What is Speedway?
Speedway is a predominately team orientated motorcycle sport, where bikes that have just a single gear and no brakes race around an oval track of packed shale and dirt in an anti-clockwise direction. Four riders take part in a race over four laps. Riders use this surface to be able to slide their bikes sideways into the bends, this is often referred to as powersliding or broadsiding. When racing, riders can reach speeds of up to 70mph (110kmph) on the straight sections of the tracks.
Speedway originated in the 1920’s in New South Wales, Australia. Today there are many countries who hold speedway events in both international and domestic competitions which include team and individual Grand Prix events. Many countries ride Speedway especially in north and central Europe, but teams do ride as far afield as Russia, Argentina and the USA.
Speedway bikes are a unique type of motorcycle as they do not have brakes, riders use the clutch as a mechanism for starting a race and for slowing at its completion. There are two manufacturers of speedway engine - GM engines are produced in Italy and Jawa engines are produced in the Czech Republic. The fuel used to power a speedway bike is pure methanol this allows an increased compression ratio to the engine which then can produce more power than other fuels therefore giving increased results including higher speeds. Bikes must weigh a minimum of 77kgs and by using the rear wheel and engine sprockets you are able to adjust the gear ratio, which need to be changed for different track sizes and conditions to get maximum performance.
Starting the engine is accomplished by pushing the motorcycle – jump start or rotating the rear wheel. Starting the bike is made easier by "tightening" the engine before pushing the bike. This is accomplished by gently pushing the bike backwards until resistance is felt in the engine.
Also all bikes must have a safety cut out device fitted for use in emergency , this is explained by means of “it must cut off the circuit of electrical supply by the action of pulling a lanyard which must be attached to the riders right hand wrist”.
The bikes have no tick over therefore If the throttle is closed engines will stop due the high compression ratio. When riding the track if a rider needs to take avoiding action due to another rider falling in their racing line a rider can deliberately “lay the bike down” to stop the bike and cause no further accidents or injury to a fallen rider.
Racing takes place on a oval track which consists of two straights joined by two semicircles. Track measurements are taken from 1 metre from the inside kerb. Some tracks have banking on the bends which remain constant and grow away from the inner edge to the outer safety fence. A white line marked across the track usually mid-way along one of the straights which is divided into four equal parts these are known as “gates”. There are also lights for a warning system at the starting gates so riders are able to see the green start light and the red stop lights. The starting gate is a simple spring loaded mechanism that raises two/three strands of tapes on an electric start which starts the race.
All tracks have a pit area for the riders, bikes and mechanics, this is where riders prepare for racing and make necessary changes to their machinery.
The surface of the track consists of layers of grading, the uppermost consists of shale, loose materials which must be no bigger than 7mm in size. Riders use this surface to slide the bikes into the bends which is where the rear wheel is used to scrub off some of the speed but allows the rider to power the bike around the apex and out of the bend. The skill of speedway riding is determined by the ability of the rider to control the bike when cornering and not losing speed through deceleration. Tracks are continually graded by use of tractors with raking equipment in between a numbers of rides, which allows the dirt to be re-distributed evenly and then watered to prevent the surface drying out and becoming too dusty which makes track conditions unsafe.
All tracks have safety fences as required by the safety rules which vary from wooden fence to suspended wire fences and air fences. It is a mandatory condition for all British Elite League tracks (the top division of the three currently operating in the UK) to use air fences, as the fence is designed that when hit it dissipates the energy of the impact and the air is transferred out through valves.
Tracks across the country are different sizes but are between 260 and 425 metres long and on average it takes one minute to complete four laps. The speed on the straight sections of the track can exceed 70mph but the limited speed on curves lowers the average speed.
When a race starts it takes between one and two seconds for the bike to reach the curve speed which is roughly calculated to be the equivalent of 2.5 to 3 seconds to reach 100kmph (0-62mph).
The start of a race involves “gating” getting out of the gate first can allow a rider to gain an advantage initially over the other riders he is competing against. Riders who are willing to take risks can ride out wide on the tracks to find grip instead of racing on the racing line, this will sometimes give them extra speed to pass the other riders.
Speedway races consist of four riders (two from each team or four individuals if its an individual event) racing over four laps (known as a heat) from a clutch start from the starting gate. Riders wear different colour helmet covers – home team ride in red & blue, and the away team ride in green & yellow. Riders must be at the start line under power then line up in their gate positions. Riders must not touch the starting tapes held across the start line as they will be penalised. The race starts when the referee releases the start tape mechanism after illuminating a green “on your marks” lights and the tapes go up.
Once a race is underway a rider is unable to receive any outside assistance e.g if his bike stalls no one can help him restart the bike by pushing.
In league racing points are scored (3-2-1-0) 1st receiving 3 points, 4th place scoring 0. A rider does not score points where they are excluded or fail to finish a race. Meetings consist of fifteen heats with each rider normally taking 4-5 rides but can take up to a maximum of 7. The team with the highest score at that meeting wins, then these points are accumulated in the league table system.
Other competitions such as Grand Prix events and World Speedway Championships may use different scoring systems.