Photo: Jeff Davies
Sport

Cardiff Crackers: British Grand Prix provides one of speedway’s most iconic moments

By Rich Jones

Speedway can be considered motorsport in its purest form.

No brakes, no gears, four laps. Just man vs machine on an oval-shaped dirt track in the ultimate test of nerve and skill on a motorbike.

It has been 16 years since the showpiece Speedway Grand Prix series broke new ground by bringing the British Grand Prix to Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.

A rapid operation to construct a circuit in the middle of the pitch then allows the top 16 riders in the world to battle for glory in the biggest event on the calendar.

In 17 rounds held in the Welsh capital, there has been just one British winner. That prestigious honour goes to Cornishman Chris Harris, who provided perhaps the most iconic moment in the modern era of British speedway back in 2007.

Tasked with defeating the best in the world, the home hero battled through to the Grand Final in gutsy fashion after progressing through the qualifying heats the semi-finals.

With three of the greatest riders in the history of the sport alongside him, the odds were stacked against him – and when he emerged from the first bend at the back his hopes seemed all but over.

Yet Harris held his nerve and powered through the pack before snatching first place by a matter of millimetres from former World Champion Greg Hancock on the run to the line.

It sparked jubilant scenes amongst the 50,000-strong crowd who had flocked to Cardiff from around the country and provided a moment which will never be forgotten.

A simple YouTube search brings up a clip which is arguably the best advert for speedway in a nutshell – and Harris has recalled how his sensational sixty seconds played out.

“It was a tough race with Greg, Jason (Crump) and Leigh Adams and one that will always live long in the memory,” Harris said.

“I kept chasing for the four laps. I knew had good speed, I had done all night and I felt if I could push Greg into a mistake then I could pounce.

“There was no feeling that it was going to be my day, it just felt like a normal meeting. I remember enjoying the atmosphere a bit more because it was my first year as a full-time rider.

“When it came to it, though, I just wanted to have fun and never thought I would win it, not in my wildest dreams.”

A decade has now passed since Harris’ defining moment.

He remains a top performer for Great Britain, becoming their all-time leading point’s scorer in this year’s Monster Energy FIM Speedway World Cup.

His days as a World Championship contender in the Grand Prix series have now passed, and it appears extremely unlikely his Cardiff triumph will ever be matched.

And after considering retirement in recent years, he says recollections of his magical night keep his passion for the shale sport alive.

“The only time I see the footage now is when someone retweets it or something like that, other than that it doesn’t come up,” he said.

“I think the last time I looked was down to the missus making me because I had been down in the dumps. I didn’t know what to do with my speedway and she told me seeing it would get my love back for the sport. It certainly helped.

“Three years ago, there were many times where I felt ready to call it a day because I had stopped enjoying it.

“I put pressure on myself and it was at times like those that I went away and watched the Cardiff win to get that love back.

“Things have been going well this year and maybe being out of the Grand Prix has taken away some of the worry, I certainly don’t miss the travelling but I love everything else about it.

“Going up against the best riders in the world is great even when you get beaten and you still want to prove to yourself that you can do it. When I stop feeling like that, maybe that will be the time to look at different options.

“We all want to go on forever and I would give myself another 10 years, easily. Look at Greg (Hancock), it would be nice if I could do that but anything could happen.

“I have been fortunate with injuries so we will take it a year at a time. As long as I am still enjoying it, I’ll keep going.”

Whilst he would not trade his success for anything, Harris believes his brief time on cloud nine proved somewhat damaging in the long run.

He was instantly catapulted to superstar status, and as of yet has not managed to win another Grand Prix in his career.

Expectations went through the roof after his win – and he concedes he has struggled to deal with that pressure on occasion.

“It probably didn’t help,” admitted Harris. “After that, I went in thinking I could win any Grand Prix and got proved wrong.

“I still believe now that I can beat these guys, I have done in other meetings. The win gave me confidence but maybe all of that went the wrong way.

“It made me feel like I had to go out and win more and over the years I tried to do that too much instead of collecting points. I didn’t want to be the rider that had won just one

“I have learned a lot, probably more over the past couple of years than I did back then. Of course, you always want to win big meetings but in the Grand Prix it is about points.

“Okay, if it is your night then great but if not, the main thing is to get a good score.

“People over the years have said it was a fluke win. Things like that used to get to me but I have learned – more through the wife telling me – not to listen to the idiots because they are not my true supporters. My fans are the ones that back me win or lose.

“I don’t waste my time on negative people any more. I am too old for all of that rubbish, I am here to enjoy it and have proved when that is the case, I am still one of the best.

“No one is more determined than me to win races, I want to be out there and give everything I have.”

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