Strangely, Speedway Racing gets a bit of a poor rap in this country.
Dan Gilkes, an 18-year-old professional in the sport wants to change that – and his enthusiasm is infectious, writes Sammy Jones.
It’s not unusual to hear people say that they discovered their passion early on in life. But Dan was bitten by the Speedway bug when he was just two years old, which takes some beating.
“After my Nan passed away, dad didn’t want my pap sitting at home on his own,” Dan explained, “They used to go to Speedway when my dad was a child, and this time they took me along. I have loved it ever since.”
When most five-year-olds would have been hoping to find toy lorries or Lego in the seasonal stocking, Dan had set his sights on something bigger: “I asked Father Christmas for my first Motocross bike,” he says.
He spent a couple of years riding Motocross on the 50cc, while still watching live Speedway as much as possible, before switching his own game to grasstrack and biding his time before he could start youth racing with Speedway. Even before he had reached double figures, he matched his passion with ability and came second in the British championship.
So, just what is the allure of this fast-paced wheel-athon?
“There is nothing like Speedway,” Dan says, “Racing flat out around a track with bikes that accelerate from 0-60 faster than a Formula One car takes…and with no brakes.
“I fell in love with the sport and everything about it; the noise and the smell, and I’ve never looked back.”
Bugbrooke-based Dan is now on a mission to ‘make Speedway great again.’ But how do you do that?
“I keep all my social media accounts up to date and I have a personal videographer who comes to some of the meetings through the year and creates a really cool insight into Speedway, which I hope will encourage more followers.
“A lot of people I meet say, ‘I used to watch that when I was younger,’ but they don’t do it anymore. I’m not sure why – as Speedway is faster now than it has ever been.
“In England you see a lot of negativity around it, but it is one of the rawest forms of motorsport; and you are so close to the action and to the riders,” Dan says.
“A minute long race, with four guys going all out to win has so little room for error, and that makes it one of the coolest sports to watch – I could sit and watch it all day, every day.
“Speedway is thrilling to watch, and one of the most dangerous sports to do.”
Dangerous it certainly is – this isn’t a sport to start unless you are prepared for more than a few scrapes and scratches.
Dan first succumbed aged 12 when he broke his collarbone, and many more injuries have followed: “I’ve broken both bones in my left wrist, my shoulder, my pelvis. I’ve done all sorts! Injuries are just a part of learning. I knew what I was getting myself into when I went to Speedway, I knew it was dangerous. Every time something happens you learn from it and come back stronger.”
As he continues his Speedway ascent, Dan is currently riding for two teams: Kent Kings in the SGB (Speedway Great Britain) Championship, and Kent Royals in the National League. He is part of the Team GB squad in 2021 which will raise the profile more when he competes at the European Under-19s championship in Hungary.
And his sights are firmly set on lifting the top trophies.
“The sky really is the limit; your aspirations are to ride abroad where the sport is really big. In Poland and Sweden there are stadiums that are 20, 30, 40,000 in size and are being sold week in, week out.
“You’ve got to aim to reach the top, so it has to be the World Championship too…”
Dan has the determination, and the perfect mode of transport, to take him all the way.
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