WHEN I was a snotty-nosed kid growing up in deepest, darkest Essex, I always wanted to be like Red Ott.
You probably haven’t heard of him, but in the early 1970s he was the bright young thing making his mark with the Rayleigh Rockets, the team I worshipped as a lad.
He was my first sporting hero and I even scrawled ‘Red Ott rules OK’ on the walls of the boys’ toilets at school. Remarkably I never did get taken to task for it.
My other sporting hero was Peter Osgood. My mum bought me a blue shirt, sewed a piece of white ribbon on the back in the shape of a 9, gave me a ball, a pair of boots and some shorts – hey presto. Instant Ossie.
Being Red Ott was slightly more problematic.
Sure, I whizzed around my nan’s garden on a clapped-out pushbike wearing a tracksuit and one of my dad’s old crash helmets (which, in a haze of youthful innocence I painted purple) – but it wasn’t quite the same.
I never had the opportunity – or the bottle – to do the real thing. Until now. At the age of 45, I finally got to ‘be’ Red Ott.
The venue was the Scunthorpe training track – a purpose-built mini-circuit adjacent to the Eddie Wright Raceway’s main track, and designed for would-be Red Otts like me to take their first tentative laps astride a speedway machine.
An army of 12 of us headed down from Teesside – all members and friends of the Bears Supporters’ Group – a fun-loving, friendly and hard-working bunch of speedway die-hards whose role and intentions have somehow become distorted lately by the mischief-makers and the ill-informed.
Our tutor was Wayne Carter, the former Boro Bears, Wolves and Scunny star, who is now the track’s training officer.
With no brakes or gears to worry about, it was all pretty straightforward, he reckoned. “Just keep turning left,” he told us. Yeah, we’d kind of got that one thanks, Wayne.
What about stopping then? “That’s what the fence is there for,” he said with a mischievous smile. Mmmmmmm, rightio.
Surprisingly I didn’t loop up when I first rode out onto the track (or on any other occasion) and the thrill of winding the throttle on as I breezed down the straight was immediate and immense.
The natural reaction was to use the clutch going in and out of the bends, but Wayne was quickly out on the track to put me right. “Let the throttle do the work,” he yelled, “the clutch is just for starting and stopping.”
It may have only been a quarter-size track, but finally I was living the dream.
Down the straight, knock the throttle off going into the bend, then wind it back on coming out – fantastic!
I couldn’t get the bike to slide like Red Ott, but I stayed on (despite scraping the fence a few times and having the odd wobble out wide in the dirt) and managed to stop without the aid of the fence.
I passed a couple of people and got passed too – including by one fellow upstart whose ass I’d vowed to whup!
Afterwards my legs ached liked you wouldn’t believe. Going into the bends with your right foot pressing on the footrest and your left one bearing your weight really takes it out of you.
“I’m walking like John Wayne,” quipped one of our number the following day. Yep – pretty much spot on. I’d say.
I always thought that, having watched shalesport since I was a kid, I had the utmost respect for anyone who could put the words “speedway rider” after their name. Well, now I have even more.
Red Ott, Havvy, Ty, Rusty Hodgson, Jitendra Duffill, Robert Pallister – I salute you all.
DUE to the technical jiggery poker of our system and me being thick, pictures from our grand day out will be added later. Please check back again soon.