A Grand day out

THE BBC have got it wrong all these years – the Tardis isn’t an old police phone box, it’s actually a silver Ford Fusion with a 56 plate.


I know this for a fact because I travelled in it last weekend from Teesside 2009 all the way back to Poland 1982. Via Somerset.
I’d been warned about the hotel we were booked into for Grand Prix weekend in Cardiff, and the online reviews only served to heighten the mounting trepidation. But none of that could prepare me for the sight that greeted me as Chazza’s Express Tours (a subsidiary of Nealo’s Tours) pulled into the car park.
The dull, grey, square structure looked as if it had come straight from early 1980s Gdansk. I fully expected to walk in and find a fat, bearded woman eating cabbage standing obediently behind the reception desk, casting the occasional subtle glance towards the barely hidden secret police cameras.
In the event, our party was attended to by a pleasant – and stubble-free – Welsh lady, although the décor would have fit in nicely with Soviet era Poland. The stains on the ceiling certainly appeared to have been there that long.
But, hey, it was all part of the fun and games of speedway’s big weekend of the year. The two weeks prior to Grand Prix weekend was hellishly busy one for those of us aligned to the Bears, with trips to Birmingham, Scunthorpe and Newport as well as the regular Thursday night home matches to fit in.
And everywhere we went the visiting fans wanted to know one thing. “Are you going to Cardiff?” It’s the highlight of the British speedway racing calendar – and the speedway social calendar too.
It all starts off with the Premier League Pairs, about an hour or so from Cardiff at Somerset Rebels’ Oak Tree Arena.
Bears fans were easily the most prevalent visitors on the Oak Tree Arena terraces and, for our group, home for the night was a short walk away at the Brent Knoll Lodge where the wonderfully-named and even more wonderfully-tasting Butcombe ale is available on hand pump.
I was purchasing a pint of said ale (it would have been rude not to sample the local produce) when in walked Havvy and Ty, the Bears’ representatives later that night called in. Fortunately Havvy was only joking when he called out “Get us a pint of Stella!”
The meeting itself wasn’t much to write home about although it at least served as a decent hors d’oevre to Cardiff’s main course. The local scrumpy looked and tasted like ditchwater but spirits were high and the Bears surfer must have looked awesome from the home straight.
Cardiff the following day was something else. A real party city that knows how to have a good time, it was already in full swing at lunchtime.
Cardiff weekend brings out the best in the speedway fraternity. Take the Boothby family – they spent the afternoon touring town with Sooty, Sweep and Sue puppets in Bears racejackets and even managed to nab a photo of Sooty with Sky TV commentator Nigel Pearson.

inthepits-granddayout.jpg

There were pink cowboy hats aplenty – expect to see one or two this Thursday – and stars of the domestic stage mingled with fans as the atmosphere began to build.
The meeting itself was good spectacle too – even though Bomber was robbed – and Scott Nicholls’ bout of fisticuffs got us all going.
Those of us staying overnight in the city were able to enjoy a cracking night out after the meeting. The great thing about Cardiff is that the regular Saturday night crowd are out on the town side-by-side with the weekend visitors.
So you can find yourself in a pub with a saddo in an anorak on one side of you and a young trendy dressed to kill on the other. Or maybe a group of young female pharmacists in fancy dress.
Yes, Grand Prix weekend is about much more than a speedway meeting. If you can get there next year, make sure you do. Just don’t stay in the hotel we did!

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