Motorcycle speedway, usually referred to as speedway, is a motorcycle sport involving four and sometimes up to six riders competing over four anti-clockwise laps of an oval circuit. Speedway motorcycles use only one gear and have no brakes; racing takes place on a flat oval track usually consisting of dirt, loosely packed shale, or dolomite (mostly used in Australia and New Zealand). Competitors use this surface to slide their machines sideways, powersliding or broadsiding into the bends. On the straight sections of the track the motorcycles reach speeds of up to 70 miles per hour (110 km/h).
The first meeting in the United Kingdom took place at High Beech on 19 February 1928. There are, however, claims that meetings were held in 1927 at Camberley, Surrey and Droylsden, Lancashire. Despite being described as "the first British Dirt Track meeting" at the time, the meeting at Camberley on 7 May 1927 differed in that the races were held in a clockwise direction. Races at Droylsden were held in an anti-clockwise direction but it is generally accepted that the sport arrived in the United Kingdom when Australians Billy Galloway and Keith McKay arrived with the intention of introducing speedway to the Northern Hemisphere. Both featured in the 1928 High Beech meeting. The first speedway meeting in the UK to feature bikes with no brakes and broadsiding round corners on loose dirt was the third meeting held at High Beech on 9 April 1928, where Colin Watson, Alf Medcalf and "Digger" Pugh demonstrated the art for the first time in the UK. Proto speedway was staged in Glasgow at the Olympic Stadium (Glasgow Nelson) on April 9, 1928 and the first fully professional meeting was staged at Celtic Park on April 28, 1928. The first meeting in Wales was staged at Cardiff White City on Boxing Day 1928.
In the 1928/29 season at the Melbourne Exhibition Speedway, Australian Colin Stewart won the prestigious Silver Gauntlet, which required the rider to win the feature race 10 times in one season. He won it 12 times. He also achieved success at an international level, racing for Southampton Saints in 1929 and captained Glasgow in the Northern League in 1930 before moving to Wembley Lions in 1931, for whom he rode in just four matches, averaging 4.00 points per match. He also raced in the 1930 Scottish Championship which was won by Wembley Lions' Harry Whitfield.
The forerunner of the World Championship, the Star Riders' Championship, was inaugurated in Great Britain in 1929 but was split into two sections as it was felt that the British riders were not yet the equal of the Australians and Americans. Frank Arthur won the Overseas Section and Roger Frogley the British. The following year the two sections were amalgamated and Vic Huxleyproved to be the winner. Huxley was also runner-up three times and won the first British Match Race championship in 1931.
Speedway racing typically took place on purpose built tracks, although in Australia bikes shared larger Speedways with cars such as Sprintcars, Speedcars (Midgets) and Saloons, with tracks traditionally ranging from ⅓ Mile Showground tracks, such as the now closed 520 metres (570 yd) Claremont Speedway in Perth and the 509 metres (557 yd) Sydney Showground, to smaller, purpose built 300 metres (330 yd) long motorcycle tracks, such as Gillman Speedway in Adelaide and Mildura's Olympic Park.
Each track is between 260 and 425 metres long and it takes approximately one minute to complete four laps. The speed on straight sections of the track reaches 110 km/h (70 mph) or more on longer tracks, but the limited speed on curves lowers the average.
At the start of a race it takes between one and two seconds for the motorcycle to reach the "curve speed" (somewhat lower than the average), which is roughly estimated to be the equivalent of 2.5 to 3 seconds to reach 100 kilometres per hour (62 mph) (or 0 to 60 mph). The start of the race is an important aspect of the race overall. "Gating" correctly can help a rider gain an initial advantage over other riders but speed advantages can be made as a race progresses. Those riders willing to take a risk and opt for finding the grippy parts of the track rather than the race line, are sometimes rewarded with extra speed allowing them to pass other riders either on the outside or the inside.
Tracks used for professional speedway racing are regulated by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) who provide rules concerning construction, size and safety requirements.Speedway racing takes place on a level oval track consisting of two straights joined by two semicircles. Tracks must be between 260 and 425 metres (853 and 1394 ft) in length, this is measured at a distance of 1 metre (3.3 ft) from the inner boundary. Tracks may be banked, but the gradient must under no circumstances exceed 5% in the straight, 10% in the bends, and must remain constant and grow from the inner edge to the safety fence. A white start line is marked across the track approximately mid-way along one of the straights. The starting area is also divided into four equal parts (known as gates) by white lines marked at right angles to the start line and extending back at least 1 metre (3.3 ft). Additional rules govern the placement of warning systems such as lights and also the construction of the starting mechanism. The minimum track width is 10 metres (33 ft) on the straights and the bends must be at least 14 metres (46 ft) wide. The minimum widths give each rider adequate space to safely navigate the track. The start line and starting gate assembly is halfway along one of the two straight sections of the track. Starting gates are simple spring-loaded mechanisms that raise two or three strands of tape to start the race.
The FIM regulations require licensed tracks to provide a garage or pit area for motorcycles as well as medical and press facilities. Track boundaries are marked by white lines or barriers on the inside and outside of the track, any rider who crosses this boundary with both wheels will be disqualified unless they only did so in the interest of safety or were forced to by another competitor.
Safety requirements include the use of suspended wire fences, air fences and wooden fences. Air fences are made up of inflated panels installed on the bends. The fence is designed to dissipate energy by allowing an impacted area to compress and transfer air into the rest of the fence through blow-off valves or restriction ports connected to the other sections. They are mandatory for tracks in the British Elite League, Polish Ekstraliga, Speedway Grand Prix and Speedway World Cup. Neutral zones outside the track provide safe run-off areas for riders and their machinery to minimise the potential risk of injury to spectators. The majority of tracks are dedicated to speedway or other sports such as sidecar speedway and banger racing.
