BRITISH Speedway enters its 80th anniversary of league racing with a clear and concise message: "Our wonderful and exciting sport has built 80 years of heritage in the hearts of our nation, and we are pleased to be at the pinnacle point of re-building its foundations to make for another 80 years and beyond of action where our aim is to capture the hearts of a new generation."
The British Speedway Promoters' Association, which as a group controls and runs league Speedway racing in the UK, has just returned from their annual AGM with firm plans in place which emphasise that the sport, once having a public image of being short-sighted, is now in actual fact in the middle of building and completing numerous long-term plans that will make it's 80th season the strongest in decades.
Elite League Speedway spearheads British racing for the TWELFTH consecutive season with nine clubs, featuring some of the world's best riders, competing on a weekly basis with matches being screened live across the world through an exclusive rights deal with Sky Sports.
The Elite League goes into the second year of a plan to re-build its strength from the ground up by increasing the average from last season at which they can build their team to.
Elite League spokesman Chris Van Straaten commented: "Our decision and faith to start the three year plan last season was endorsed by all the Promoters during a conference where one of our main concerns was to protect our fans and the sport from the effects of the current economic climate.
"We have also listened to the fans about the home advantage that previously existed in the play-off semi finals, and we have some exciting news coming about a change to that, which will see home and away matches for everyone involved. One other improvement is that we may assign one of our team places to be shared by any two Premier League riders that have an average of 8 points or less."
For a TWELFTH consecutive season Premier League Speedway also returns. The second tier of British Speedway brings together all the nations of Great Britain with clubs such as Glasgow, Birmingham and Newport all competing.
The Premier League will have at least 14 teams competing with the successful takeovers of Berwick, Redcar and Newport all confirmed just before the conference, and the door has also been left open until January 1st for a new club from the south of England to join subject to planning approval.
Premier League spokesman Alex Harkess is keener than ever for the season to get underway. He said: "Last year, the Premier League adopted the principle of the league play-off system to qualify for the promotion and relegation race-off, this provided the British public with one of the best and most climactic ends to the season the Premier League has ever seen. We are pleased to be keeping this for a second season and the foreseeable future. "We have also taken a long-term view on building our teams, just as the Elite League did last season, and have therefore adopted a 3-year plan where the league is limited to a maximum of 16 teams and a team building average of 42.50 points is applied. This is an increase on last season's team building average and should please fans all over the country as it will give their team a chance of being stronger than ever before.
"We have also introduced a revolutionary new 'Tactical Gates' system for trial in this years KO Cup competition. This gives the losing team the chance to select their gate positions on two separate occasions if they are behind by six points or more. It will be run in addition to the Tactical Ride rule but cannot be used at the same time."
One of the most exciting and positive moves for British Speedway this decade is the formation of the new National League. This will form the third tier of British Speedway and is aimed at producing young and talented riders that want to pledge their future to British Speedway.
The National League will be recognised by the association in a professional light with rules and regulations falling in line with the Premier and Elite Leagues, including the use of rider averages. The league boasts the inclusion of at least ten teams including former Premier League KOC champions, the Isle of Wight, plus Conference League champions, the Weymouth Wildcats and Conference League KO Champions, the Plymouth Devils. Former Management Committee member Dave Pavitt has been given the job of overseeing and managing the formation of the new league
He said: "This is great news for British Speedway, I have been chasing this dream for the last few seasons and it has finally been delivered. Fans will see a good value league that will produce some of the world's top Speedway Stars.
"It will be run in a more professional manner then has ever been seen in the third tier of British Speedway before, and I look forward to being able to confirm the teams that will be competing in 2009 and publishing more detailed rules and regulations in January."
For a THIRD consecutive season, British Speedway's Super7even series, which groups together all of British Speedway's major events, has been given a big thumbs-up by all the promoters with events, dates and venues set to be announced in January.
One of the other big changes for British league Speedway is the introduction of a groundbreaking league points scoring system that will create the most exciting speedway meetings and league tables the sport has seen in its' 80 year history.
Last year, in an attempt to encourage teams to be built with more strength away from home and create more exciting matches, the aggregate bonus point was dropped in favour of rewarding teams with three league points instead of two for winning an away match. This worked well to an extent but was not perfect - some matches were still dead and buried by heat seven or eight, and teams simply gave up because there was no aggregate point to worry about or race for.
