THE look on the face of a misty-eyed and shale-splattered Gary Havelock said it all – it really had been one of those crazy but unforgettable nights.
Because for Havvy, like the thousands of us down at a wet and wild Poole Stadium to celebrate his big Farewell Meeting, there seemed a time when that moment simply wasn’t going to happen.
No, make that more than one occasion when we feared it wouldn’t happen.
When Havvy first called me over in the Redcar pits some time before the end of the 2012 season and told me of his plans for a farewell meeting at Wimborne Road, it was clear this was going to be one of those ‘can’t miss’ meetings.
As the line-up began to take shape, that view was not just confirmed but underlined in permanent marker pen and pinned up on the fridge door.
The Turbo Twins, Bomber, Fast Freddie, Herbier Hancock… and they were all riding for Havvy, the Teesside-born shalesport legend who spent 27 years in the saddle, won the world title, captained his country and skippered Redcar Bears from their launch until a horror smash left him with 14 broken bones and severe nerve damage which means he has no feeling in his left arm from just above the elbow.
Then, out of nowhere – bang! It was announced the Elite Riders’ Championship was to be staged on the same night, almost certainly robbing him of not only gate revenue but star riders too.
In all the years I’ve known Havvy, he’s never been lost for words. But this time when I phoned him he said simply: “I’m numb. I don’t know what to say.”
Fortunately the powers that be saw sense and the ERC was switched back to its original date (only, ironically, to be called off due to an unfit track), leaving Havvy to enjoy his big night.
Sure enough the fans turned out in force and the queues to get it snaked around the stadium hours before the start.
However, as we speedway fans know all too well, you can never write off the imperious ways of Mother Nature.
Not only did the rain come hammering down, sending soaked fans scurrying for cover, the wild wind sent advertising hoardings flying across the centre green. And we’d only had six races.
Racing was put on hold and the track looked more suitable for bog snorkelling than speedway yet when the rain subsided, on came the two-minute warning and out came the riders. There was not one murmur of discontent – and that in itself is testimony to Havvy.
They weren’t going to let a torrential downpour spoil his richly deserved big night.
To the delight of the home fans Darcy Ward won the second half grand final, coming from behind to take the chequered flag in a manner strikingly reminiscent of Havvy in his heyday.
A marvellous way to end a memorable night.
After making the presentations Havvy was given a croggie round the circuit by Aussie ace Ward, a chorus of “He’s one of our own” from Bears fans in the stand ringing in his ears as he made his way off the track and into the pits.
That’s where I was waiting for him to get the post-meeting quotes you’ll have read in the Gazette.
He’d worked tirelessy to promote the meeting – he was even on Radio Two that morning – and endured the ups and downs but this was the moment he could relax and allow the glorious truth to sink in. The meeting went ahead, the fans turned out in force and it was a rip-roaring success.
It took us seven hours to get to Poole and five on the way home bit, hey, Havvy did that every week when he rode for the Pirates, and there was no way we were going to miss his big night.
The action is closer to home this week with the start of Redcar Bears’ 2014 season at South Tees Motorsports Park – keep visiting In the Pits for news, views and a bit of offbeat opinion. And you can follow me on Twitter too @gazettespeedway