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George Dodds's picture

Speedway riders are many things.
Brave, driven, fearless, entertaining, focussed, slightly mad – all words that fit the bill.
But few would expect to be labelled as romantics.
I’m talking solely on-track here, not casting aspersions on how they treat their nearest and dearest away from the floodlights.
I’m sure many are not averse to returning from a meeting with a bunch of red roses plucked with great care and attention from the remainder bin at one of a hundred fine motorway services. It’s even not totally beyond the realm of credulity that Cookie, Rory, Richard, Nick et al while away the long hours on the road home inspired by a love of Shelley, Byron, Wordsworth or Coleridge to compose epic poems full of insight, love and beauty before dropping a kit bag full of muddy kevlars and sweaty undergarments on the floor ready for washing.
But once they cross the white line, indeed as soon as they sign in at the pits’ gate, they hang their fluffy side next to the clipboard with details of heats and helmet colours for the night.
So it was on Saturday as Kyle Howarth stalked David Howe with the Kitson Windows Bordernapolis crown at stake.
What a story.
Earlier in the week a sinus problem had forced David to pull out of that Thursday’s Redcar Silver Helmet.
Speedway rules say if you miss a meeting through illness you can’t race again for seven days; a rule designed to counteract the 24 hour bugs which in days of yore mysteriously struck riders of certain clubs on the eve of trips to tracks where they had a less than stellar record – often in the north – only to mysteriously recover in time for the following night’s home meeting.
It was also known as Polish Flu as it often coincided with the counter-attraction of a lucrative European payday.
So the rules were written which allow clubs a seven day facility for either a guest or rider-replacement but sideline the ill rider over the period.
As we know in speedway “rules is rules” but even in the wacky world of British speedway there has never been an individual meeting which abused the rider-replacement facility or used a sly track specialist guest – scenarios this particular rule is designed to counteract.
And anyway it was Berwick’s last meeting of the 2018 season.
These very points were made by Scott Courtney to the SCB office in Rugby which eventually agreed to lift the block on David’s participation – as a replacement for Tero Aarnio, guesting for Peterborough at Lakeside/Rye House, in the line-up, Howe’s own place in the starting 16 having gone to Luke Ruddick earlier in the week.
This is speedway after all, nothing is ever straightforward.
And The Phoenix grabbed his reprieve with both hands, rediscovered his gating gloves, rolled back the clock and headed the qualifiers with 12 points after 20 action-packed qualifying heats, including two tapes to flag victories over Jye “The Young Pretender” Etheridge.
In addition to the Bordernapolis The Brothers had also promised plenty of extra entertainment as the curtain fell on Berwick’s 51st season.
Riders threw themselves wholeheartedly into the wheelie competition, Bertie and Buddy gave a sneak preview of Tandem Speedway which promises to revolutionise the sport in a way that T20 did for cricket, at the same time halving costs.
An unannounced extra was the 2018 Shielfield Park Demolition Derby – powered by Blowntobuggery of Scremerston – rewarding the most spectacular transformation of an expensively tuned speedway engine into scrap metal.
Jason Garrity was the early leader as his night lasted just a couple of laps, Rocky Summers made a number of attempts to lift the coveted trophy – sculpted by Lady Theodora Gleichen in the shape of a battered can of Castrol R – while Nicolas Busk Jacobsen’s commendably loud heat 19 halt attracted the judge’s attention.
Special mention must also go to Josh Grajczonek’s “will he, won’t, he, left, right, crumple in a heap, ouch” first bend in the initial staging of semi-final one and the previously impressive Kasper Andersen’s heavy encounter with the third bend fun bags.
But there could be only one winner.
Take a bow Sam Masters for the ear-splitting explosion with accompanying steam, smoke, grinding metal and antipodean profanity which marked one of his two breakdowns on the night.
Back to the racing and with many of the pre-meeting favourites counting the mounting repair bills the final took shape with surprise packets Howe and Matty Wethers joining Masters and Kyle Howarth at the tapes.
And when David shot between Stormy and the Sheffield Tiger coming off the second bend we were witnessing something straight off the keyboard of a Hollywood script writer.
Enter stage left our plucky, all-action hero – played by Tom Cruise in elevator insoles – risen from his sick bed after club owner, Scott Courtney – Sean Bean in his Sharpe days – successfully defeats the dark forces of the SCB – Lord Voldemort – and takes his place in the year’s big meeting where he cruises (pun intended) into the final.
As Howe/Cruise hits the front the huddled, shivering masses – whose spirits have been kept high on a wintry Northumberland evening by top quality speedway racing along with hot beverages and Mrs Lovett’s pies dispensed from The Ducket Tea-bar and Bistro by Brad Pitt and Emily Blunt – rises as one to laud their hero, the Young Pretender (Ryan James or Ernie Dingo, depending on availability) leads the cheering from the pits viewing platform.
Berwick’s greatest showman Steve Hayward – Jimmy Somerville – pumps up the volume. Statler, Waldorf and the elite of the Borders’ industrial barons roar their approval from the warmth of the hospitality box.
But curses. Mr Howarth is not a racing romantic. He’s a pragmatist, a true professional, a breed of rider beloved by speedway fans … an out and out racer contractually bound to entertain at all times.
He’s not following the script. Worse than that … he’s improvising.
As a villain Kyle may be more Dick Dastardly than Freddy Krueger, Beetlejuice than Hannibal Lecter but he bides his time, waits for an opening and overtakes the home hero very much in the manner trademarked by the man he roars past and relegates to the second step on the podium.
As the credits roll on the Oscar nominated feel good epic that was Berwick Speedway 2018, Kyle Howarth deservedly adds his name to a Bordernapolis roll of honour alongside the likes of Mark Loram, Chris Harris, Sam Ermolenko, Todd Wiltshire, Jason Crump, Steve McDermott, Doug Templeton, Andy Meldrum, Graham Jones and Joe Owen.
And the romantics among us begin writing An Ode to 2019.
We know not what or who it shall star but we shalt be thereth to enjoyeth the entertainment that season LII brings forth.
I’m not sure what I’ll be doing at 7pm on Saturday but it won’t be anyway near as much fun ... March cannot come around quickly enough.