Edinburgh Monarchs revving up for long-awaited return of speedway to Armadale
The countdown has started for the return of speedway to Armadale Stadium, when engines will roar once more as Edinburgh Monarchs enter the fray intent on winning an impressive sixth league title
Riders, many already fan favourites, some hoping to become so, were in transit from their homes across the world when Edinburgh Monarchs Speedway Club realised the coronavirus pandemic had ended their 2020 season before it had even started.
Club Director Mike Hunter recalls how being hopeful of the season unfolding as planned in mid-March, quickly changed, “By late March we realised we’d have to delay things, it crept up on us, but it eventually became obvious there was nothing we could do faced with a worsening situation," he remembers.
Riders were already on their way to Scotland included Sam Masters and Josh Pickering who had flown in from Australia, and Lasse Frederiksen who about to make the crossing from Norway when he had to turn back. "The riders have borne the brunt of it to be honest, because they don't earn anything if they don't race." Hunter adds.
For anyone new to the sport, those riders race in teams of seven on a shale track, four riders to a heat, on 500cc fixed-gear bikes with no brakes. It's thrilling stuff.
The 2021 Monarchs are set to make their track debut on Friday 21 May, against the Birmingham Brummies in a Championship League clash.
Managing to stage two junior meetings towards the end of 2020 allowed the club to trial the Covid safe environment that will greet fans when restrictions are relaxed and they return to the stadium. Hunter explains, "Gordon Campbell, who does a lot of work for us on the rules and regulations, was always confident it would be possible to comply with requirements, so running those two meetings have had a knock on effect for this year in that, when the rules are known, we know how we can comply with them."
During the hiatus, however, Brexit and a change to the way teams are built introduced by the Speedway Control Bureau, the sport's governing body, have forced Monarchs to drop two of the riders signed last year; returning are captain Sam Masters, Josh Pickering, Richie Worrall, Kye Thomson and William Lawson.
"Our undoubted wish was to field the same team this year, but they introduced this long-term plan which meant we had to have a 'rising star' [an up and coming young British rider] in the team," explains Hunter. Consequently James Sargent and Lasse Frederiksen were released to meet the new team-building rules.
Co-promoter John Campbell reflects, "The perfect scenario was to run the team that was due to run in 2020, that changed because our scheduled team didn't have a rising star, however, we think that in Joe Lawlor we have found one who shows the potential to improve and we will give him every encouragement to do that. The other change, Lasse Frederiksen, was brought about by Brexit regulations that are open to EU residents who have been in this country before, but if they haven't, they require a visa and at the current time, because of the way the rules are, we couldn't get one for Lasse. I have said to him that as soon as visa regulations become clearer, we can consider bringing him across for a future season."
First of the newcomers for 2021 is 23-year-old Nathan Greaves who can't wait to get "dialled in to" the Armadale circuit. In past appearances at the West Lothian track he scored 16 points over three visits in 2017. He was also runner-up in the 2018 Caledonian Riders’ Championship.
He says, "Armadale is one of those tracks which is a bit tricky if you’ve never been before. But I have ridden it quite a few times now and it’s a brilliant track if you are riding it every week. I’m sure the team is going to be good because Edinburgh are always challenging for a top four spot."
The second new face, filling the 'rising star' slot is 20-year-old Joe Lawlor, who will be helped in the pits by a familiar name to older Monarchs' fans, Ian Westwell, who rode for the club in 1981 and 1982 at Powderhall.
Lawlor says, "Once I’ve had a few spins round Armadale I should be fine. It suits my style. I’m just 20 and I haven’t really been noticed so far but it is up to me to get out there and let people see what I can do."
After the forced year out, Campbell has "high hopes" for the forthcoming season and reveals, "The whole virus/Brexit thing has affected many teams in the Championship, one or two look very good but for the rest of us we will have to see how the team develops."
Another mainstay of the club looking forward to discovering how the 2021 squad perform is team manager and co-promoter Alex Harkess. "There are always unknown quantities in an Edinburgh team, that never changes, and sometimes success depends on those unknown quantities and how well they get on," he says.
Hunter adds, "We tend to bring out the potential that's there. We like everyone to feel part of the club, that the club matters and that the fans, the promotion and the riders are all in it together. It's something that has paid off in the past."
With five league winning seasons to their credit since moving to Armadale, it's a tried and tested approach that has proven its worth.
"That's what it is all about," says Harkess, "We know what the top men are going to do, the ability of the young riders to come on and improve, that's what turns you into a successful team."
This year also sees the return of the Armadale 'Stellar' Devils in a bid to nurture grass roots talent in the sport. The Devils will race in the British Speedway National Development League and be led by Greaves who will be joined by Tom Woolley, Danny Phillips, Sheldon Davies, George Rothery, Lewis Millar, Gregor Millar. The Devils are due to race their first meetings on May 7 and 14.
"The Development League is a very important. When we look back to the days of the Linlithgow Lightning in the 90s and the Dale Devils in their earlier existence between 2003-05, they produced riders like Andrew Tully, William Lawson and Derek Sneddon who were a big part of our most successful years," says Hunter.
Harkess adds, "Hopefully the Devils will be a way forward for the future. The days when we had a Scotland speedway team, that was a fantastic time, so anything that could put Scotland back on the map is tremendous."
"I'd love to have more Scottish speedway riders," agrees Campbell, "I've had to bring a rider from Barnsley to fill the last Devils’ team spot. I hope that in years to come the man from Barnsley won't have to travel to us and that a man from Bathgate will."
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