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Motorcycle speedway, usually referred to as speedway, is a motorcycle sport involving four and sometimes up to six riders competing over four anti-clockwise laps of an oval circuit. Speedway motorcycles use only one gear and have no brakes and racing takes place on a flat oval track usually consisting of dirt or loosely packed shale. Competitors use this surface to slide their machines sideways, powersliding or broadsiding into the bends. On the straight sections of the track the motorcycles reach speeds of up .

Originating in Maitland, New South Walesmarker, Australia, in the 1920s, there are now both domestic and international competitions in a number of countries including the Speedway World Cup whilst the highest overall scoring individual in the Speedway Grand Prix events is pronounced the world champion. Speedway is popular in central and northern Europe and to a lesser extent in Australia and North America. A variant of track racing, speedway is administered internationally by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM). Domestic speedway events are regulated by FIM affiliated national motor sport federations.


Col Stewart races his speedway motorcycle wearing a wooden helmet.
Photo taken around 1930.
The first speedway meeting, as reported in the Maitland Mercury newspaper, took place on 15 December 1923 at the Maitlandmarker Showground in the Lower Hunter Valley, New South Wales, Australia. There is evidence that there may have been earlier meetings in Australia and broadsiding on small dirt tracks had been practised in America since before World War I. A rider named Don Johns was known to have done this before 1914. It was said that he would ride the entire race course wide open, throwing great showers of dirt into the air at each turn. His style of cornering was followed in the United States by riders such as Albert "Shrimp" Burns, Maldwyn Jones and Eddie Brinck well before 1923. The first meeting in the United Kingdommarker took place at High Beech on 19 February 1928. There are, however, claims that meetings were held in 1927 at Camberleymarker, Surreymarker and Droylsdenmarker, Lancashiremarker. Despite being described as "the first British Dirt Track meeting" at the time, the meeting at Camberley on 7 May 1927 differed in that the races were held in a clockwise direction. Races at Droylsden were held in an anti-clockwise direction but it is generally accepted that the sport arrived in the United Kingdom when Australians Billy Galloway and Keith McKay arrived with the intention of introducing speedway to the Northern Hemispheremarker. Both featured in the 1928 High Beech meeting. The the first speedway meeting in the UK to feature bikes with no brakes and broadsiding round corners on loose dirt was the third meeting held at High Beech on 9 April 1928, where Colin Watson, Alf Medcalf and "Digger" Pugh demonstrated the art for the first time in the UK.Proto speedway was staged in Glasgow at the Olympic Stadium (Glasgow Nelson) on April 9 1928 and the first fully professional meeting was staged at Celtic Park on April 28 1928. The first meeting in Wales was staged at Cardiff White City on Boxing Day 1928.

A speedway rider waits at the start gate for his 3 opponents

In the late 1920s, Australian Colin Stewart of Colac, Victoriamarker won the prestigious Silver Gauntlet. He also achieved success at an international level, racing for Southampton in 1929 and captained the Glasgow in the Northern League in 1930 before moving to Wembley in 1931, for whom he rode in just four matches, averaging 4.00 points per match. He also raced in the 1930 Scottish Championship which was won by Wembley's Harry Whitfield.

The forerunner of the World Championship, the Star Riders' Championship, was inaugurated in Great Britain in 1929 but was split in to two sections as it was felt that the British riders were not yet the equal of the Australians and Americans. Frank Arthur won the Overseas Section and Roger Frogley the British. The following year the two sections were amalgamated and Vic Huxley proved to be the winner. Huxley was also runner-up three times and won the first British Match Race championship in 1931.


All 4 riders leaning into the first corner - note the elbows.
Each track is between 260 to 400 metres long and it takes approximatley one minute to complete four laps. For example, Leigh Adams set a record time of 59 seconds on a track and produced an average speed of 83 km/h (49 mph). The speed on straight sections of the track reaches 110 km/h (70 mph) or more on longer tracks, but the limited speed on curves lowers the average.

