With the opening round of this year’s ten round world championship hitting the shale in Croatia in a few days’ time (29th April), I was fortunate to catch up with the British contingent of GP stars – three times world champion, Tai Woffinden (32), plus Robert Lambert (25) and Dan Bewley (23), now truly international stars. I asked them to lift the lid on the places to go, who they revere, and what sage advice they would pass on to those who wish to emulate them, as they prepare for arguably the most exhilarating motorsport event on the planet. The Grand Prix have it all – passion, power, pride, and pulsating culture, with some of the most stunning cities on the continent hosting this prestigious competition. To paint a comprehensive picture of the schedule that concludes on 30th September at Torun, Poland, I also called upon seven-times British Champion, Scott Nicholls, captain of Oxford Cheetahs and Discovery Sports trackside Grand Prix host ─ Speedway’s equivalent of the Travel Man, Richard Ayoade. Having commented at some and raced at most of the venues, he had to be the perfect travel companion on this race across Europe.
First off guys, which European GP venue is the best and why?
Robert was first from the gate: “Warsaw has to be one of the best. It has a magnificent stadium which is always full of spectators and the Polish fans are always incredible ─ giving that extra volume!” Robert isn’t wrong there; even at the domestic GP round in Cardiff, the red and white flag waving fans regularly drown out the rest of the fifty thousand-odd partisan crowd.
Dan’s premier venue is, indeed, The Principality Stadium in the capital of Wales – the home of the FIM Monster Energy British Grand Prix. Citing its spectacular structure and closeness to the city centre, Dan has great memories having been crowned winner of last year’s event. In terms of racing, he was more circumspect, choosing a 2022 venue, “Wroclaw is probably the best.”
Tai agreed with Robert’s Polish choice, adding, “Given the indoor stadium and the capacity – I think around fifty-five thousand last year ─ it’s always a big event to ride at, with a way good atmosphere.”
Where is the best place to chill out or eat at your chosen venue?
Robert didn’t hesitate, “Find a traditional Polish restaurant – that’s definitely tasty!” I can’t argue with Robert, having tasted the delights of Polish goulash in the beautiful city of Krakow.
An excited Tai exclaimed, “As the capital of Poland, Wroclaw has hundreds of beautiful places. I usually leave the hotel, grab a coffee, and walk around the huge Palace of Culture and Science, situated in the middle of the city.” In terms of a specific place to eat, Tai recommends “Prime cut” at the Spektrum Tower in Warsaw.
With Scott waiting patiently in the wings waving his impressive travel itinerary, I was keen to hear what this travel guy had to say about some of the venues that he’s familiar with.
“Warsaw is like any sprawling capital city, albeit there are many hidden gems, including the fantastic micro-breweries found dotted around the banks of the river.” Scott didn’t miss a beat as he turned his attention to Prague: “A uniquely beautiful place that oozes culture. Make sure you visit Wenceslas Square, teaming with bars and restaurants, and take a slow stroll across Lovers Bridge; ensuring you take a padlock with you so that you can leave a symbol for that special person in your life.” A top tip from Scott is to travel a little further to the outskirts and sample some traditional Czech food in one of the numerous local eateries. But be aware – many don’t accept credit cards; local currency ─ Czech Koruna – only!
Hopping over to Germany, Scott gave me the lowdown on Teterow, “A very countryside location, but a hotbed of speed! The nearby grass track circuit is well worth a visit, and if there is a meeting on, watch the riders reach speeds of around a hundred miles per hour – extraordinary stuff!”
Gorzow is one of the smaller Polish venues, but Scott homed in on the most important starting point. “Head for the main square – that’s where it’s all at!” An amble along the riverbank is another treat, with bars and restaurants aplenty allowing Scott to enjoy one of his favourite personal pastimes ─ people watching in the sun!
Scott classed Malilla, Sweden, as one of the natural jewels in the crown. “A small rural town set in the most picturesque part of Sweden. You can even camp within the stadium confines or close by in the forest.” Whilst there, why not visit nearby Denmark too, with a wonderful hour-and-a-half train ride to the heart of the capital, Copenhagen.
