For those who don’t know, Motorcycle Speedway consists of generally 4 but up to 6 riders completing four anti-clock wise laps of an oval circuit. On bikes with one gear…and no brakes. Yep, no brakes. The riders use all their strength to powerslide their bikes into the bends trying to complete all four laps without hideously crashing out, whilst reaching speeds of over 100km/hour in the straights.
The first mention of speedway was recorded prior to WW1 in America, and in Australia when it appeared at the West Maitland Showgrounds in 1923 as part of the Electric Light Carnival. Johnny Hoskins nationalised this sport, which was riden on modified road bikes, and managed to capitalise on it as it become popular world-wide. It was put on hold due to the outbreak to WWII and some wondered whether its popularity could be restored after the war. The answer was yes – it came back bigger and better than ever, with Europe becoming an integral part of the speedway boom when league racing in the northern hemisphere became extremely popular.
Now staged in 20 countries around the world, with massive television ratings, speedway is as popular as ever. And in Poland, it’s one of the most popular sports around, achieving the highest average attendance of any sport.
My love of sports is really, really, really limited… but it does include Speedway and I was incredibly excited to find that there was a World Speedway Championship race being held in Poland while I was there, so I just had to book tickets and check it out. I don’t proclaim to understand the format of the world championship races at all, so heres what the SGP website says…
Gorzow Wielkopolski is a town of just over 120,000 inhabitants, lying along the Warta River in Western Poland, about a 6-7 hour train ride from Warsaw. The town is known for its successful sportsmen, one of which was Edward Jancarcz, speedway champion.
Edward Jancarz rode for the Wimbledon Dons from 1977 to 1982 and was a member of the winning Polish World Cup Team in 1969. He also rode for Stal Gorzow, for which he became a coach once his riding career ended. His life was cut short when his second wife stabbed him to death during a domestic dispute bought on by alcoholism, which Edward had suffered from since the mid 1980’s. After his death, the speedway stadium in Gorzow Wieklopolski was named after him. There is also a monument dedicated to him in the town centre of GW – and Edward holds the honour of being the first speedway rider in the world to have a monument dedicated to him.
I guessed I would be there for the finals, which were being held in Gorzów Wielkopolski, so after scouring the internet to secure the last of the cheap accommodation in town, my next battle had been ‘where the hell are the best seats to book!’. I watched and re-watched races at Edward Jancarz Stadium trying to work out where the best tix (which weren’t currently sold out) would be, but my gut kept coming back to the same place, first straight, which just happened to be in section 15 (my favourite number). I double-checked with my boyfriend, an ex-motorcross rider, and he thought they would be ok, so click, click, click – all booked. I was a little anxious about this part of my trip, not having to be able to work out my of a transport route to the stadium and back, but helped to know my boyfriend would be watching the race live, back home in Perth.
Anyway, back to Poland, I was yet again standing on the train platform st Warszawa Centralna, this time heading off to Gorzów. I’m sure my cousins thought I was a little mad going all that way for a bike race but I wasn’t missing it for the world.
The train only went as far as Zwierzyn, a bus taking us the remaining way. I found Gorzów a little difficult to navigate but I finally found my way to my hotel. It was quite out of the way, and a bit weird – it seemed to be situated on an old barracks ground of sorts, so it kind of made me feel a little uneasy about coming home later.
It was then that I had two great ideas.
No. 1, I recalled the app I had been using to get around Warsaw, ‘Jakdojade’ (get this app if you are coming to Poland…seriously, do it now) had transport data for other cities, and that included Gorzów. Yas!
And No.2, I recalled seeing a mall near my hotel which was great cause I had noticed my phone battery was flailing and there was no way I’d be able to video or photograph the race and find my way back to the hotel. Hopefully I could find a portable charger there. I raced out to the mall in search of one and was successful. Possible disaster avoided.
I found my route to the stadium, got ready while charging my phone and also managed to fit in a few messages to my boy back home. It was time.
As I walked across the hotel grounds, the sky looked rather ominous. Hmmm I thought, not only could this make for an interesting race because the track had been dry in training, but it could also make me very cold and wet. I had thrown in a light jumper for my trip but hadn’t thought it would be this. At least I was on a bus; there were hoardes of people walking to the stadium, a sea of red and white scarves and beanies joyfully crossing the river. Darker and darker the sky brewed until about 500m from the stadium when the heavens let loose.
All of a sudden people were running everywhere, scattering toward shelter of any kind. My bus arrived and I to was running for cover, unable to immediately see the stadium entrance. Huddled in an old brick archway, I waited for a break in the rain and the traffic. What a start to the night!
The buzz continued inside the stadium; people were lined up for beers and snacks, hooters were blaring and everyone was in great spirits. The 17,000 seat stadium was due to be filled almost to capacity tonight, so imagine my surprise when I located my seat and found that I was sitting next to a married couple from Queensland and a couple of lads from Perth!
The finals were amazing, the atmosphere absolutely electric. I wasn’t sure who to back – Perth born champion Tai Woofinden, Australian riders Chris Holder and Jason Doyle or one of the Polish boys? It was clear who the Polish crowd were favouring – Bartosz Zmarzlik. After all, this is his home track.
All three raced well, but it was Slovakian rider Martin Vaculik who took out the round. Bartosz slid in second.
I waited until the presentations were almost finished, conscious of my phone’s dying battery and the need to get home safely. By the time the bus had arrived, a load more people had the same idea, all of us cramming into whatever available space we could find on the badly designed bus.
It took me a while to recognize where I was in the dark, unknown streets once the bus dropped me off and I’ll admit to being quite nervous about the journey back to the hotel which was up two massive flights of shadowed stairs and then across the weird bitumen field.
But I made it safe and sound. My trip had been a success.