This has been addressed with a league scoring system now in place that will reward a team for even getting within six points of the home team. In theory, this now means that even a team that is losing a meeting by 18 points with only three races left can still turn the meeting around and salvage a league point. They could do this, for example, by using a tactical ride in Heat 13 and gaining a maximum seven-point heat advantage followed by two four-point heat advantages in Heats 14 and 15.
To counteract this, the home team's fans will also be watching on tenterhooks as their team will gain an extra league point if they can win the meeting by more than six points. A draw will simply give the home team a single point - but the away team will get two.
NEW LEAGUE SCORING SYSTEMHome loss by any amount of points 0Home draw 1Home win by between 1 and 6 points 2Home win by 7 points or more 3
Away loss by 7 points or more 0Away loss by 6 points or less 1Away draw 2Away win by between 1 and 6 points 3Away win by 7 points or more 4
The promoters have also decided to give team managers more scope to pit their wits against each other and give the fans more to talk about. They have achieved this by requesting that the home team declares their team and riding order in writing to the away team manager, so he can decide how to structure his team to give him the best chance of securing points.
This may have sounded simple in the past as a team's two top riders were always placed at numbers 1 and 3, but this has now been changed with the only rider who is restricted to any place in the team being the top rider, who WILL ride at No.1. The other four main team members can be placed in any order, with the reserves still at numbers 6 and 7.
The British team manager and British Under-21 team manager positions have also been shortlisted, and all final nominations will be considered at greater depth before a final choice is made and announced in January. These will complement the already enhanced coaching and training system which was established last season.
Some other rule changes include the disposal of the 'Tactical Substitute'rule which allowed a rider to come into a race from a 15-metre handicap and score double points. This has been replaced in favour of the more simple 'Tactical Ride' rule which can now be used for a second time, but only when a team is 12 points or more behind their opponents.
The chairman of the British Speedway Promoters' Association, Peter Toogood, has a message for the fans of British Speedway.
He said: "I am delighted to have the privilege of being at the helm of British Speedway in its 80th anniversary season, and I plan to make it a special occasion for every fan.
"One of the plans we have, for example, is to send our special 80th Anniversary stand to a track each week throughout the season. This will be manned by some of the greatest riders from over the eras and will give fans of young and old the chance to re-live some nostalgia.
"It actually feels like years of hard work and lessons for everybody have finally paid off, and we now have a sport which will make big strides in a year where most other sports will struggle. I can say this with confidence because Speedway is a good value entertainment package for the whole family.In times where the economy is struggling, people look to be entertained for a reasonable price and that is where we score so highly. Our sport is great value with most clubs even offering free entry for children.
"We are able to do things like this because we started to take control of our costs last year where most other professional sports went the other way and actually allowed them to spiral out of control. I do hope that even if the big Grand Prix stars choose not to ride here in the UK then the fans will appreciate the reason why, and in actual fact I do believe this could be a good thing as it we will create a new breed of superstars as a consequence.
"So the 2009 season opens on Sunday 15th March and I hope to see you all turn out in force to support your favourite team in what promises to be the most dynamic and exciting season we have ever seen..."
2009 ELITE LEAGUE TEAMSBelle Vue, Coventry, Eastbourne, Ipswich, Lakeside, Peterborough, Poole, Swindon, Wolverhampton
2009 PREMIER LEAGUE TEAMSBerwick, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, King's Lynn, Newcastle, Newport, Redcar, Rye House, Scunthorpe, Sheffield, Somerset, Stoke, Workington + 1 more
Summary of major changes in British Speedway for 2009
* Groundbreaking new league points scoring system.* Formation of new 3rd tier of speedway which will be known as the National League.* 39.90 points limit for Elite League and 42.50 for Premier League.* Tactical Gate rule for Knock Out competitions in all leagues.* Disposal of 15 metre Tactical Replacement rule. One Tactical Ride remains for a team losing by ten points or more and a second has now been added which can be used if a team losing by twelve points or more.* Elite League teams may utilise one team place to be shared by any two riders contracted to a Premier League team with an average of 8 points or less.* A team's highest-averaged rider must always ride at No.1 in the team, while riders averaged from second to fifth can be placed in any order in the remaining positions of the team. The two lowest averaged riders will remain at numbers 6 and 7.* A home team must declare their team formation to the visiting team first.* The Premier Trophy will be split into a North and South group with seven teams in each.* Promotion and Relegation race-off will remain.* Premier League's play-off system will remain the same while the Elite League have adopted a new play-off system (more details to follow soon).* New National Senior and Junior team managers to be announced in January.* Super7even to continue for a third year, events and venues to be confirmed in January.