At the start of a race it takes between one and two seconds for the motorcycle to reach the "curve speed" (somewhat lower than the average), which is roughly estimated to be the equivalent of 2.5 to 3 seconds to reach (or 0 to 60 mph). The start of the race is an important aspect of the race overall. "Gating" correctly can help a rider gain an initial advantage over other riders but speed advantages can be made as a race progresses. Those riders willing to take a risk and opt for finding the grippy parts of the track rather than the race line, are sometimes rewarded with extra speed allowing them to pass other riders either on the outside or the inside.


Generic Speedway track layout
Tracks used for professional speedway racing are regulated by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) who provide rules concerning construction, size and safety requirements. Speedway racing takes place on a level oval track consisting of two straights joined by two semi-circles. Tracks must be between 260 and 450 metres (850 and 1500 ft) in length, this is measured at a distance of from the inner boundary. A white start line is marked across the track approximately mid-way along one of the straights. The starting area is also divided into four equal parts (known as gates) by white lines marked at right angles to the start line and extending back at least . Additional rules govern the placement of warning systems such as lights and also the construction of the starting mechanism. The minimum track width is on the straights and the bends must be at least wide. The minimum widths give each rider adequate space to safely navigate the track. The start line and starting gate assembly is halfway along one of the two straight sections of the track. Starting gates are simple spring loaded mechanisms that raise two or three strands of tape to start the race.

The FIM regulations require licensed tracks to provide a garage or pit area for motorcycles as well as medical and press facilities. Track boundaries are marked by white lines or barriers on the inside and outside of the track, any rider who crosses this boundary with both wheels will be disqualified unless they only did so in the interest of safety or were forced to by another competitor.

The track surface consists of four layers of grading. The topmost of which must be of shale, granite, brick granules or other loose material of which no individual piece can be over in size. Competitors use this surface to slide their machines sideways (powersliding or broadsiding) into the bends using the rear wheel to scrub-off speed while still providing the drive to power the bike forward and around the bend. The skill of speedway lies in the overall ability of the rider to control his motorcycle when cornering and thus avoid losing places through deceleration. The use of asphalt, concrete and tarmac for any layer is prohibited. The top layer must be levelled or "graded" at intervals during an event by tractors towing specially adapted rakes to evenly re-distribute the surface. Tracks are watered before and, if needed, during meetings to prevent the surface becoming too dry and to protect the public and the riders from dust.

Air-fence close-up

Safety requirements include the use of suspended wire fences, air fences and wooden fences. Air fences are made up of inflated panels installed on the bends. The fence is designed to dissipate energy by allowing an impacted area to compress and transfer air into the rest of the fence through blow-off valves or restriction ports connected to the other sections. They are mandatory for tracks in the British Elite League, Polish Ekstraliga, Speedway Grand Prix and Speedway World Cup. Neutral zones outside the track provide safe run-off areas for riders and their machinery to minimise the potential risk of injury to spectators. The majority of tracks are dedicated to speedway or other sports such as sidecar speedway and banger racing. For larger events, the FIM occasionally sanctions the use of stadiums that install temporary tracks such as the British Grand Prix held at the Millennium Stadiummarker in Cardiffmarker.


Jawa Speedway Machine with 500 cc engine
Speedway uses a unique type of motorcycle, governed by the FIM's "Track Racing Technical Rules". In the past, bikes with upright engines were used (the name taken from the way the engine sits in the frame), but today most professional riders use laydown bikes as it is argued that they are easier to handle. As speedway bikes do not use brakes, the clutch is used as a release mechanism at the start of races. FIM regulations state that the motorcycles must have no brakes, are powered by pure methanol, use only one gear and weigh a minimum of . By using engine and rear wheel sprockets the gear ratio can be adjusted as required for track conditions. The use of methanol allows for an increased compression ratio to the engine producing more power than other fuels and resulting in higher speeds (approximately when cornering).