Back in the UK, Scott turned his attention to the vibe of Cardiff on a GP weekend. “The fan zone at the nearby City Hall Lawn is pretty cool and well worth a visit during the early part of the day before the racing starts.” I second that, with great family activities to experience whilst rubbing shoulders with many showmen, past and present. He echoed the lure of “Walkabout” and the nearby “Bootlegger bar,” an independent cocktail bar with live music in cobbled Womanby Street.
“Cardiff Castle is a must, and if you get the time nearby Castle Coch is incredible – like something out of Harry Potter!” If you fancy some quality chill time, then the impressive Cardiff Bay is the place to be.
“Vojens, Denmark, is quiet and you will have to venture out to some of the other nearby towns to find more choice in terms of bars and places to eat. If you need an additional adrenalin fix, try out the awesome go-kart track opposite the speedway arena.”
The final Polish venue – Torun – has a claim to fame: “You can order a metre long sausage that is served on a wooden plank!” Scott reiterated the simple Polish chant, “Head for the main square.” Another place to visit is the leaning tower of Torun, a medieval building steeped in history and providing a great vantage point.
Of the last two venues, Riga will be a new experience for Scott, whilst his forthcoming jaunt to Croatia will hopefully be more than a frantic turnaround, leaving him with only fond memories of the impressive purpose-built stadium ─ Stadium Milenium.
Riga, Latvia – Photo by Milan Zmátlo on Unsplash
Moving on from the top tourism tips, I wanted to dive a little deeper into the GP men’s motorsport motivation.
What scares you the most?
Tai was very matter of fact: “Nothing.”
Robert paused for a moment then admitted, “I think jumping out of a plane doing a skydive last year! My stomach was really in my throat, but I’d definitely do it again.” And who orchestrated this jump out of his comfort zone? Of course, there was only one contender – GP colleague and risk raconteur Tai Woffinden, organised as part of his testimonial celebrations.
Dan mused, “That’s a tough one. Sometimes Speedway scares you, but at the same time it excites you. Nonetheless, sometimes you need to get a little scared.” Outside of the sport, Dan conceded that snakes alarm him, but added, rather pragmatically, “I don’t go any place where there are snakes!”
Having reached the world stage, what words of wisdom would you give to the kids who watch you from the terraces?
Robert was clear, “Be determined. Some kids get their heads stuck in their phones and on games; however, my advice would be to get out there, set ambitious goals, but stay humble. I’ve always tried to keep both feet on the ground.” Robert’s concluding advice was as emphatic as it was simple: “Go for your dreams!”
Dan added, “If you want to race speedway there is a lot you can do beforehand; riding a bicycle, then playing around on a pit bike. It’s pretty difficult to ride speedway until you have experienced other forms of motorcycle; there is no need to rush into riding a speedway bike. I didn’t ride one until I was about fifteen.” And remember folks – this was only eight years ago.
Tai asserted, “Put your heart and soul into it and make it happen.” He reinforced this powerful mantra by adding, “Some people say they can’t do this and they can’t do that – that’s them applying their own mental block. Everything is possible. Some people may need to work harder than others at certain aspects, but that’s the way with anything you want in life.”
Who is your hero and why?
Robert was in no doubt: “Niki Pedersen, the three-time speedway world champion and all-time Danish superstar – loved (and sometimes loathed) by the speedway fraternity; I am a paid-up member of the former. For the young Brit, Nicki’s on track aggression typifies his continuous success, although I would add that Robbie Williams clearly had Nicki on his mind when he wrote the blockbuster of a track “Let me entertain you.”
Dan reflected upon his early motocross days, albeit in more contemporary times; he was in little doubt of the riders who he had special admiration for – the ultimate turbo-twins who once spearheaded the Poole Pirates ─ Australian racers Darcy Ward and former World Champion, Chris Holder.
Tai paused for a moment, “Just recently I have been inspired by Israel Adesanya – the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) middleweight boxing champion.” Also known as “The last Stylebender,” Tai connected his backstory to the wider examination of positive mental attitudes, citing his incredible resilience and mental belief, especially after tasting defeat.
Lastly, before I finally bade farewell to my globetrotting friend Scott, I asked the question no doubt on the lips of most speedway fans, “Who is going to win the world championship?” Scott didn’t hesitate, “Bartosz Zmarzlik.” Thanks Scott – I’m off to make my own travel arrangements and place a wager.
Calendar of events:
Photo credit FIMSpeedway.com
© Ian Kirke 2023 & uncredited photograph @ianjkirke