The first major speedway event for clubs in the National League took place at Stoke last night with all eight teams coming together to compete for the Four Team Championship and what a night it turned out to be with the ‘Wightlink’ Warriors missing out on gold by inches.
Riders and fans arriving at the Loomer Road track could have been forgiven for thinking that they were attending the local school fete as an extended tented enclosure had sprung up on bends three and four to act as temporary pits to accommodate forty riders, eighty bikes and all the associated paraphernalia and with the Warriors settled in to their allocated area, they prepared to take on the hosts, Cradley and Leicester in their semi-final.
On paper Cradley looked good but they would never have expected to see their number one rider Max Clegg disqualified for two successive tape touching offenses and when Danny Halsey pulled up with motor problems in his last ride their day was done. Leicester were also dark horses, but badly missed Ellis Perks who was required to ride for the Lions in the Championship and Danyon Hume, who was expected to be a big scorer never got going. Stoke on their own track with home support and a full squad duly delivered a strong sequence of scores avoiding last places and easing to the final which left the Warriors, largely ignored in pre-match conversations, to put together a sequence of workmanlike heats lead by skipper Ben Morley with two wins in a classy show of passing and gating.
Scores: Stoke 18, Wightlink Warriors 14 (Ben Morley 6, Danno Verge 4, Georgie Wood 3, Chad Wirtzfeld 1), Cradley 8, Leicester 8.
The second semi final was incident packed to say the least with several crashing falls as the Kent injury hoodoo struck again, firstly with their skipper needing an ambulance ride with a serious shoulder injury and later Anders Rowe taking a blow to the wrist which may or may not need further investigation. To their credit the Kings battled on to make the final alongside Mildenhall whose riders often seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but none the less were worthy finalists.
Scorers: Mildenhall 16, Kent 14, Plymouth 8, Belle Vue Colts 8.
For the final the teams had the opportunity to adjust their riding order and Warriors team manager Kev Shepherd took the chance to juggle his resources so that the Island side would have Georgie Wood in the first heat of the final and Ben Morley in the second. That also gave the Warriors a strong final heat with Wood on track and offered young Chad Wirtzfeld the chance of points against the depleted Kent side. The plan to deliver a strong start worked a treat. In the first heat of the final Wood passed the unbeaten Stoke rider Joe Lawlor with the move of the meeting and that was followed up with Morley recording his third win on the night with a sweet start from gate two. Wirtzfeld picked up a crucial third in heat three before Danno Verge also picked up a point in heat four when Stoke’s Connor Coles took a last bend tumble – Verge putting the bike down in an instance to avoid a nasty collision. Coles immediately and sportingly acknowledged Verge’s instant actions. At the halfway stage it was Warriors 8, Mildenhall 7 and Stoke 6.
Heat five saw Morley record a fourth successive ahead of Drew Kemp (Mildenhall) and Tom Perry (Stoke) before Wirtzfeld collected another vital point in heat six – a race where homester Luke Priest held off the persistent Jason Edwards (Mildenhall). Tensions were starting to simmer and heat seven saw Danno Verge draw a blank against really strong opposition in the form of Danny Ayres (Mildenhall), Lawlor and Jordan Jenkins (Kent) which meant that going to the final heat the scores were tied on 12 between the Warriors, Mildenhall and Stoke.
Heat twelve and Wood took to the track in gate 2 with the whole team on the centre green giving support. Henry Atkins (Mildenhall) sat in gate 1, Kent reserve Bailey Fellows had gate 3 and Connor Coles rolled in to gate 4 and as the tapes were released it was Coles who showed first with Wood on the Stoke man’s exhaust pipe and there then followed a classic match race with Wood using every inch of the track to squeeze past the former Warrior at the front. Down the back straight for the last time and Wood heads to the dirt on bend three, cuts back to create a long final straight and powers towards the finish line and as they take the chequered flag Georgie boy and the Warrior contingent clearly think he’s won whilst the home camp also believe that their man has held on.
The title was now firmly in the hands of referee Ronnie Allan to make the final call and after what seemed like an age the decision goes to Connor Coles and the home support, already convinced there man had done it, well and truly erupts and the Warrior TEAM hurry to console Wood who could have done no more to bring the trophy south.
On another great night for Island speedway Barry Bishop offered his assessment of events,” Wow, what a final race and Georgie was magnificent. Ben was magnificent. The whole team were magnificent and deserve a huge pat on the back. This is another fantastic achievement for the little old Wightlink Warriors and yet again we have made the speedway world sit up and take notice. Can I also say well done to Stoke and in particular Connor Coles on the win, also well done to Dave Tattum and his team for promoting the meeting and Jason Pipe for all his work and pulling the event together. Bring on the Pairs”.
Scorers: Stoke 15, Wightlink Warriors 14 (Ben Morley 6, Chad Wirtzfeld 2, Danno Verge 1, Georgie Wood 5) Mildenhall 13, Kent 6.