A dirt deflector fitted to a Speedway motorcycle
Machines used must:
  • Weigh no less than 77kg (unfuelled)
  • Use a four-stroke, single cylinder engine with one carburettor and one spark plug and a maximum capacity of 500cc
  • Have guards fitted over moving engine parts where reasonable
  • Use an additional chain guard to prevent a hand or fingers being cut by a chain
  • Have a peg (Dutch Peg) fitted to prevent a broken chain flailing and injuring a rider or a fellow competitor
  • Use shatter resistant plastics where reasonable
  • Be fitted with a dirt deflector
  • Be fuelled by methanol with no additives
  • Be fitted with an approved silencer
  • Have a handlebar width greater than 650mm and less than 850mm.

Machines used cannot:

In addition all motorcycles must have a safety cut out device fitted, this is defined as a switch that "must cut off the circuit of the electrical supply by the simple action of pulling a lanyard or a non-elastic string (with a maximum length of ) attached to the rider's right wrist." The high compression ratio of the engine can also assist in slowing down a machine; if the throttle is closed the engine may stop. Riders can stop the bike by deliberately laying down the bike on the track and this technique is used to avoid riders who fall in front of a pursuing colleague. Before cut outs were fitted an engine was stopped in an emergency situation by removing the plug lead from the spark plug or shutting off the fuel supply.


Riders preparing at the Start Line
Races (known as heats) consist of four riders (two from each team) racing over four laps from a clutch start. Riders wear different coloured helmets, traditionally red and blue denote home team riders, and green and yellow colours denote visiting riders. Riders must be able to get their bikes to the start line under their own power, without any external assistance and not by pushing the machine, then line up in parallel. The starting area is divided into a grid of four equal parts and the riders from each team must take their place in alternate grids or "gates".

A rider who is not at the start line within a reasonable period of time is also liable to be disqualified, although league matches in the UK allow teams to elect to start the disqualified rider fifteen metres back from the tapes or replace the disqualified rider with a team reserve. This period of time is standardised to two minutes from a time determined by the match referee and usually indicated by a bell, a rotating orange lamp or a digital clock readout. All riders must be at the tapes under their own power before the two minutes have elapsed. Additional time between races will be allowed by, and at the discretion of, the referee if a rider has two consecutive rides, to allow the rider time to prepare.

A starting gate consisting of two or more tapes is erected across the start line. The riders must situate themselves not more than from this and not touch it at any time, they must also remain stationary until the tapes are raised. These are known as tape infringements and can result in a false start being recorded and the rider disqualified (league matches in Great Britain allow teams to elect to start the disqualified rider fifteen metres back from the tapes or replace the disqualified rider with a team reserve). The race is started with the raising of the start tape mechanism operated by the match referee and the riders must proceed around the track in an anti-clockwise direction without both wheels illegally leaving the track boundaries.

Once a race is underway, no rider can receive outside assistance, including push-starts, from others. Historically, pushers were allowed at the start of the race. A white line at the 30 metre mark used to designate the extent to which a push was allowed but due to safety concerns, assistance is now illegal. Occasionally races consist of six riders but this is rare as most tracks are too narrow to accommodate the extra riders safely.


Speedway operates a sliding scale for scoring (known as the 3-2-1-0 method). Three points are scored for first place, two points for second place and one point for third place. A rider does not score when finishing fourth, or failing to finish, or if excluded from a race. These points accumulate over the competition, with riders points either counting towards individual or team placings. In the event of a tie, the race is commonly awarded as a dead heat. If it is a tie for first place, they will both receive two points. A tie for second place earns each rider one point while a joint-last finish earns each rider zero points. Teams can use a tactical substitute rule once in a meeting. If that team is eight or more points in arrears, they may bring in the use of a different rider in their team lineup, to race in any heat except for heat 15. This may be different in World cup or event racing. If they are ten or more points behind, a rider with a scheduled ride may go out for double points, in which the riders points will be doubled if he beats a rider of the opposing team. Any rider taking a tactical substitute ride or double points ride is denoted by a black and white helmet colour as rather than one of the four usual coloured helmets. If that rider remains unbeaten by either opposition rider his scored points are doubled and also count towards the rider's calculated match average (CMA).
Scoring for
Heats with 4 riders
Place Points
1st 3
2nd 2
3rd 1
4th 0

Calculated Match Averages

The sport produces Calculated Match Averages (CMAs or averages) for every rider, these are calculated from the following:

\left ( \frac{\hbox{Total points}}{\hbox{Total rides}} \right ) \times4

CMAs scale from 3.00 to 12.00, any rider scoring above or below these values will be awarded the maximum. These averages are used in leagues such as the British Elite League to identify heat-leaders for the purposes of choosing which riders to enter for each race.

