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What you see here is the answer to the persistent modern problem known as Gardening At The Gate. The irritating and time-consuming habit of riders digging grooves in the track surface at the starting line with the object of creating a launch pad to project themselves into the first turn ahead of their rivals. Getting groovy at the gate may bring a feel-good factor to the competitive agenda of many big-time throttle-jockeys, who also use it as a psychological tactic to unsettle opponents alongside. But it infuriates fans, frustrates starting marshals and television directors and also fearfully annoys referees.

The thing is, speedway had the answer to all this nonsense all of more than 50 years ago  . . . and discarded it like a worn old tyre. As was done with the 30-yard line, to where a rider could receive a push start if his bike let him down at the tapes. I now re-introduce the solution to our gate-gardening blight, and offer it to the speedway authorities free, gratis and for nothing.

Allow me to explain.

The riders pictured are leaving the start line at Harringay in 1949. From the inside they are Aub Lawson (West Ham) Geoff Pymar (Harringay), Cliff Watson (West Ham) and Nobby Stock (Harringay). You will observe that behind each one of them is a white painted number on the track, and the lines clearly indicating the appropriate starting box. That is because, you may recall, starting areas in those days were constructed of tarmac or concrete, so that not even a steel shoe could dig a groove in them.

The contemporary procedure was for all four riders to approach the starting area and come to rest one machine’s length from the tapes – that would be on the back line in the picture, where that man is standing. When the referee was satisfied they were ready to race he would switch on the green light indicating that they were under starter’s orders. Only then would they move forward to the tapes, with no time at all to attempt to gouge out grooves, even if it were possible.

And when they were all settled and stationary at the tapes, the referee – or the AC-U Steward, as he was then known – released the starting gate.


The trouble is the idea is really – forgive the pun – a non –starter.


Well, a touch too much throttle, a little haste in letting go the clutch . . . and bikes have a habit of turning over backwards. Tarmac, and concrete, is quite hard and landing on it hurts. Quite a lot.

A ‘Minor’ Irritation

By John Chaplin

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Photo Courtesy John Chaplin