Former Island speedster Mark Simmonds has started his preparations well in advance of the Freelance Installations NORA British Upright Championship – scheduled to take place at the Smallbrook Stadium in Ryde on 11th August – by recently splashing out on plenty of new equipment.
Championship co-ordinator Lee Coleman was keen to find out more and sought out the genial Cornishman who said, “The bike is basically brand new except for the engine which has recently been fully serviced. I’m looking forward to getting some laps in on it soon, probably around the Coliseum Stadium in Plymouth. The bike’s a GM SR in a PJ chassis. I just need to get a set of covers on it and she’ll be good to go! It’s been a significant investment that I hope will pay dividends once the Championship rolls around.”
Simmonds, who will be 51 this month, was busy preparing the machinery of current Plymouth and Ipswich racer Ben Barker as this interview took place. He said, “I help Ben on race night and prepare his bikes for the meetings. Being based in the West Country I always try to help a Plymouth rider every year and I enjoy being closely involved. It can be tiring with all the miles involved and then of course the bike preparation on top of that but it’s rewarding too. Ben recently scored an 18-point maximum which was very satisfying. It can be very useful having an ex-rider in the corner of a current rider. Someone to bounce things off and help with the decisions. I was nearly going to help Ben last year too when he was at Newcastle, but the mileage would have been too much. I have a full-time driving job for a local company transporting heavy plant machinery so we decided against that as it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do.
As it happened, I helped Jason Crump last year at Plymouth. I would also prepare his bikes before some of the meetings when he was away with his son Seth who is building a career of his own racing on the tarmac. Prior to that I’ve helped a fair few others, Ryan Fisher, and Todd Kurtz among them.
The hardest thing for the riders is finding track time to try things out. At the meetings sometimes things go good straight from the first ride. Sometimes changes must be made at the request of my rider. Speedway in the UK is one of, if not the only motorsport, where there is no opportunity to practice before the first race to set the bikes up. Quite strange really as from a safety point of view too, a practice of some sort would be beneficial all round. It would also add value for money as those spectators who have arrived early enough would get to see more track action for their entry fee.”
Simmonds also expanded on his thoughts on how to give the paying spectators more value. “I have always thought adding to the night’s entertainment would be better than reducing the ticket prices. Additional features to attract the youngsters’ attention such as BMX shows, dance troops etc. It would add to the nights’ entertainment in addition to the basic 15 races we only see these days. The additional entertainers would obviously get in free but there’s nothing to lose really because they aren’t coming anyway! And you never know, one or two of those BMX riders or dancers may actually like the Speedway and come back with their families.”
Simmonds Speedway career started after attending the Exeter Falcons’ press and practice day in 1988. He said, “A sponsor I had who supported my Grasstrack racing suggested I try Speedway. I responded by saying I didn’t know too much about Speedway and I couldn’t afford a bike either. To my surprise he then went out and bought me a bike! So, we turned up at the Exeter press day and did our thing. Not really knowing whether we were going good or not. Then I was called into the Promoter’s office and offered a Devon Demons team spot which was their junior team. So, it all started from there really. I raced for the Demons in that first season, and I think I also had a first team appearance that year too and may have scored 3 or 4 points, but I can’t really remember too much about it. I was named in the Falcons one to seven the following season and spent many great years at the County Ground. The Exeter track was the fastest track in the UK for a while and there was the steel fence perimeter which often intimidated many visiting riders. There was a knack to riding the place by entering the bends on the kerb, out to the fence on the apex of the bend and then exit on the kerb. Like a big diamond. The highlight for me was winning the Tony Sanford Memorial meeting. A very emotional night and one I’ll never forget. I also had an enjoyable season on the Isle of Wight too. Loved the track and the people but the travelling again took its toll as after a Tuesday night home meeting at Smallbrook I would not be back home in bed until 4.30am and the following morning I’d be up for work at 7.30am, just 3 hours later. Over a season that took its toll, but it was a nice time on the Island.”
Looking forward to August the 11th, Mark is treating this as an opportunity to enjoy himself and admitted he is just going to take it as it comes after being away from competitive competition for a while. “Racing professionally was great but it had additional pressures. Machine failures happen, falls happen but when racing in a team with responsibility to score for the team meant those sorts of mishaps didn’t just affect me. They could affect the result for my teammates and of course the fans.
The meeting on the Island in August will give me opportunity to race again without those pressures. I am really looking forward to it actually. It’s great to have this opportunity. I want to make the most of life and this is something that grabbed my attention as soon as I heard about it. I would love to do well and obviously want to do well but will be happy with everyone having a good night out and we all go home fit and well.”
There is no doubt that Simmonds is a Speedway man through and through. It’s to Speedway’s on-going benefit that respected ex-professional racers stay involved in the sport and the current crop of racers he assists will be benefiting from his experience. It was great to hear his excitement at being one of the seeded riders in the Final and being an ex-Island teamster is sure to have plenty of support on the terraces on the night.