MANAGER Peter Schroeck has spoken of his pride after WSRA Oxford Chargers powered by SD Timmo Car Sales won the National League – while he is hoping for changes to the structure of the play-offs for next season.
Schroeck, the team manager of both Monarch Oxford Cheetahs and the Chargers, is one of the key members of the Oxford management, alongside leaseholder Kevin Boothby and promoter Jamie Courtney.
He saw contrasting fortunes for his two sides in the play-offs. Cheetahs had the agony of just missing out on reaching the final, despite finishing second in the Cab Direct Championship table, while Chargers were 34-32 victors over Leicester in a one-legged Grand Final at Sandy Lane last Tuesday.
Schroeck said: “I’m very proud of the Chargers, because all the lads have worked very hard to win the league. It’s difficult at National League level, because there isn’t a meeting every week – it’s the development league and the fixture list has to be fitted around other meetings. Over the season, we’ve had spells of two to three weeks – and sometimes much longer – when Chargers didn’t race as a team.
“The Chargers are a great bunch of guys – they’re a lot of fun to work with. We’ve got a tremendous squad of riders at Oxford – both teams are very much part of the same club and it was fantastic that one of our two sides won their league championship this season.
“I think we’re slightly revolutionised the way that two teams for the same club can work together, in having so many riders having competed for both Cheetahs and Chargers this year. I was a bit nervous at the start of the season as to how it would go, but we’ve been proved right, and I feel we not only set ourselves up for this year but for years to come as well.”
After several fruitless attempts to stage either leg of the National League Grand Final, the Oxford leg was held at the very final day of the season, after incredible work by track staff on a far from ideal day. Eleven races had been completed when Leicester’s Max Perry took a heavy fall on the opening bend of Heat 12. While medics tended to him, the predicted rain finally arrived and the meeting was abandoned and stood as a two-point victory to Chargers.
Schroeck explained: “The whole way that the final developed so that it was going to be just the one leg at Oxford wasn’t our doing or our suggestion. We could only work with what was put in front of us.
“To me, the final about wasn’t winning or losing, because there’s more things important at National League level – development and progression is the key. The main reason I wanted the final meeting on, was so that the riders and all of us could say goodbye to the fans, to thank them for their support over the season. That didn’t happen with the Cheetahs, after our season came to such an abrupt end at Glasgow.
“But I didn’t want the meeting going ahead at any cost. If the track was unfit for racing, I would have been the first to admit it. In that case, if either leg couldn’t be staged, then Leicester would have been the rightful champions, because they finished top of the table and I didn’t have a problem with that decision.
“As it was, Jamie and his team did a brilliant job with the track. I don’t think there’s many other clubs who could have got the meeting on, given the amount of rain that the track had taken. We saw some tremendous racing, such as when Jordan (Jenkins) nudged the tapes, went 15 metres back, but was leading the race before the end of the opening lap.
“I have no doubts that we would have seen all 15 races, but for the accident involving Max Perry in Heat 12. That had nothing to do with track conditions but was just a first bend incident.
“It’s fortunate that Max was discharged from hospital after just a few days since his injuries could have been much worse. I wish him a speedy recovery from his broken wrist and broken ankle and hope he’s fitting fit for next March, because we need young riders such as Max progressing within British Speedway.
“I was telling our lads there was no pressure on them, while I could also make sure they had the right mechanical set-up due to the track being slightly different than usual. But the riders do put the pressure on themselves, especially when they know it’s a final and that the scores are still close with just a few heats to go.
“The National League is likely to take a different format next season, but I don’t think there should be play-offs at that level, or in any other development league. It should just be the team which finishes top as champions.”
It’s not just at National League level where Schroeck would like to see changes to the play-offs.
He added: “There were too many teams in the Championship play-offs this season. In my opinion, six clubs were too many and it should be four at the maximum.
“I’d actually prefer just first and second contesting the gold medal over two legs, and then third and fourth contesting the bronze medal. From a sporting perspective, that makes more sense. If you’ve performed like Cheetahs did over the season, finishing second just a point behind Poole and winning every aggregate bonus point, then I think you deserve to go straight to the final. Plus, it could be more easily sold to media and sponsors outside of speedway.
“It’s not sour grapes on my part, it’s just the way I’d prefer to see it decided. I’d be saying the same if we finished third or fifth, while I offer my full congratulations to Glasgow on winning over the system in place this season.
“Glasgow have been chasing the league championship for a long time and deserved it. I believe if you deserve to win, then eventually it will come to you, as it did to them. They have invested heavily into not only their stadium, but also into British Speedway as a whole and have been one of the success stories of recent years.
“I think maybe we also need to look at the timing of the play-offs. We shouldn’t be staging our most important meetings as late as we did this season. The weather can turn in some years and it did this season. I would suggest a much-shortened set of play-offs, and everything to be wrapped up by the end of August at the latest.
“For example, if we took this season, it would have been Poole and Oxford contesting the gold medal over two legs at Cowley and Wimborne Road. Had those meetings took place in good weather in August, I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say we could have had a crowd of four-to-five-thousand supporters for each leg.
“We could then spend the rest of the season contesting another competition which starts in September – maybe the cup or the BSN Series. That would mean each club still has something to go for at the end of the season.
“I have no doubts that this has already been a topic for discussion, and we’ll have some positive news emerging out of the British Speedway AGM next week which will see a play-off structure that works better both in terms of attendances and, even more importantly, media exposure.”
Schroeck concluded by thanking the Oxford supporters, sponsors, track staff and volunteers.
He said: “There’s a lot of good people involved in Oxford Speedway. I believe over the last two seasons we’ve laid the foundations for the future. In most businesses, it takes them three-to-five years to find their feet – we’ve done it sooner than that.
“Those foundations also include all the support from the fans. Without them, Oxford Speedway simply wouldn’t be the success that’s it been or even exist.
“We’ve enjoyed a tremendous 2023 season at Oxford, and plans are already being put in place for 2024 to be another great year for the club.”
MAX PERRY has thanked the Oxford medical crew after his accident last Tuesday. The 16-year-old is now recuperating at home from a broken wrist and a broken ankle, after being discharged from the John Radcliffe Hospital on Friday.
The Leicester rider said on his Facebook account: “I would like to say a huge thank you to Oxford Speedway Track Staff, Ambulance Crew and all of the medical staff at John Radcliffe Hospital who looked after me so well after my crash last Tuesday night.
“I also would like to say a massive thank you to everyone for their get well messages and support.
“I’m recovering well and getting use to moving about at home on one crutch. It wasn’t the way I wanted to end my 2023 season! But I’m already looking ahead to 2024.”
PHOTO: Peter Schroeck and the WSRA Oxford Chargers, along with Bert Harkins, the chairman of the World Speedway Riders’ Association (PIC: LES AUBREY)