as a kid?

Whether you loved it or hated it – and in my experience, for most people it is a love or hate thing, I bet I can tell you the one thing you remember most about it, whether you visited back in the sport’s ‘Golden Era’ of the late 40s early 50s when huge crowds at speedway meetings, even midweek were commonplace; or the modest revival that was the 1970s, the ‘Doldrum’ 80’s or the ‘Sky TV’ Era ’90s to the present day. Whether you went to see one of the famed clubs like Belle Vue – the ‘Aces’, still going strong or one of the many who fell by the wayside like The Liverpool Chads, Crystal Palace Glaziers, Rochdale Hornets or Yarmouth Bloaters. Perhaps it was to see a world class rider, like ‘Split’ Waterman, Ove Fundin, ‘Briggo’, Ivan Mauger, Peter Collins. Maybe it was a world championship qualifier, Grand Prix or just a second half reserves match.Whether you watched from the terraces, from behind glass, seated at a dining table, or were lucky enough to watch from the pits, I am pretty sure I know what it is that you recall most strongly.


Early Australian Test Team

…  But hold on what’s the rush? Why not wait a while as I wax lyrical about what the Poles call ‘The Black Sport’

My first visit was to the unforgettable Shay in Halifax, 1968. I was still black and white in those days, too young to have witnessed the crowds of yesteryear like 1946 for example, when Wembley Lions, who rode at the old stadium, drew such a crowd for their the final meeting of the season, that not only did it result in a lockout, but the match had to be relayed via loudspeakers to a further 20,000 outside. The same season saw 65,000 on May 23 for Wembley v New Cross; 76,000 on June 20 against Belle Vue; 67,000 on July 4 v New Cross again and 85,000 on July 11 against West Ham. There must have been sod-all on TV then.

        1945 New Cross

Grand Prix 2009

Still, even in the ‘60s, The Shay on a Saturday night held crowds that to me (aged eight) looked pretty vast. They enveloped me in a genial warm, grey ‘fug’ (it’s like a group hug in which everyone is smoking) while out on the track our heroes: Eric Boocock, Dave Younghusband and Greg Kentwell etc. did battle against the riders from the opposing teams. The crowd was almost always good natured and loud.  Riders were talked about and addressed with such familiarity that a newcomer would be forgiven for thinking that they were indeed close friends or relatives. Everyone seemed to have an opinion, which was given; freely and without prejudice – regardless of whether they had ever even sat on a motorcycle, let alone ridden speedway or were conversant with its subtleties and idiosyncrasies (Yes, there is more to it than meets the eye) There can be nothing  more disheartening I imagine for a rider going through a phase of poor scores or mechanical ‘gremlins’ that they all suffer from time to time, than taking the long walk back to the pits after an engine failure or fall past the opposing team’s fans:

‘Yeaaaaaah! You’d be better off milking it ….’

Look at the crowd! 1944

Elite League match 2010

But heated debate or ‘rider-baiting’ rarely boiled over into fisticuffs or anything serious.  Although when it did – It was always invariably in the pits and  usually worth the admission money alone.

The Shay, Halifax

Eric Boocock

For the uninitiated/uninterested speedway bikes may look pretty basic, but engines are highly tuned power units that on a modern machine produce upwards of 11,000 RPM and will dish out 80+ BHP, (nearer  8,000 RPM and 50 BHP on a late 60’s bike) all of which can be directed to the rear wheel in a split second by dropping the clutch, which is enough to propel bike and rider from 0 – 60 in under 3 seconds, in which time the rider has to control the bike, choose his racing line and prepare to navigate a corner – or plough into the ‘safety’ fence (see below)  at full speed. As if that weren’t enough, they have to ride the corner as fast as possible, which means the execution of a broadslide, the ‘Dark Art’ that relies on correct weight distribution, fine throttle control, balance and an intimate knowledge of how to use the track surface and in particular the amount of loose dirt lying on it to one’s own advantage. Oh yes, of course, all done in competition with three other riders, each looking for the same piece of track. So it’s not surprising if things overheat from time to time, be it engine, clutch or rider. They have to trust each other. But nonetheless the race to the first corner is a cut and thrust affair. Not for the faint-hearted.

