George Dodds's picture

Hallelujah indeed!
Whoever was responsible for the music which boomed out as King Kev and Mind the Gap raced over the line last Saturday to make our first league victory of the season a mathematical certainty perfectly captured the mood of Bandits’ fans.
As much as the riders, this was very much a victory dedicated to unsung heroes as only the efforts of the volunteers who firstly spread out and then lifted our track covers made the meeting possible at all.
Being the Bandits and 2017 there was still quite a few anxious moments as Ulrich Ostergaard and Simon Lambert showed that their lack of points for the Panthers so far this season didn’t stop them from remembering the fastest way around Shielfield while another ex-Bandit, Paul Starke threatened to inspire another night of disappointment for those of us in Black and Gold.
Indeed Simon’s withdrawal from the meeting made the closing stages a much more straightforward proposition especially with Nick Morris and David Howe totally dialled into the track.
Another volunteer who had a busy night was our young start-line board supremo Nicole Ainslie.
In addition to providing the posh seats with a written evidence of what heat they are watching and who has stuck their hands in their pockets to sponsor it the, still reigning, Salmon Queen also hands out the official warnings to those who incur the wrath of the referee with their starting procedures.
I think it was five official warnings on Saturday – spread pretty fairly between the two sides – but I may have missed the odd one or two while providing lifesaving Bovril to those, especially the Peterborough contingent, slowly turning blue on the back straight despite the heat of the on-track battle.
Those of us with long memories remember the days of tape charging and wild rollers when the only way to be excluded was to actually break the tapes.
The elastic at some tracks – Eastbourne, Weymouth and Crayford spring to mind – was so stretchy that a rider could virtually be at the first bend before the damn things snapped.
There was also dark tales of less than impartial starting marshals giving a sly tug to dislodge them when the visiting number one’s front wheel came within an inch of the ribbon.
Some time in the late seventies the sport’s rulers decided that enough was enough and decreed that touching the tapes with the front wheel was instant exclusion and referees such as Frank Ebdon gleefully tortured the likes of Michael Lee and Eric Gundersen by holding the tapes until clutches burned out.
Initially it was carnage but things settled down. But now we have this strange fudge whereby riders are not excluded because they have not touched the tapes but races are still red lighted and official warnings handed out.
Effectively the referee is saying that riders cannot have reacted that fast to his or her release of the tapes therefore they must have been cheating. But, as there is no evidence to convict, prosecute and exclude – ergo flapping, broken ribbons – up pops Nicole, out comes the official warning board, a smile, a nod of the head and off we go again.
Unsatisfactory in every sense of the word.
Dick Barrie – way back in February suggested doing away with the starting gate and replacing it with the system of lights and transponders used in many other mainstream motor sports and athletic sprints. (“I had an Idea” if you’d like to remind yourself).
Now in common with many of Dick’s musings, the idea is a positive, well thought out effort to bring the sport we all love into the 21st Century and improve the spectacle for the viewing public by removing what is a source of frustration for many fans.
In simple terms riders would line up at the start, lights switched on and then the race start when they are extinguished. The transponder records, via a computer link, when the bike passes a fixed point and if it reaches that point too soon alerts the referee who will stop the race and hand out the appropriate exclusion.
It would probably even be a major improvement on last Saturday when, having set out his stall early, the referee was obliged to keep on calling unsatisfactory starts for the rest of the night.
However, even cutting edge technology relies on human input and is therefore prone to mistakes.
Presumably transponders would be calibrated to reflect the SCB instructions to referees which are effectively that all four riders should leave the starting gate together. But, whether by anticipation or reflexes, using new technology or old, it is a virtually impossible ask.
I don’t intend to fall into the trap of suggesting, even accidentally, that certain riders are considerably less adept at starting than others so, for the fantasy race to prove my point the line-up is Myself, Dick Barrie, Dennis McCleary and …. Craig Cook.
These are not random choices as Dick has some riding experience – including big wins over fellow centre green fashion guru Mike Bennett in the 1980s; as a former referee Dennis has some insight into how long it will be before the lights go out and, well whatever I may have to yield to Cookie in racing ability, I will always take him to the cleaners with punctuation on Twitter.
Even if we all stay still and don’t trouble the transponder police the difference in reactions is going to result in the sort of ragged run to the first bend which would have fans howling with displeasure and demanding a restart – even though the computer says “YES”.
Perhaps we are stuck with human interpretation and error which means that instead of new technology we’ll just have to invest in a new pair of Bandits-branded wellies for Nicole.