FEATURE: The homegrown hero from Horspath
Carrying on from our series of interviews before the British Championship weekend, we hope to bring you more interviews throughout the close season, from not just our champions of Cycle Speedway but also volunteers and ex-riders too.
This week, we speak to the new British Champion, Zac Payne, where we find out how it all started for the Horspath rider and where he sees himself in the future. Zac starts off by explaining how his Cycle Speedway career began.
Zac said, “I started my Horspath Cycle Speedway career at the age of 14 after I was introduced to the sport by a good friend and work colleague Adrian Todd, whose son also participates. My first competitive meeting was at Sandwell in the Under 14 Junior League, where I just managed to scrape through into the D Final and win in horrendous conditions. A bit like my British Final!”
How long did it take for it to sink in that you’re the new British Champion? “It still doesn’t seem real to this day. To be stood on top of that podium holding the shield next to a great friend Charlie “the bomber” Rumbold, who I am very happy for after becoming the new Under 19 British Champion and finishing second in the Men’s Open Final; all of the previous congratulations I had received from riders in the pits, friends, family and spectators was overwhelming. When I saw my dad and girlfriend come running to the pits things got emotional” laughed Zac. “It was back to work on Tuesday morning at 5am where I was welcomed by my manager and the man responsible for the start of my Cycle Speedway career Adrian Todd, so the celebrations were over rather quickly.”
You’ve always been consistent in the Elite League, but before the Worlds you took it up a level and were a real contender. First you won the Elite League match race trophy, then you eased through the Worlds qualifying to reach the final, before more of the same at the British, taking the title in the process. How did you prepare in the build up for the busy summer to haul yourself into the elite mix like you did? “At the start of the year, I found myself training hard with previous British Champion Mark Boaler, who from as a junior to where I am now; I still look up to as a friend and team rider.
“I trained every Tuesday, and Wednesday with the junior riders. The Elite League is my main focus as a team man. For the Wednesfield away match we had a weakened side, but I felt I was riding well throughout the meeting, so believed I deserved the opportunity to race Bobby McMillan for the match race trophy. Winning the race, was the first thing as an individual rider that I have won, which gave my confidence a huge boost for the oncoming matches. After a disappointing Elite League run for the Hammers, I found myself not training as much and losing interest. But this was due to club commitment in the South West League. Once I qualified for the World Final, my confidence was back up to its highest, however I was going into the final to have fun and enjoy the experience. With the British Final only a few weeks after the Worlds, I found myself training hard once again.”
Like Tom Reed in 2012 and 2013 you missed out on qualifying for the final last year in Bury, 12 months later you’re the champion. How did it feel to bury (excuse the pun, not intentional!) last year’s disappointment so emphatically this year? “Last year I had a rough first day qualifying and found myself in the repechage at Astley and Tylesley. Luck was not in my favour and I had yet again another bad day at the office, missing out on a place in the final by a single point. Because of being so close, my determination to do better shined through this year. Going into this year’s British Final, I was so hungry to pick up that shield and win.”
The weather was unforgiving in Ipswich for the final, how did you find the conditions? “The conditions were not anyone’s favourite, but everyone battled through the wet and soggy track. After many of my races being re-run due to racing incidents or gate exclusions, I felt my legs giving up more and more each time. But the hardest yet the best race of the meeting was the one race with Myke Grimes, where he really pushed me to the maximum. Also hats off to Ipswich Cycle Speedway club for keeping the track in the best possible condition on the day.”
You’re a real club man and help keep Horspath ticking over, doing great work with the juniors. Your win will certainly inspire them further, how have the youngsters and your club reacted to you being crowned British Champion? “Yes, I try my best to keep Horspath going in the areas that I can. For example the South West League, training and track work. Not forgetting to mention the help from Lee Clarke and his dad, and Geoff Gamage for just being an all-time Horspath Hammer hero!
“The juniors are the highlight for me, working with them every Wednesday and seeing the regulars turn up every week and a couple of new faces here and there. Watching them improve within training and junior leagues, and having the children as well as their parents praise myself and Lee on our hard work, is always nice to hear. In particular, working alongside young Will Jeffery from the end of last season until present. Seeing him go from a rookie to competing at the top level in his age group, to working his way into my South West first team and racing with the best of the best in the Elite League.
“Introducing Will to senior training has brought him along a lot this year, with his fitness and technicality of racing. I see a bit of myself in him. In the first training session back with the juniors, I was congratulated by all juniors and their parents. When racing with the younger children, whenever they crossed the line; they would shout “I’ve just beat the British Champ!”.
How do you see 2016 going for you, what are your aims? “2016 will be a big year for me. I’m a Horspath rider through the thick and thin, but who knows where I’ll be riding next year. I will be hoping to retain my British title, so I will need to train hard and stay focused all year. I’m looking to keep working hard with the juniors and watching their progressions no doubt as the year goes on.
“After a bad South West season for the Hammers due to a shortage of riders and commitment, we have struggled so far losing all matches and yet to score a point. So 2016 will involve trying to make amends for this, by either bringing in new faces to the club, or giving the younger generation a chance at proving themselves on a competitive stage. But most importantly, I want to continue enjoying all my racing and take each race as it comes.”
Thanks for talking to us Zac, massive congratulations on your title. “I’d just like to say thanks to everyone who has supported me. A special mention to the one person in the crowd who I could hear every race shouting “Paynoooo!”, Mr Olly Buh Buxton!”