The Build Begins!

A beautiful Wednesday morning, 18th September 2013 heralded the arrival well before 0800 of our track contractor, ALN Construction. I had a short chat with groundsman and Viking's ally Dean about our plans and he escorted me to the SC reception area. Shortly after that I was engaged in the pre-start meeting with ALN and the Learning Village's Director of Sport Mr Paul Steanson as we cleared the formalities out of the way for work to commence on the new track. I just can't speak too highly of the co-operation we've had from the School and the Sporting Club since our arrival here almost two years ago.

Anyway, after another totally fruitful meeting we have the go-ahead to use as much of the old cricket net area as we want - I kid you not! But whoa there! Before my Senior (Citizen) Colleagues who still race start having kittens, we are NOT going to take Paul up on his latest amazing offer and run a 95 metre track out to the rugby field! However, we ARE going to have a huge space available for our pits area, which is great news.

And there's more! The only stipulation Paul has made for our intended container provision is that it must be grey to blend in with the current 3G one and the main fence. Other than that, we can now position it much handier than first thought, so I will probably stick it adjacent to the pits where it should prove most beneficial during match days. We will, of course, have to get Dean's final approval to make sure we don't interfere with the placement of his tractor kit too much.

Track Design - the Philosophy of a Madman

The logic behind my design for our little raceway comes from knowledge and inspiration gained over many years together with some recently collected thoughts on many of our neighbouring tracks in the North and beyond.. This is the sixth one I've been directly involved with, the first two being "hands-on" at Eastfield Avenue in Walker during the late 1960s and early '70s. 1960-something also saw the birth of the track at Temple Park, South Shields which was council-built but my little car got the job of roller transporter with Jim Graham and myself the willing humpers while it lasted! After that the next two, at Fawdon in north Newcastle and again back at Eastfield Avenue, both in the early 1980s were architect-designed with our advice and input through various meetings.

There was always at least one problem with all of them that could nicely have been designed-out with hindsight, with the possible exception of the final, almost perfect Walker one, although the torrential downpour on the afternoon we staged the England/Scotland/Wales/Ireland Fosters International in 1986 showed a slight deficiency in the drainage department for a while. Otherwise, that track was simply awesome. It was big by any standard, but the overwhelming feature was the length of its straights. It could be foggy at one end and sunny at t'other! Of course to keep it within regulation size meant it had to be pretty thin, so it was! It made for excellent racing with plenty of line choices and gave us a great home track advantage with visiting riders taking time to realise they had to slow their bikes quickly from very high speed to navigate the bends. Even our over-maxed-out banking wouldn't allow full speed to be maintained, but it did allow for fantastic swoops from outside to in.

So many years later it seems crazy that I'm doing it again, but uniquely I (I mean WE, the Club) have total control but still have someone else to do the donkey work. The perfect solution! In this case it's ALN Construction from Great Lumley, County Durham, and they are proving to be awesome partners. They've obviously never built a cycle speedway track before but in a few weeks will emerge as track building experts, of that I am certain. The drainage layout I envisaged has been enhanced by some clever thinking on ALN's part, and like most other banked tracks we are deliberately creating a bowl so rainwater will run to the centre. The soakaways should manage quite a large amount before filling but we'll be ready for any collected liquid should it ever appear and not run away willingly.

While the banking at Eastfield looked great and was a thrill to ride, it was a trifle over the top and if you were bumped into the fence on a bend you were really slingshot into a painful hit on the fence. So we haven't gone barmy this time, as strong as the attraction may have been for another wall of death. Another sound reason for this is also a safety issue, but this time down to the fact that we are probably not putting a fence in straight away, so we couldn't go too high or there'd be CS bikes on the Sporting Club roof.

Our temporary track measured about 65 metres, just over the lower legal limit. Now while this whole caper is a dream come true for the Old Fogies (currently the majority of members) there'd be no sense whatsoever in designing a new track with OAPs as the prime users. Therefore it's been designed for the future - for the likes of our Dans, Scott, Isaac, Sam, Pete, Martin and Jack and the expected crop of fresh talent from the School and the community. Therefore we have inordinately long straights and very tight bends. These two factors will promote high speed, stamina and great cornering skills for our stars of the future who, like the Vikings/Rebels of the 1990s could go anywhere and give a decent account of themselves with their big home track experience. No more "big circles" calls from the pits!

