EUROVETS: Summary of 2017 season

Northumbria’s Terry Kirkup takes us through a summary of the 2017 Eurovets season, which was another great success with around £1000 raised for the Orchid charity, as well as great racing.

The 2016/17 winter break seemed to drag on forever, the new season eagerly awaited by many of the regular competitors. It was mid-March when E-V Supremo Fred Rothwell finally managed to compile the new fixture list once all other Cycle Speedway events had been taken into consideration, us poor Oldies being last in the queue for date fixing as per usual.

Once again venue-wise there were a few old favourites in there following the recent theme of rewarding the clubs who best support both the Euro-Vets and our chosen charity Orchid Fighting Male Cancer, as well as a couple of geographically suitable venues and the odd request granted. We would return to 7 of the venues used in 2016 although the Glasgow meeting followed Edinburgh’s decision not to host a round.

Defending champions Craig Marchant, Norman Venson and Terry Kirkup were back again to try and retain their titles but it wouldn’t be easy with some extra heat generated in each of their age categories by the much anticipated inclusion of Leicester’s Dave Hemsley and Horspath’s Steve Harris in the Over 40s, Wednesfield’s Mark Griffiths and Edinburgh’s Lee Lawrence in the Over 50s and the coming-of-age Midland duo of Birmingham’s Paul Timms and Wednesfield’s Phil Hemming in the Over 60s. As it turned out we only saw Lee in action once while Steve only made two GP points-gathering appearances and Dave also just two including that terrible ankle break at the Finale on his home track. Unfortunately Paul was also missing a few times to blight his challenge. However both Steve and Paul won their respective British Championships to compensate.

Northumbria kicked off the series in customary fashion, a fierce and chilling wind now accepted as the norm. Kev Burns again demonstrated the best way around the Cramlington track for his second win in 2 years with Norman and Phil winning the other two classes. We moved on to a slightly better day at Stoke where we continued our aim of supporting that club’s re-birth. Victorious this time were Mark G and Steve, both making their season debuts while Terry took the 60’s pot.

Our one-off individual at a very wet Birmingham saw Dave H’s first outing and he duly cleaned up in the 40s with Norman taking the 50s win and Paul the 60s. Back to GP scoring at Coventry next and the strong wind couldn’t stop Craig, Mark G and Paul taking top honours.

East London provided the first perfect weather of the year for Round Four where the Over 40 turnout was poor but racing was as keen as ever, this day producing on-the-trot wins for Craig and Mark with Terry taking the Over 60s. An absolute deluge awaited us at Newport but nothing stops the Euro-Vets and again although the track became heavy it was plenty race-able and a good laugh thanks to crazy aquanauts Mick Knowles and Jim Collier! Jason Keith stole his first “A” Final win with Mark making it a fantastic four from four outings and Paul collecting his second win.

On to Glasgow next and a Myrtle Park with no rain! Craig collected the win in the Over 40s, while Paddy Wenn ghosted his way to his first “A” Final win in the 50s and Phil claimed the OAP badge. I must add that up to this point Leicester’s Dave Frith was well in the hunt for the Over 50s OVERALL podium but following his misfortune in the Scottish “A” Final after running unbeaten in the heats he then fell heavily twice at Norwich and that was the end of his season with a nasty shoulder injury and other hurties, such a shame.

And now for something completely different!

Norwich’s Eaton Park was the venue for this showdown between those travelling to Australia for the World Championships and those remaining at home. We billed this one “The Orchid International” and once again our apparent knack of attracting the worst of the weather proved impeccable! While the main event just about got away with a few puddles around the inside line, the also-rans met with what looked like a Channel crossing. The Big Match saw the Oz-bound Lions eke out a slender lead over the Euro-Vets to ease to a 10 points win. Dave, Mark Whitehead and Captain Craig were best for the Tourists while Man of the Match had to be Euro-Vets Mark Griffiths ably assisted by Steve and skipper Kev. A fabulous match to watch and a real tribute to Veteran racing.

Only two rounds left now with the first at pretty but tricky Hellingly. After last year’s disappointment on his own track Martyn Hollebon made no mistake this time to take a hard-earned and very clever win in the Over 40 category on another beautiful afternoon in the Deep South. Once again Paddy Wenn struck when least expected to grab his own two-in-a-row in the 50s and Phil grabbed the Over 60s top spot.

And so we arrived at Round Eight, the Grand Finale laid on by Leicester Monarchs on a beautiful afternoon. Amazingly all three age group podiums were wide open at the start of this fantastic meeting. In fact the top four in the Over 40s were still undecided, the top three ditto in the Over 50s and first and second in the Over 60s. It just couldn’t have been a much more exciting climax than this. This day was sure to provide high drama and it did. I won’t repeat the day’s action here; you can read a bit more detail on the Euro-Vets web site.

What Went Wrong?

One thing I should record here to maybe generate more discussion is that we managed to raise a bit of controversy over the method used to determine overall positions after tying on GP points. In fact at the Leicester meeting it was more like stirring up a hornet’s nest! Fairly late in the season, when it looked like there may be some very close scoring (a belief that was to become fact) Fred asked for, and mooted, a couple of different ideas. These were kicked around between a few of us here and there until we more-or-less agreed and came down in favour of countback of GP podiums as the initial tie-breaker. After that it would be countback on highest finishing positions and maybe something else if that wasn’t enough.

Following what was claimed to be inaccurate advice on the day just prior to the Over 40s “A” Final (I’m trying to be diplomatic here, please don’t hurt me) I made myself busy and got around as many of our younger (40-50) members as I could to gather a consensus, and that definitely came down firmly on the side of a run-off rather than our chosen method. Too late to appease anyone negatively affected, of course. While countback has its plus side in other situations and is used fairly regularly in the GP series every year to select finalists, it was obviously a bad choice, and the wrong choice, for deciding the overall podiums. On behalf of the Fraternity I’m therefore recommending a run-off now for future points tie situations when a decider is required. Let the vocal battle rage!

Who gets “Unluckiest Rider” tag? 

Well taking in the World Final in consideration too I have to share this between two Daves and a Mark! Dave Frith for his most untimely injuries, Dave Hemsley for his hugely unlucky ankle break causing him to miss riding in Australia and Mark Winwood. Mark had to have the worst luck of anyone during last year’s series and while managing to make amends this season ended up just off the podium both in the E-Vs and the Worlds. Commiserations to all three and also to Wayne Tipton who beat himself up at the Glasgow round.

More important than all of this though was the money we raised again for Orchid, a fine sum of around £1,000 as we continue to support this most worthy, and fitting, of cancer charities.

As far as the coming 2018 season goes, hopefully we can look forward to more of the same great racing, fundraising and top-notch camaraderie as we go on tour once more with Eddie Ridley’s Flying Circus!