Sunday 14th October saw a Northumbria team back in regional league action at an extremely wet and windswept Hull CSC track for the start of the four-round Northern Fours competition. Top clubs Astley & Tyldesley, Bury, Stockport and holders Hull met in the Group A match while Sheffield and potential revivalists Heckmondwike joined the Vikings in Group B.
Key to Northumbria's return to action was skipper Jason Keith's insistence on contesting the series once his loan spell at Edinburgh ended a few weeks earlier and the availability of our Norwich import Josh Herring, plus a bit of urging from Sheffield boss Rob Mawhood. The push behind Heckmondwike's return after a few years out was down to super-keen 1960s returnee racer, Grand Veteran Frank Auffret and his old Saltersgill Saints mate Robert Atkinson. Although Frank is now 68 years old and just a wee bit younger than his old Newcastle and South Shields team mate Terry Kirkup, the ex-Hull speedway rider has brought the Yorkshire club out of the darkness in just a few short weeks with his sheer enthusiasm and also livened up the Euro-Vets Grand Prix series, the Sport needs more like him, though maybe a tad younger!
While Frank and Terry had already met on track in the final Euro-Vets round at Leicester the previous weekend this was their first meeting on opposing teams for fifty years. An unexpectedly slow start by Frank and his partner in the first heat allowed Jason and Terry to jump ahead and claim the heat win. The Vikings would go on to clinch 1st place in their group and thus be elevated to Group A for the next round at Stockport on 21st. As expected the bulk of Northumbria's scoring came from an unbeaten Josh Herring on 16 points and Jason with 15. Shane Gray was unlucky to be locked out of the action by blocking tactics in his first three rides but recovered a place in his final race to help ensure victory. Terry suffered another heavy fall, something of an unhappy feature of his racing this season, in his last race when Heckmondwike's rapid youngster Tom Kent fell in front of him but both recovered quickly.
Young Tom rode really well partnered by his Dad Darren, still a very quick rider himself. Frank and partner Justin Naylor fought hard while a game Rob found the going a bit tough after not too many outings since his return. Sheffield had young superstar Adam Watson and his rapid sister Laura spearheading their attack, both riding well with solid backing from the very young pair of Kielan Burton and James Morris keeping it nip and tuck between the Steel City and Northumbria.
Northumbria Vikings 46 - Jason Keith 14+1, Terry Kirkup 11+2, Josh Herring 16, Shane Gray 5.
Sheffield Stars 41 - Laura Watson 9+2, Kielan Burton 10, Adam Watson 13+2, James Morris 9.
Heckmondwike Saints 32 - Justin Naylor 6, Frank Auffret 7+1, Darren Kent 12+1, Tom Kent 6+1, Robert Atkinson 1.
The action in the A Group was, to coin a phrase, fast and furious but unusually there was little aggravation out of the gate, either because of the weather or the fact that just one rider from each team was involved in all the heats as opposed to the pairs format used in Group B. Unfortunately for 2017 winners Hull their younger riders were off form today and they were the ones to face the drop to Group B with the Vikings taking their place at Stockport. The exception was Hull's multiple British Champion Andy Angell who was simply devastating around his home track regardless of the inclement conditions and ferocity of the opposition.