HOW safe is speedway? It’s a concern the sport has been forced to confront of late, following the tragic death of former Robins rider Lee Richardson after a crash in Poland.
There are few who would disagree that speedway across Europe is safer now than it has ever been, and a Swindon Advertiser investigation has revealed that a variety of different figures within the sport believe there is nothing that can be done to improve matters further.
While there is no way of guaranteeing against serious injury or even worse, our interviewees have stated that the Elite League, in which Swindon compete week on week, is the most secure environment it can be.
Swindon co-owner Gary Patchett said: “We take the safety of the riders very seriously, it’s very important.
“Speedway is a motorsport and there are risks involved and the riders are aware of those risks - it’s part and parcel of what makes speedway so exciting.
“We try to minimise the risk to the riders and air fences have substantially reduced injuries and serious injuries that occur.”
Currently air fences are present in the Elite League only on the bends, with the straights left unguarded, but Patchett says this is the way it should stay.
“An air fence would not have the same effect on the straight as on a bend, because riders would hit the ground before they hit the air fence,” he said.
“All it’s going to do is deflect the rider rather than absorb any impact - it would cause more problems than it solved.
“It’s the straight line accidents that you can’t legislate for that cause the problems, like Scott Nicholls’ crash at Coventry on Monday when his front wheel just buckled.
“When something happens at the front of the bike you can’t brace yourself for the impact, unlike on a bend.
“But there’s only one way to make speedway 100 per cent safe and that’s to have no speedway at all.”
Robins team manager Alun Rossiter said he was happy with the current setup in Europe’s major leagues, but called for the Premier League to make air fences mandatory.
“I’m more than happy with the standards in the Elite League, the GPs, Poland and Sweden, but not in the Premier League where there are clubs that don’t use air fences,” he said. “All the teams in the Premier League should have air fences as well.
“The likes of the Elite League and the Polish league are up to scratch - the Lee Richardson incident was just one of those tragic things.”
Michael Hunt, the experienced clerk of the course at Blunsdon, is responsible for safety in Elite League meetings at the Abbey Stadium every Thursday.
Responding to the question of whether he was happy with standards of safety in the sport, he said: “Yes, without a shadow of a doubt.
“I’ve never been to the track in Poland where Lee (Richardson) had his crash, but certainly in the Elite League and in the GPs, safety is paramount in people’s minds.
“Riders know the limits they can go to and they maintain their bikes to the highest condition, so what more can you do?
“You hear, ‘thank god for the air fence’ a lot when there’s a crash. Look at the Scott Nicholls crash and what damage he would have sustained if there had not been one there.”
Lifelong fan Lee Ashby, 35, whose uncle Martin Ashby and dad David Ashby raced for the Robins in the 60s and 70s, echoed those sentiments.
“Safety is nigh-on as good as it possibly can be, I don’t think there’s anything else you can do,” said Lee, a former British youth motocross champion.
“If you have got four bikes with that sort of power and no brakes, there’s a limit to how safe you can make it.
“They used to use air fences on the straights in the GPs but there were a couple of incidents where people caught their foot rests in the fence, so they took them out.
“But air fences on the corners have made a massive difference.”