At the start of a season, a rider retains their last recorded CMA (or assessed CMA if they have never previously established one) until they have competed in six home and six away matches. A new CMA is then issued that comes into effect seven days later. These are subsequently updated on the 15th of every month from May onwards, and come into effect on the first of the next month.

These CMA's are used in most professional leagues and are altered or weighted depending on the league the rider gained the CMA in. A rider that has no recorded average will receive an indicative CMA for the start of the season that is assessed on their prior experience in the sport.



World (FIM) Europe (UEM)
Seniors Juniors Seniors Juniors
Individual World Individual (1936-1994)

Grand Prix (since 1995)
World Individual U-21 (since 1977) European Individual (since 2001) European Individual U-19 (since 1998)
Pair World Pairs (1970-1993) None European Pairs (since 2004) None
Team World Team (1960-2000)
World Cup (since 2001)
U-21 World Cup (since 2005) None European Team U-19 (since 2008)

An international individual speedway championship has taken various forms since its beginnings in the 1930s. The present FIM Speedway Grand Prix championship organised by Speedway Grand Prix (IMG since 2007) has taken place since 1995. The SGP uses a scoring system based on each riders overall final position. The rider who has gained the most points at the end of the tournament is declared the World Champion. The Danishmarker rider Nicki Pedersen is the current World Champion, which is his third championship win. The first came in 2003 and the second in 2007. The annual British Grand Prix is currently held at the Millennium Stadiummarker in Cardiffmarker, Wales.

Scoring in Grand Prix events changed in 2005 with riders scoring 3-2-1-0 in their races and these points being carried forward to decide the winner of each Grand Prix. At the end of the series the highest scorer becomes the world champion.

World Speedway Champions include Ivan Mauger (six-time World Champion), Ole Olsen, three-time World Champion, Ove Fundin (five-time world champion), Lionel Van Praag (inaugural World Champion in 1936), Hans Nielsen (nicknamed "The Professor", four-times World Champion), Tony Rickardsson (six-time World Champion), Erik Gundersen and Jason Crump, both three-times World Champions.

The Speedway World Cup is also held each year, featuring teams from the major speedway countries, usually in a series of meetings over the space of a week in the summer. The current champions are Denmark (2008).

The Speedway World Pairs Championship was an annual speedway event held each year in different countries. Competing countries picked their top two riders to represent them. The first competition was held in 1970 and the final competition was held in 1993. From 1994 it was merged with the World Team Cup.

Domestic competitions

Most European countries run their own domestic speedway leagues. The FIM affiliated governing bodies in each country operate league systems, normally comprising several division, in which the teams gain points throughout the season depending on results. Teams are placed into table, placing them in order according to points accrued. Most commonly, each team races every other team in its league at home and away in each season, in a round-robin tournament. Meetings traditionally consist of two teams riding against each other with four riders in each race with two home team riders and two away team riders. Meetings usually feature fifteen heats and each rider is scheduled to ride four or five times. The team with the most points at the end of the meeting is the winner. Most league seasons end with play-offs - a series of meetings between the highest finishing teams to determine a league champion. The champions may be promoted to a higher division and the team finishing at the bottom are in some countries relegated to a lower division.

The majority of countries supplement the league system with one or more cup competitions. These are organised on a knock-out basis, the winner of each match proceeding to the next round and the loser taking no further part in the competition.

