Bitter Pill For Racers
Reading Racers emerged from Thursday night on the end of an eight point defeat and with a bemused and disenchanted management team. The Racers faced the Exeter Falcons in what was always going to be a tough Youth Development League fixture as the visitors packed three riders with NL experience plus their captain, Max Pankhurst. Reading had once again struggled to put a team together from their own squad and blooded Eli Meadows as a stand in, the Worcestershire lad having only recently turned 15 and progressed onto a 500cc machine. With Pankhurst suffering bike problems before the the first race, Racers' managers Gene Carter and Mat Stevens agreed to their Exeter counterpart Alan Spencer switching riders in the first race to give the 43 year old more time to sort his machinery, and hopefully slot into a later race to take his full quota of rides. As the tapes rose on heat 1, Reading skipper Nick Laurence streaked away to take the lead from Adam Sheppard, with James Chattin - replacing Pankhurst - holding a safe 3rd place ahead of Meadows. Sheppard though moved up to threaten Laurence and after pushing for half a lap managed to make the pass and fend off the Reading No.1 to take the win. In the 2nd, Racers' returnee William O'Keefe took the lead ahead of Saul Bulley, with the Falcons' man passing him in the 3rd bend but sliding off and forcing O'Keefe to lay his bike down to avoid running into him. With Bulley excluded O'Keefe led again in the re-run before his engine sputtered and slowed as he entered the last lap allowing Chattin to go by for the race win. Okeefe's engine managed to get him round to the line for a shared heat with his team mate Rhys Laker just behind him. At 5-7 down, the Racers bosses were informed that Exeter were bringing in No.1 rider Sheppard to replace Chattin in heat 3, a move they protested was not within the rules as there seemed to be no apparent reason to make the change. While discussions continued the race began and Sheppard again took the win, leading home Laurence, Bulley and Meadows for a second 4-2 heat advantage and a 4 point lead. The appeals to the referee about the legitimacy of the rider switch fell on deaf ears, not for the first time this season - although on the previous occasion they were proved be correct - with the referee claiming they would need to speak to the league co-ordinator. With Laurence Rogers abroad and the switch only being announced 2 minutes before the race, this made little sense the home team. Heat 4 came around and Sheppard was out for the 3rd time in 4 races, but didn't make it off the line as his bike gave up as the tapes rose, leaving O'keefe to take the race win ahead of Pankhurst, whose bike was now running, and Laker for a 4-2 to narrow the gap to 2 points. Pankhurst was back out for a second ride in heat 5, with his bike hanging on to allow him to follow home Bulley for a match winning 5-1 over Laker and Meadows. While the 15 year old failed to score he certainly didn't disgrace himself and earned congratulations from his team captain. With the match won and Sheppard having taken 3 rides already compared to Pankhurst's 2, the Reading managers were expecting the Falcons to put the latter into the race, as he had agreed to put him back out once his bike was running. However the Falcons went ahead as per programme with Sheppard and Chattin. Whilst O'Keefe continued his good form to briefly lead, he locked up badly whilst riding the outside of bend 2 to let Sheppard through for his 3rd win. Laurence and Chattin diced for 3rd before the Falcon held on for a heat advantage and a final score of 14-22. While the Falcons were delighted with their win which sees them go top of the division, the Racers management whilst unsurprised at losing the match, were left disillusioned by the way things seem to be going. It is the second time they have faced a team switching riders seemingly against the rules. Club official Andy Griffin commented: "There was no doubt Max was having engine trouble and we agreed to them putting someone else in the first race. It's supposed to a friendly league, and Gene stated that Max should be put out in an extra race once his bike was running. This is despite the fact we have never swapped a rider through engine trouble, our team have either ridden a spare or borrowed from each other, or struggled on a sick motor. Then they made a change in heat 3 for no apparent reason, I can only assume it was purely to get their best rider an extra race. It doesn't look like he had any intention of putting Max back out for a third ride." Co manager Gene Carter added: "When Alan made the first change he mentioned further changes but I assumed he meant to work Max back in for his full quota of rides. But replacing James with Adam in heat 3 had nothing to do with that and is blatantly against the rules. I thought he was putting Max out in the last race for a third ride but he said his bike still wasnt right... he had just finished 2 races, scoring points in both, and frankly they had won the match anyway so if he had failed to make it to the tapes it wouldn't have altered the result. We just felt it was the correct thing to do. I accept we would have lost anyway and have no problem, they were the better team, but it's hard to swallow when people take advantage of our goodwill just to make sure. Maybe we should take it as a compliment that other teams see it as so important to beat the Racers! So many people in this league claim it isnt about winning but there seem to be a lot of riders not able to take all their rides this season, and they always get replaced with the team's top rider! Maybe we should do it, we make no secret of the fact we want to win" Racers are due to visit Plymouth next Friday to face Exeter in a quick return match. A collection by Gene Carter and his wife Emma at Swindon on Sunday, and contributions to the buckets on Thursday night raised over £750 for the Sam Norris Recovery Fund. Thursday's scorers: Reading 14; N. Laurence 4, E. Meadows 0, W. O'Keefe 7, R. Laker 3+1. Exeter 22; A. Sheppard 9, M. Pankhurst 4+1, J. Chattin 5, S. Bulley 4. Heat details: Ht. 1 Sheppard, Laurence, Chattin, Meadows. Ht. 2 Chattin, O'Keefe, Laker, Bulley fx. Ht. 3 Sheppard, Laurence, Bulley, Meadows. Ht. 4 O'keefe, Pankhurst, Laker, Sheppard ef. Ht. 5 Bulley, Pankhurst, Laker, Meadows. Ht. 6 Sheppard, O'Keefe, Chattin, Laurence. Report by Greta Necrè.