There will also be much more opportunity for fairer starts with a very long run from the tapes to the first bend. It should prove quite difficult for ridiculous blocking and slowing tactics due to the potential speed on entry to turn one. At least the poor referee will have plenty of time to identify offenders.

Here's my reason for refusing to have a "proper" centre green, this shot taken recently at East London but typical of any track that has grass growing anywhere near it after a very short time: Just a Track Manager's nightmare needing constant maintenance.


So that's basically my design strategy, and whether you like it or not, tough cookie!


Thursday 19th saw Jim Smith and Terry Kirkup pop up to the Sporting Club to take a few landmark snaps and keep abreast of things track-wise.

There was further discussion with ALN about the proposed outer run-off configuration, and because of the need to lose that half metre of banking within a short distance, and Mr Steanson giving us as much elbow room as we need, we decided to bunk it another metre from the green fence, so now we can give Dean the Groundsman a full four metres of flat ground for his maintenance traffic and still have two metres to lose this height we'll have, a much better arrangement.

Here's the drainage hole ALN have bitten out of the second bend, should be more than adequate for our needs, otherwise we'll have to store plenty blotting paper for wet matches (but we'll have a nice dry cabin for storage!).


And what's left of our concrete starting pad! Note the flagstones lifted carefully by ALN for re-use and more cash savings.


And the new pits area and last bend


Jim and I then spent the next two hours and about sixty miles looking for prospective container providers with no luck at all! The internet and telephone proved slightly more useful once we'd got back home again, and we now have a few good contacts but ideally would like to hear from our own Keith Oldham about his!

There's no work on site on Friday 20th so expect another update on Monday.

And here it is! Inside cuts made ready for the kerb to be laid:



Today's planned work was delayed by more than a day because ALN's supplier failed to deliver the pin kerbs as ordered. That left them having to collect the kerbs themselves early this morning (Tuesday 24th Sept) but they still beat me to site and I was there at 0815!.



The end of the day brought this result, photographed in the dark during our training session:




After a misty, heavy, damp Tuesday, we were treat to a misty, heavy, even wetter Wednesday 25th September but before half time this was all done: The slabs will be skimmed in with fine concrete and completely blended.


Once again the superb ALN is saving us money by using in as much of what exists as possible. Below, an unexpected bonus - they have run a big central pipe to connect both soakaways and a series of smaller field drains feeding them from inlets in the face of the inside kerb.



What's left of the inner kerbs ready to do the outer, and there was a big truck waiting with another load as I left.


Below- what I expect my next bike to look like.


This is roughly what I asked the builder to do for Gavin and Jason. I told him I wasn't bothered at all and if he had something better to do like make a cup of tea, to just forget it...


And the next day saw a bit more progress:


Below - the barmy idea of the Superkids - Gavin and Jason. Ludicrous in the extreme, but gives me some peace.


Oh dearie me, what an abomination! Very neat job by ALN though, and boy did they look puzzled by this!




Our next visit on Monday 30th. First bend banking at it's required height now.


and next day:


The cash for our trackside container also started rolling in today from Jim Graham, Daniel Wharrier and Norman Carson with the other pledges to come from Keith Dyer, Jim Smith, Fred Mitchell, Jason Keith, Richie Smith, Gavin Parr and Terry Kirkup to get us something remarkably similar to this:


Progress by Thursday close - I detect a cycle speedway track:



This is going to be something we, the School and the Spoting Club can be very proud of, and with a favourable wind it could be the first of many school tracks in Northumberland as we target Idle Youth for the good of the Nation.

Fingers crossed this doesn't look like two new runways from Up Yonder.


Monday 7th October and the base is almost complete now ready for some nice thick layers of beautiful red shale!



Gavin and Terry on site to discuss odds and ends with ALN on Tuesday 8th:




Thursday 10th October update:


The Treasurer gives his nod of approval: (or has he spotted the Ref's five pee piece on the deck?)