The major speedway nations in Europe are the United Kingdom, Sweden, Poland and Denmark. These countries run a number of leagues and have regular fixtures throughout the traditional speedway season that runs from March to October. On a smaller scale, competitions are also held in Argentina, Australia, Czech Republic, Italy, Russia, Slovenia and the United States. Some countries' top divisions feature highly-paid star riders. In smaller countries and lower divisions, riders may be part-timers with a second job, or amateurs.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has three domestic leagues, the Elite League. the Premier League, and the National League.


Speedway is one of the most popular sports in Poland and is governed by the Main Commission for Speedway Sport (Główna Komisja Sportu Żużlowego, GKSŻ) which is a part of the Polish Motor Union (Polski Związek Motorowy . The PZM is a member of the FIM and the Union Européenne de Motocyclisme (UEM).

The Polish Extraleague has the highest average attendances for any sport in Poland. The first speedway meetings in Poland were held in the 1930s and league racing began in 1948.

There are three championships in Poland: individual (IMP), pairs (MPPK) and team (the DMP consisting of three leagues). The Junior under-21 championships also has three competitions: individual (MIMP), pairs (MMPPK) and team (MDMP). There are three leagues: Extraleague, First League and Second League. In the 2007 season, the Extraleague and First League had eight teams competing and the Second League had seven teams. The GKSŻ organizes the Golden Helmet, Silver Helmet (Under-21) and Bronze Helmet (Under-19) competitions. Individual meetings such as the Criterium of Polish Speedway League Aces - Mieczysław Połukard Memorial, Alfred Smoczyk Memorial and Edward Jancarz Memorial are also popular.

The Polish National team were the 2007 Speedway World Cup Champions. Poland has produced one Individual World Champion, Jerzy Szczakiel in 1973. The Polish junior team won the Under-21 World Championship in 2005 and 2006 and since 2003 four Polish juniors have won the Under-21 Individual World Championship. In total, seven Polish riders have been World Champions at Under-21 level.


Speedway in Sweden is governed by the Swedish Motorcycle and Snowmobile Federation (SVEMO). The first Swedish speedway league was founded in 1948 and copied the British format of league racing, including adopting the Swedish version of several British teams nicknames.

The Elite League (Elitserien) was established in 1982 and has ten teams. At the end of each season the top four teams ride in the play-offs in semi-finals and a final and the winner of the final are the Elitserien champions. The team finishing bottom of the league are relegated to the National league (Allsvenskan). The Allsvenskan has seven teams and before the introduction of the Elitserien in 1982 was the top flight speedway league in Sweden. As with the Allsvenskan, the top four teams at the end of each season ride in the play-offs in semi-finals and a final. The Allsvenskan Division One is the third tier of Swedish speedway with seven teams. The team finishing the season in first place are champions and can apply for promotion to the Allsvenskan, subject to having suitable facilities and sufficient finances.

Other competitions include the Swedish Individual Championship and the Swedish Junior Individual Championship. The Swedish Individual Championship is contested by 18 riders in a Grand Prix format with 20 heats. The Individual Champion in 2008 was Magnus Zetterstrom. The Junior Individual Championship is for riders aged twenty-one years and under.


Speedway in Denmark is administrated by the Danmarks Motor Union (DMU). The sport was introduced into Denmark in the 1970s. Notable Danish speedway riders include - Nicki Pedersen, Bjarne Pedersen and Hans Nørgaard Andersen. Former rider, Ole Olsen won the World Championship three times and his success helped popularise the sport in Denmark. Since retiring Olsen has become an FIM Speedway Grand Prix race director.

League competitions

There are three leagues in Denmark.:

Speedway meetings are held between April and September. The Danish League (Dansk Speedway Liga) has six teams with meetings traditionally held on Wednesday evenings. At the end of each season the top four teams compete in the play-offs in semi-finals and a final. The winner of the final are the league champions. There is no promotion or relegation and membership of the Danish League is by application only. At the end of each season the top five teams in the Danish League compete in the Danish Super Cup', an end-of-season competition, held as a single event. It is hosted by the winning team from the previous season.

