LAST season was a disaster for almost all sporting organisations on the Island — and Isle of Wight Speedway was no exception as the pandemic swept the land.

But after a seismic shift in the way speedway is now presented, their management are saying ‘We’re all Wight now’.

The past 18 months have proved a mammoth challenge for both the Wightlink Warriors speedway team and Ryde’s Smallbrook Stadium, amid the pandemic. 

Isle of Wight Speedway, led by Barry Bishop and Martin Widman, which runs speedway and the stadium, was at a particularly low ebb, unable to stage any meetings.

Isle of Wight County Press:

The Warriors’ only event was a three-team show at Plymouth, but other than that, Island speedway fans were starved of competition. 

Positivity returned last winter as the team’s plans for this season in the National League took shape — all for the Warriors’ management to pull the plug, following unexpected new rules forced upon the league by the British Speedway Promoters Ltd.

Barry and Martin were forced to reflect on their position and subsequently announced the team’s withdrawal from the National League in February.

“It wasn’t the new rules that concerned us. It was the fact the rules were to be imposed on the league and not voted for at the AGM, as it should be,” Barry explained.

Isle of Wight County Press: Barry Bishop, left, and Martin Widman, who run speedway on the Island.Barry Bishop, left, and Martin Widman, who run speedway on the Island.

The pair said the new directives, being most likely extended into future seasons, rather than them being a ‘Covid one-off’, did not sit well with them.

But rising like a phoenix from the ashes of the Warriors’ ‘heartbreaking’ withdrawal came the Wightlink Warriors Shale Track Racing Club.

It was a brave option for Barry and Martin — to rebrand speedway on the Island, away from speedway’s governing authorities and under the auspices of Nora Motorsport, a body that oversees various off-road racing disciplines.  

“After we made the decision to leave the league, we wanted to change the way our sport was presented to the public,” continued Barry.

Isle of Wight County Press: Island speedway rider Chad Wirtzfeld.Island speedway rider Chad Wirtzfeld.

“I’ve spent years working and living abroad — taking influences from speedway in Germany and the United States — the backbone of the show we wanted to present. 

“League racing has so many restrictions. They shouldn’t be at the cost of fans’ entertainment. By joining Nora, we gained the freedoms to really do what we felt fans would like most. 

“We approached Nora, who didn’t have a specific rule book for speedway, so Martin and Warriors man Kevin Shepherd wrote a rule book — keeping it simple, effective and available to all. 

“Nora let us stage different classes at meetings, enabling us to be creative with the show and improve fan and rider interaction, involve kids and, we hope, inspire them to become the next generation of rider.

Isle of Wight County Press: Island speedway rider Steph Whitlock.Island speedway rider Steph Whitlock.

“It’s not been easy. We know riders received threats of bans, fines, or no team places next year if they rode on our track.

“Luckily, we have many riders who wanted to stand up and be counted — giving a better show for fans. 

“At times I wanted to give up and take the easy route out, but a phone call from former Wizards rider Ben Ilsley, who’s helped bring new motorsport to the Island, reignited our enthusiasm when he said: “use the tools you have and put on a great show”.

“This stuck with us. Our answer was to stage our own British Final. We totally believe in the show and that fans who come will be entertained and have a great value family night out.

Isle of Wight County Press: Morgan Williams, of Wroxall.Morgan Williams, of Wroxall.   

“They’ve been well received by Islanders and tourists. We’ve seen a rise of both attending. The atmosphere has been electric. 

“Speedway is the largest regular sporting event on the Island after Cowes Week — something we’re very proud of. 

“The feedback from riders, fans, sponsors and volunteers has been amazing — all wanting more. 

“The season has gone so well, we have extended it too with the Grand Final and Super Final of our Island Masters series climaxing our season on Tuesday. 

Isle of Wight County Press: Chad Wirtzfeld.Chad Wirtzfeld.

“We are already looking at other options for next year.”  

Although Barry and Martin will never say never about a league return, they are delighted with the formula they have struck upon.