After a couple of terrible weather days for concreting, this was tuesday morning, 15th - stones flushed in:



and all but a gap for the construction vehicles on the fourth bend is complete around the outside boundary:


Lovely Edinburgh shale should be winging it's way in early next week.

It was!


This is how it looked the next day. Unfortunately there was a six hour or so delay in the shale arriving so it wasn't possible for ALN to get it rolled in twice in time for the weekend, which would have potentially given us a track we could allow junior bikes on for our first Go-Ride event. So Plan B kicks in, the tennis courts.



So the next thing was the fence, and we had to use a different contractor for this, in fact the same one the School uses for all its other fencing work. Not a cheap job by any means but well worth it, we think. I would recommend D&M Fencing of Bedlington, Northumberland if you need any yourself.


And finally:


My next most important consideration, both for the look and longevity of the track, was to substantially tidy up and firm up the outside of the fence. I'd have loved to get it nicely concreted with flat standing for specxtators included but the cost would have been staggering, we just couldn't afford it. A few ideas were floated but in the end I took the advice of national road and civil engineering works contractor Owen Pugh, a local company on the same street as us just a mile away in Dudley. That was to have hard stone set in and pressed right around the outside, leaving just enough room for the grounds staff to get around with their tractors and trailers. We went ahead with that, Owen Pugh being extremely thrifty with their final invoice to us, greatly appreciated as we were now funding improvements from club funds, the grants having been spent on the previous work!


That just left the centre "green" to deal with. And I really put my foot down here, insisting we weren't going to have natural grass growing anywhere near my pride and joy, so we began the hunt for some Astroturf. Gavin Parr came up trumps with a company from Guisborough, North Yorkshire who had recovered a load of it after a renewal job and were willing to give it to us as long as we arranged the transport. Great. How the hell were we going to do that with heavy haulage rates in the thousands, even for local stuff?

The answer came direct from Heaven in the shape of our Treasurer Ronal "Jinky" Smith. It just so happened that James has two nephews with their own major haulage/storage business a few miles down the road at Birtley, in County Durham. They laid on a whacking great monster truck and collected the stuff in massive rolls before dropping it off trackside for us a few days later. We can't thank Parkside Logistics enough for this massively magnanimous gesture.


We now had most of what we needed track-wise and this left us with a few embellishments to make, but we had to be careful as a small club with a very small trickle of income from subscriptions. I spent a good while studying outdoor lighting systems but Lady Luck stepped in when LED floodlights were just appearing on the market. They would make it possible to design a low-current system meaning we could power it ourselves from a fairly small generator. Agreement was reached and we purchased a lovely Hyundai 3KW portable machine powered by small, quiet petrol engine. I then set about gathering the lighting gear which was supplied at discount by our captive Electrician Jason Keith, again at nicely discounted porices and after a few days work in my garage had assembled six lamp standards with 50 Watt LED lamps mounted on their heads. I erected the poles against the track fence, welding up some stand-off brackets for the ones on the straights (for fear of possible collision!) and Jason helped me wire them up with catenary wires between each. Their first use proved it was a decent job with the track pretty well lit all the way around.


Later we'd install another two, half way down each straight and that helped reduce the shadow overlaps with a successful first test at training on Tuesday 4th October in our first fully-dark session.

Between the first floodlights going up and the extra two, there was one other job which I had considered vital, and that was to firm up the pits floor which was fairly rough, a mixture of small gravel and Dolomite and prone to becoming muddy in the wet. So I twisted the Treasurer's tight fist again and he coughed up for two loads of re-inforced concrete. We did this in two stages, for our convenience and because we used too much the first time! A happy ending in the siummer of 2016 however saw it completed. Thanks again to Jason Keith who drafted in three of his employees for the day without whom we couldn't have got it done, And also Absent Friend Dan Wharrier, currently spending a year working in America, who did the acrobatic stretching to finish levelling the surface. With only half the amount to lay the second time (4.5 cubic metres all told) a smaller squad managed it quite nicely.

Here it is, how I spent my Wedding Anniversary on 4th June!



Job done, at least until we win the lottery and we get a roof on the pits!