Both Division One and Division Two are the second and third tier and are mostly for amateur riders. Meetings are held on Saturdays with a mid-summer break. Division One can have a maximum of eight teams, with the remaining teams riding in Division Two. Meetings are staged using a four-team format. In principle, the team finishing bottom of Division One is relegated and replaced by the top team in Division Two as long as their parent club does not already have a team in Division One. However, this does not always happen for financial reasons. There is also no promotion and relegation if the bottom team in Division One and the top team in Division Two are operated by same club.

Other competitions

The Individual Speedway Danish Championship is a competition for riders holding a Danish passport and a valid DMU licence. Riders must submit their entries at least four weeks before the first meeting of the competition. Any riders who competed in the Speedway Grand Prix or World Championship Qualifying rounds during the previous season are seeded directly to the Final. The DMU may also seed other riders directly to the Final at their discretion. Either one or two semi-finals are staged depending on the number of riders entering the competition (excluding the seeded riders who go straight through to the Final). Riders are selected for these rounds according to the previous season's Danish averages. If one semi-final is held, the highest-placed riders (plus two reserves) qualify for the Final. If two semi-finals are held, the highest-placed riders (plus one reserve) from each meeting qualify for the Final. The winner of the Final is awarded a gold medal and declared Danish Individual Champion. The riders finishing second and third are awarded silver and bronze medals respectively. The final classification also determines which riders qualify for the World Individual Speedway Championship.

The Individual Speedway Junior Danish Championship is a competition for riders holding a Danish passport, a valid DMU licence, and who are under 21 years of age on 1 January in the year of the competition. Riders wishing to compete must submit their entries at least four weeks before the first meeting of the competition. If there are 72 or more entries, four quarter-finals are staged. If there are between 54 and 71 entries, three quarter-finals are staged. If there are fewer than 54 entries, two semi-finals are held. Riders are selected for these rounds according to the previous season's averages in Danish matches only. When four quarter-finals are staged, the top eight riders (plus one reserve) in each progress to the semi-finals. When three quarter-finals are staged, the top ten riders (plus two reserves) from one round, and the top eleven riders (plus one reserve) from each of the other rounds, progress to the semi-finals. The top eight riders (plus one reserve) from each semi-final meet in the Final. The winner of the Final is awarded a gold medal and declared Danish Junior Individual Champion. Riders finishing second and third are awarded silver and bronze medals respectively. The top five finishers qualify for the World Junior Speedway Championship.

There is a great depth of league speedway for all ages in Denmark. The Youth Leagues are for riders between eight and eighteen years of age and 80cc bikes are used. The Micro Leagues are for riders between three and ten years of age and 50cc bikes are used. And the Old Boys League is for riders over 33 years of age.

National team

Denmark enter a team in the Speedway World Cup. They won the competition in 2006 and 2008.

Danish Grand Prix

The Danish Speedway Grand Prix is held in the Parken Stadiummarker in Copenhagenmarker

Other nations

Introduced to Italy by occupying soldiers after World War II, speedway is most popular around the north-east of the country. The regions of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol, Lombardy and Veneto host race meetings with the latter also hosting the Speedway Grand Prix of Italy in the town of Lonigomarker. The most successful speedway rider from Italy was Armando Castagna. Castagna was the only Italian professional speedway rider in the history of the sport, and qualified five times for an Individual World Final.

Speedway in Germany is overshadowed by its more popular track racing variant Sandbahn (Longtrack). However, the country hosts the Speedway Grand Prix of Germany in the Veltins-Arenamarker and has produced one Speedway World Champion, Egon Müller in 1983.

See also

Further reading


  2. Jacobs, N. (2003) Speedway in the South-East, Tempus Publishing Ltd. ISBN 0-7524-2725-3
  3. Bamford, R & Jarvis J.(2001). Homes of British Speedway. Stroud: Tempus Publishing ISBN 0-7524-2210-3
  4. Belton, Brian (2003). Hammerin' Round. Stroud: Tempus Publishing ISBN 0-7524-2438-6
  5. What is the history of Polish speedway?
  6. What are the main competitions held in Denmark?

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