Speedway, like so many other sporting disciplines, has been hard hit by COVID-19 with 2020 a year like no other – and the knock-on effect for speedway teams up and down the country has been traumatic, concerning and frustrating.
On the Isle of Wightd, 2020 was a non-starter for the Wightlink Warriors and Wightlink Wizards due to government restrictions for the use of stadiums preventing public attendance, which culminated in the sport’s governing body taking the decision to abandon any form of league racing.
Looking back on the turbulent 2020, the Warriors’ promotional duo of Barry Bishop and Martin Widman should be applauded for some determined efforts to keep the club profile high.
Barry Bishop takes up the story of an ‘annus horribilis’ that wasn’t so ‘horribilis’ after all…
“Our winter planning and team building had been coming along nicely and we had very high hopes for successes on and off track so the first lockdown just a couple of weeks before our opening night was hard to swallow and then exacerbated by the cancellation of all speedway in the UK, however, amazingly, we actually did go racing.
“Volunteers are giving their time and effort to ensure that Smallbrook Stadium is on point and ready to serve the community in every way. We have refurbished rooms, improved areas and much more. We know it is a long continuous process but without question our volunteers deliver so much for our club and Martin and I thank them wholeheartedly for all that they do.
“Our drive and enthusiasm is as strong as ever as we look to continue to win awards, trophies but most of all provide the best night out in Speedway in the UK”.
The Warriors were asked to compete at Plymouth in a 3-team tournament involving Plymouth, Eastbourne and the Isle of Wight. The Warriors management team worked extremely closely with Plymouth to ensure that fans were safe in a COVID-secure environment throughout the meeting. It was a great meeting in front of 400 spectators and streamed live to a wider audience.
Off the track, the Warriors’ have been busy promoting both the club and the Island as a whole.
BDO Darts Sponsorship
Working with partner ASGUK, the Warriors managed to arrange and deliver a super opportunity for the club logo to appear on stage at the BDO Darts Finals at the O2 Arena. This raised huge interest in the club and also excellent marketing with speedway fan and professional dart champion Scott Mitchell ensuring the logo was not only on Eurosport, but also around the world on his Twitter and Facebook pages.
GB Young Lions U21 Training Camp
Just before lockdown, the Warriors provided facilities for 3 days of intense on and off track training for the GB Young Lions under the supervision of their manager, Neil Vatcher. The camp offered the cream of Britain’s young riders the chance to develop their on-track skills and knowledge with expert coaching from top class riders Steve Worrall and Paul Hurry as well as providing close guidance on other matters such as media awareness, nutrition and fitness.
My First Skid
With the relaxation to allow training and amateur sports events without spectators, My First Skid – the speedway training school based at Smallbrook Stadium – was reintroduced. Unfortunately, the use of hire bikes wasn’t permitted and places were limited to 15 riders who owned all their own equipment. This proved to be a great success allowing My First Skid to ensure that the track equipment remained functional and Island-based riders had more time to further develop their skills.
Online re-run of meetings via Speedway Portal
Andy Hague and his team have recorded almost every home meeting since 2016, providing the opportunity for these meetings to be re-run online for fans near and far to see.
This not only kept fans engaged with the sport, but provided a good opportunity for sponsors to experience more ‘airtime’.
Virtual Skid came about as a way to create a real meeting using historic footage. Working with Speedway Portal, the Warriors invented an algorithm that would take 4 meetings (60 races) and jumble them all up so to give 15 race choices of A, B, C or D. 2 celebrity team managers, selected from ex-riders, referees, sponsors and super fans, were invited to try and guide their team to victory by selecting each race. So far, 15 meetings have been produced, all available on YouTube, including 1 which raised over £1,000 for the Speedway Riders Benevolent Fund.
The club has raised well over £1,000 for charity from the sale of Warrior branded face masks. Key workers, no matter what they did, could request one for free while anyone who was not a key worker were asked to make a donation and anything over the cost price was handed over to charity.
£605 was handed over to Capt Tom Moore, £261 to Mountbatten Hospice and £250 to the Speedway Riders Benevolent Fund.