Roar of Lions’ engines finally returned to city thanks to campaigners
TEN YEARS SINCE THE REBIRTH OF SPEEDWAY AT BEAUMONT PARK
OFFICIALS of Leicester Speedway are today celebrating the club’s 10th anniversary of the launch of the sport at their stadium on Beaumont Park in April 2011, writes Alan Jones.
Speedway was last seen in 1983 before their spiritual Blackbird Road Stadium home was demolished to make way for new housing and it was another 28 years before the roar of the speedway engine was heard again.
But fans never gave up hope that one day they would witness the rebirth of the sport in Leicester.
The swell of interest led to the formation of a campaign group whose aim was to see the return of speedway and, following a successful series of fund-raising events which were supported by the appearance of riders who had raced for the club in the previous era, the Lions were soon back racing on the track.
To celebrate the milestone of ten years of racing at the stadium, members of the campaign group were invited to attend a ceremony at the Paul Chapman and Sons Arena today to unveil a plaque in commemoration of the opening day of the venue.
Ken Naylor is one of the founder members who, together with likeminded colleagues, worked tirelessly to keep the name of Leicester Speedway in the public domain while searching for a suitable location to rehouse the Lions.
Naylor said: “I never thought it would take 28 years to get speedway back into Leicester but I was determined to succeed.
“I travelled hundreds of miles over that time looking for a suitable site in and around Leicester and Leicestershire, often with Dennis Manton, before I actually came across the site the speedway now stands on.
“I only really lost faith once but I was determined to prove the doubters wrong who were forever telling me I had no chance and to forget it.”
During this time, Naylor had earlier identified an area on Beaumont Park as a possible location and had written to the local authority but without success.
However, some time afterwards and by chance he met David Hemsley, a three-time World Cycle Speedway Champion and former Leicester Monarchs rider, and between them they re-tabled an interest in developing the land and this time the enquiry met with a favourable response.
Together, they became the key figureheads at the forefront of managing and delivering the project throughout the construction phase.
“I would like to thank everyone who helped me, too many to mention but they know who they are and they deserve this accolade,” said Naylor.
Hemsley, who is the stadium owner, said: “Without the volunteers who worked tirelessly over the summer, autumn and winter of 2010 to 2011 the facility would have never been built.
“To create such a venue and to
have had the opportunity to witness ten seasons of racing is a credit to them.
“In terms of the scale of this achievement and the magnitude as to what has been achieved at Beaumont Park, one only has to look at the other venues that been lost to speedway in the past decade and the absence of new venues coming online. To those volunteers who helped create the vision, all of British Speedway should salute you.
“It will be an awful long time before an equivalent achievement by people who love this sport will be
repeated. It has been very pleasing to know how well supported the club has been since its return to racing in 2011 – the opening night will be etched on my mind until I pass away.
“And the continued support of the club’s loyal fans certainly goes to show that the sport had been missed by a large number of people across the city and county.
“The Lions were a significant influence on my life and upbringing during the 70s and early 80s and I hope that in years to come many other people both young and old
can witness the Lions racing at Beaumont Park and not have to suffer the pain of such an absence of one of Leicester’s traditional sporting teams again.”
Since the opening date ten years ago the venue has staged over 200 meetings; a mixture of team league racing and individual competitions of which some have been high profile events on behalf of the governing body of British Speedway.
A change of ownership happened at the start of 2017 when Barnsley businessmen Damien and Marc Bates purchased the club and, under
the brothers’ jurisdiction, success came two years later.
It was the highlight of the decade for fans when Leicester’s senior team were crowned league champions for the first time and they gained further honours that season by winning the final of the Championship Shield competition.
Their junior side were equally successful and rounded off a stellar season for the club by completing a league and cup double.
Share your memories of Leicester Speedway’s return by emailing: