Speedway bikes roared at Arlington Stadium on Saturday (April 17) for the first time in more than 18 months.
Eleven riders took part in a Covid-19 secure practice with numbers on and off track strictly limited and regulated.
The behind-closed-gates session was a chance for Eastbourne Speedway to test equipment and procedures that will be needed when racing resumes on May 22.
For some riders, it was their first outing on a bike for more than a year and unsurprisingly there were a few nerves in the widely spaced pit bays.
HG Aersopace Eagle, Kyle Newman, said: “I have never been so nervous about riding in my life.
“It has really got to me this week, especially today on the way down.
“I was a mess but I went round and blew the cobwebs off the first two or three laps and after a while it felt as if I had not been off the bike.
“I felt really comfortable.”
Kyle had last ridden his bike at a practice session last March at Plymouth, just before Covid-19 wiped out the 2020 speedway season.
“I never really get too nervous. Normally I am chilled out about it. Sometimes a break from the sport can do you good. It whets your appetite for it,” he added.
Eagles teenage reserve Drew Kemp was soon flying having spent much of the first few months of the year training in Poland.
He said: “I have not been to Arlington for a few years, so to feel as good as I do is a really good sign.
“I have been in Poland for a few weeks and have ridden more than most.
“The track I have been riding is the total opposite to Eastbourne.
“On the track in Poland, you don’t have to turn the bike much. I have come here and have to turn it. I feel good on the bike now.”
Lewi Kerr, who rode in all four of the professional meetings staged last year, said:
“This was my first time on a bike this year but after a few laps I was happy.
“It’s gone brilliantly today and we have a great set-up”.
Edward Kennett said it was nice to get back on his bike. “I have missed it for the year,” he said. “I was a little bit rusty to start with but you never lose it.
“It was a perfect day for it and the track had ridden really well.”
Kennett only rode four laps on speedway last year at a practice for the British Final at Ipswich until that was rained off.
He also did a grass track meeting in France.
“That went well but I wasn’t really fit enough. I enjoyed it.
“I am not a gym favourite man. I like riding my bike and using the muscles you need for speedway. The more I can ride between now and the beginning of the season, the fitter I will be.
“I am really happy with how today has gone.”
Lee Kilby, event co-ordinator for Eastbourne Speedway, said the whole day went well.
“It has been a big success and seeing everyone back, in the groove riding.
“Naturally a lot of the guys were quite edgy, tentative to start with but all of them as the session has gone on have got quicker and quicker.
“I have complimented the guys who did the track. It rode really, really well. It’s a perfect track to get the guys back on practising.”
Off track had also been a success, he said, with adherence to Covid-19 controls. “It’s been a perfect day,” he said.
The club reduced the planned rider numbers and shortened the scheduled time allowed for practise in order to respect and finish an hour before the televised funeral of HRH The Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Riders taking part were Eastbourne Eagles Edward Kennett, Lewi Kerr, Kyle Newman and Drew Kemp; Eastbourne Seagulls NDL and MSDL squad members Jake Knight, Nick Laurence, Nathan Ablitt, Chad Wirtzfeld, Connor King and Vinnie Joe Foord, British Youth Rider Seth Norman, plus former Eagle, Sussex-based Lewis Bridger, who is returning to racing with King’s Lynn after some years on the sidelines.
- Jason Edwards on Saturday rode in a competitive meeting at Redcar.
- Eastbourne’s first home match is on Saturday, May 22, when the Eagles face Newcastle Diamonds in the Championship, followed by the Eastbourne Seagulls against Newcastle Gems in the National Development League.
The matches will be all-ticket because of Covid-19 rules.
Tickets are now on sale via the online tickets store here.