Speedway uses a unique type of motorcycle, governed by the FIM's "Track Racing Technical Rules". In the past, bikes with upright engines were used (the name taken from the way the engine sits in the frame), but today most professional riders use laydown bikes as it is argued that they are easier to handle. As speedway bikes do not use brakes, the clutch is used as a release mechanism at the start of races. FIM regulations state that the motorcycles must have no brakes, are powered by pure methanol, use only one gear and weigh a minimum of 77 kilograms (170 lb). By using engine and rear wheel sprockets the gear ratio can be adjusted as required for track conditions. The use of methanol allows for an increased compression ratio to the engine producing more power than other fuels and resulting in higher speeds (approximately 130 kilometres per hour (81 mph) when cornering).
Machines used must:
Machines used cannot:
In addition all motorcycles must have a safety cut out device fitted, this is defined as a switch that "must cut off the circuit of the electrical supply by the simple action of pulling a lanyard or a non-elastic string (with a maximum length of 30 centimetres (12 in)) attached to the rider's right wrist." The high compression ratio of the engine can also assist in slowing down a machine; if the throttle is closed the engine may stop. Riders can stop the bike by deliberately laying down the bike on the track and this technique is used to avoid riders who fall in front of a pursuing colleague. Before cut outs were fitted an engine was stopped in an emergency situation by removing the plug lead from the spark plug or shutting off the fuel supply.
Races (known as heats) consist of four riders racing over four laps from a standing start. Riders wear different coloured helmets, traditionally in team events red and blue denote home team riders, and white and yellow/black quartered colours (latterly plain yellow) denote visiting riders. The starting area is divided into a grid of four equal parts and the riders from each team must take their place in alternate grids or "gates". The colours also denote starting positions in individual events; Red is the inside gate (gate 1), blue starts from gate 2, white starts from gate 3 and yellow/black starts on the outside (gate 4). Riders must be able to get their bikes to the start line under their own power, without any external assistance and not by pushing the machine, then line up in parallel.
A rider who is not at the start line within a reasonable period of time is also liable to be disqualified, although league matches in the UK allow teams to elect to start the disqualified rider fifteen metres back from the tapes or replace the disqualified rider with a team reserve. This period of time is standardised to two minutes from a time determined by the match referee and usually indicated by a bell, a rotating orange lamp or a digital clock readout. All riders must be at the tapes under their own power before the two minutes have elapsed. Additional time between races will be allowed by, and at the discretion of, the referee if a rider has two consecutive rides, to allow the rider time to prepare.
A starting gate consisting of two or more tapes is erected across the start line. The riders must situate themselves not more than 10 centimetres (3.9 in) from this and not touch it once the green light comes on, they must also remain stationary until the tapes are raised. Failure to do so is known as a tape infringement and can result in a false start being recorded and the rider penalised (disqualified, or in league matches in Great Britain, a 15-metre penalty or replace the disqualified rider with a team reserve). The race is started with the raising of the start tape mechanism operated by the match referee and the riders must proceed around the track in an anti-clockwise direction without both wheels illegally leaving the track boundaries.
Once a race is under way, no rider can receive outside assistance, including push-starts, from others. Historically, pushers were allowed at the start of the race. A white line at the 30 metre mark used to designate the extent to which a push was allowed but due to safety concerns, assistance is now illegal.
Occasionally races consist of six riders but this is rare as most tracks are too narrow to accommodate the extra riders safely.
Speedway operates a sliding scale for scoring (known as the 3-2-1-0 method). Three points are scored for first place, two points for second place and one point for third place. A rider does not score when finishing fourth, or failing to finish, or if excluded from a race. These points accumulate over the competition, with riders points either counting towards individual or team placings. In the event of a tie, the race is commonly awarded as a dead heat. If it is a tie for first place, they will both receive two points. A tie for second place earns each rider one point while a joint-last finish earns each rider zero points. Teams can use a tactical substitute rule once in a meeting. If that team is eight (six in World Cup) or more points in arrears, they may bring in the use of a different rider in their team lineup, to race in any heat except for heat 15. This may be different in World cup or event racing. If they are ten or more points behind, a rider with a scheduled ride may go out for double points, in which the riders points will be doubled if he beats a rider of the opposing team. Any rider taking a tactical substitute ride or double points ride is denoted by a black and white helmet colour as rather than one of the four usual coloured helmets. If that rider remains unbeaten by either opposition rider his scored points are doubled and also count towards the rider's calculated match average (CMA).
Heats with 4 riders
The sport produces Calculated Match Averages (CMAs or averages) for every rider, these are calculated from the following:
CMAs scale from 3.00 to 12.00, any rider scoring above or below this range of values will be awarded the maximum or minimum respectively. These averages are used in leagues such as the Premiership in the UK to identify heat-leaders for the purposes of choosing which riders to enter for each race.
At the start of a season, a rider retains their last recorded CMA (or assessed CMA if they have never previously established one) until they have competed in six home and six away matches. A new CMA is then issued that comes into effect seven days later. These are subsequently updated on the 15th of every month from May onwards, and come into effect on the first of the next month.
These CMA's are used in most professional leagues and are altered or weighted depending on the league the rider gained the CMA in. A rider that has no recorded average will receive an indicative CMA for the start of the season that is assessed on their prior experience in the sport.