David Mason’s GM ‘Laydown’ 2010

Steve Buxton’s beautiful Weslake. Still in one piece

Not that I was aware of  any of this as I used to stand on the small stool we used to take that allowed me to see right over  the safety fence  to the starting gate. (It is where the clouds of bike exhaust fumes  are left hanging  in the air in the picture of the Shay above – at about 1 o’clock. The noise at the starts was deafening. Because there was no sprung safety fence at the Shay (there the fence was made of wood and steel, so I am guessing the word ‘Safety’  was in order to signify the protection it afforded the  crowd as opposed to the riders.) it meant you were that much closer to the action: so close in fact, that as riders entered the home straight I could stick my head out over the fence, watch them approach, pulling in  just  in time as  they roared past. I’m not sure I would have done that had I known then about the circumstances of the Le Mans disaster some thirteen years earlier.

Riders who were unlucky enough to inspect the safety fence at close quarters often finished their evening with a visit to the local Infirmary and a decidedly second-hand looking bike. Thankfully however, in all my years watching speedway, although I have seen many, many spectacular accidents none have been fatal while the vast majority resulted in only  minor injuries. Speedway is not a ‘widowmaker’ but it can be a very cruel sport all the same.

Again, all of this I am blissfully unaware of as I watch the riders line up for the next race. They to and fro, looking for the best point on their particular gate, the one which will produce maximum traction once the tapes go up and the clutch is dropped. One of them pulls away, seemingly to clear his goggles, which have misted up. Or is he just trying to unsettle his opponents?  Astride his bike he tips it over, allowing it to pivot on the long footrest so that he can rest the clutch giving him a free hand with which to make the necessary adjustment. He is unable to use his right, which is the throttle hand, because it risks stalling the machine (and these days is attached to a ‘kill switch’ that cuts out the engine in case of accident.) He grabs the clutch lever and pulling on the bars, plants the rear wheel onto the track again. Helmeted, masks and goggles; it is impossible to see their faces. I wonder what they are thinking? Are they scared? I feel butterflies in my stomach (and I’m only 8 and watching not riding … ) The bikes, and in particular, the spokes sparkle under the floodlights. Shiny, shiny bikes which could in a few seconds time be worthless scrap metal. The start marshall calls them to order, the riders suddenly stiffen, ready and heads swivel to the stretch of starting tapes they see most clearly, throttles are wide open, exhausts billow, clutch held on the verge of biting …

And there it is:


That’s what you remember above all else.


Otherwise known as methyl alcohol or wood alcohol. It is a light, colourless, flammable, liquid is produced naturally in the anaerobic metabolism of many varieties of bacteria and is the fuel used by to power speedway bikes.

Or more correctly, what you remember is its smell – after combustion. That unmistakable, slightly thick and rich almost perfumed smell, with a bit of Castrol R SAE 40 racing oil thrown in for good measure. There’s nothing like it.

Was I right?



Speedway GB Official British Speedway Site

Methanol Press Speedway author Jeff Scott takes his own unique and slightly quirky look at the world of Speedway and the rich variety of people found in it.

Mike Patrick Speedway Photographer

Speedway Star Weekly magazine on line

Speedway Plus Online magazine

Speedway Grand Prix FIM Official GP Site

All Speedway Photos/videos

© Andy Daly  2010

Safety Warning. Methanol: not to be confused with Menthol. I don’t think it will give you the same sort of Fresh Breath Confidence somehow.



Pic credits: 4 and 6:, 5: Mike Patrick, 8: Speedway Plus, 9:,  11: Steve Buxton. All the others: © Andy Daly  2010