1 October 2023
The Dirt Xtra
The more things change, the more they stay the same, or so…
Double header time again one of those nights of mayhem and madness when spare bulbs are needed for the two minute warning lamps and Razor gets to unveil the 2023 version of his choreographic masterpiece “three tractors and a bowser, one vision”.
That’ll come after the FTS Bandits have been powered by Keenwood Karpets to Cab Direct Championship opening night glory against the newly redeclared Scunthorpe Scorpions.
Then the GHT Bullets, powered by STS, get to put on a show for the home fans after – Belle Vue notwithstanding – some battling displays at two of their much-lauded NDL opponents.
As coach/team manager Kevin Little noted earlier in the week: “Everyone agrees that Mildenhall and Leicester are good sides, especially at home, so I guess that makes us a good side as well then.”
By my reckoning this will be the eighth (it would have been nine but for Eastbourne’s financial implosion days before they were due here) such big night out since 2021 – Birmingham and Belle Vue welcoming back fans after the barren Covid year – and they’ve all been pretty memorable one way and another.
And not without incident either, that first one began with James Shanes rubbing Jye off against the back straight fence at high speed.
But in all that time of the 210 races scheduled to be shoehorned into the three-hour running time allowed by our planning permission, just one has failed to make it to the tapes.
That came last year when George Rothery hit the boards coming out of the fourth bend in heat 14 of our match-up with the Devils.
The impact was such that many feared the worst only for the Cumbrian to bounce back to his feet after some on the spot attention but the plug had to be pulled on 15.
That’s quite impressive to say the least.
I know that – especially compared to some of the places we visit – we always run a tight show here at Berwick. Some of it is down to common sense. Pay two paramedics and have a blue light-capable ambulance on standby and the chances of delays due to overstretched medical cover or unavailable county ambulances is significantly reduced. Indeed a meeting can restart with one paramedic still dealing with an injured rider and the other out in the middle.
Must have saved us many a meeting over the past few years even if the cost in purely financial terms is substantial.
But really most of it is down to the pits crew who keep everyone focussed and on their toes.
And the man (or woman) in the box. One of the great mysteries over the past couple of years has been why some referees who let normal 15 heat encounters meander from race to race suddenly become two-minute dervishes when the need for speed between heats is vital.
It’s a night when clerk of course, pits gate and riders all need to be on top of their game.
But spare a thought for the forgotten men in these extravaganzas, the double-uppers.
Not Greg Blair, Connor Coles and Nathan Ablitt. They’ve got the easy bit piloting the bike for up to 13 times on the night.
No it’s the mechanics and pit crew who earn their corn on double-header Saturdays. That’s a lot of adjustments to make, dust to blow away, nuts to tighten, spokes to straighten, clutches to align, egos to be fluffed. Non-stop too – barely a chance to catch breath or snaffle an Andersons’ award-winner before another heat rolls around.
Ever the canny Scot, the Blairman has ensured that he won’t suffer any pecuniary hardship from the double shift (on what technically would be a Bank Holiday if banks had ever worked Saturday) by getting dad Drew to sign a watertight contract, predating his anointment as Bandits’ guest of choice in which the terms of remuneration is clearly laid out.
Turns out double chuff-all is a small price for junior to pay to keep his mind on the job in hand while recording live commentary, in-race punditry and bookies odds for all his burgeoning media partners.
For those dying to see what the new-look Bullets – happy home debuts for Messrs Embleton, Phillips and Halder – have to offer or anticipating a Bandits’ bounceback from a Bears’ boofing there’s £30 tickets available online until midnight. Indeed someone will be watching for nothing as all of those tickets are being put into a draw and the winner will have their money reimbursed.
If you choose not to take advantage of the saving then it’s an extra two quid for either e-tickets or cash on the day. Under-16s come in free when accompanied by an adult.