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Gary Roberts

2005 Gary Roberts Column

Exactly half a century ago, my dad, a former Speedway rider, dragged me and the rest of the family down to Bannister Court Stadium in Southampton, in Southern England where I watched my first Speedway event. That was how the addiction started and its still going strong! Over the years, my Speedway experience has included spectator, parking lot attendant, flagman, pit steward, mechanic, rider (not a very good one), referee, reporter, writer, team manager, event organizer, photographer and announcer. My resourcefulness has no limits when it comes to find excuses to inhale those fumes!

My involvement with SpeedwayBikes.com started in 1995 when I stumbled on and became a member of what has since turned into speedway@yahoogroups.com. At that time it was run out of a university in Gdansk, Poland and the server had limitations as to how many users could log on at one time. But this was where up-to-date European Speedway results were published - the same day as the event. No more waiting 10 days for my Speedway Star magazine. At last, I had found a use for the internet! So more as a joke than anything, I sent in that week’s Costa Mesa results. I still can’t believe the volume of feedback I received! Questions about riders in the event, questions about whether I had ever met a rider’s brother who now lives in the Czech Republic, where some rider who rode in Britain before the war lives now, how big is the track, what is Phil Collins’s address, my computer was on overload. The next week I wrote a report about my visit to Glen Helen, which ran on till almost midnight, delaying my arrival at the Screaming Chicken. More questions, where is the Screaming Chicken, has the beer got any better, what size is a Junior Speedway bike engine, the list went on. Some time after that, Kim Gregory, a Canadian Speedway rider/computer programmer contacted me and told me he was putting together a Canadian Speedway web site, and wanted to expand it to a North American web site. He asked if I minded him using my event reports. After that I suggested we did a tracks section, with descriptions of the tracks, directions how to get there, etc. Then came the rider profiles. 10 years later the site is one of the longest standing Speedway web sites in the world, thanks to RC Jones and Ryan Evans it is constantly updated, and its still free of irritating pop up commercials.

Back to the present. For the 2005 season, the Northern California Speedway area has 2 tracks, the long standing Fast Fridays track in Auburn, and a brand new track at Fuji Park Raceway in Carson City, Nevada. Auburn runs every Friday night, Carson City runs selected Saturdays. Established in 1977, Fast Fridays hosts the major events, namely 2 rounds of the AMA National Championship, the North verses South and the Youth National Championship. Years ago, Northern California supported 4 tracks every week. The past few years its been down to just Auburn. Others, including Livermore, Vallejo, Dixon, Cal Expo, Chowchilla came, then went. We all sincerely hope the Carson City track survives. Carson City does have one thing the other locations lacked. That is close proximity to casinos, all high profit businesses, which want to attract customers. The opportunity to attract the Speedway crowd (on non-Speedway nights, of course) may be a good reason for these businesses to help our sport.

Fast Fridays investment in Youth Speedway has paid off. Just take a look at a Fast Fridays program or the results section of this site. Since the Joiner brothers took over the management of the facility, Matt Browne, Eric and Mark Carrillo, Ryan Fisher, TJ Fowler, Greg Hooten Jnr., Billy Janniro, Chris Kerr, JT Mabry, Alex Marcucci, JJ Martynse, and Bryan Yarrow, graduated from youth riders and are now first division riders.

But looking at American Speedway from Europe, when comparing our output with that in the eighties, there has been only a trickle of riders in the past decade. Former Youth National Champions, Bryan Yarrow, Eric Carrillo and Ryan Fisher rode in Europe in 2004 but are back in the US now. Personally, I fully expect all three to be returning at some stage. But how many of our new home grown riders will make it to Europe? What will these riders achieve in the next decade?

Northern California still enjoys the privilege of seeing local veterans Mike Faria, Bart Bast and the Hedden brothers ride every week and these riders still dominate the main events. They have ridden together most every week for nearly two decades. Where else in the world can riders do that? Where else will you see riders who have developed such a high confidence in one another? The same can be said in Southern California, where Bobby Schwartz, Shawn McConnell, Eddie Castro, Andy Northrup were the top names in the early 1980s programs. California Speedway is a truly unique gift for those of us fortunate enough to live here, and a highly recommended, indeed mandatory venue for all European visitors!

So get down to the track, bring your friends, and remember, we have no dirt deflectors, so keep your beer covered!

Gary Roberts - groberts@iee.org

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