WSRA Oxford Chargers powered by SD Timmo Car Sales won the National League after defeating Leicester Lion Cubs by 34-32 in the Grand Final at Oxford Stadium last night (Tuesday) on the very final night of the 2023 speedway season.
It concluded the second season of racing back at Cowley with Oxford’s first league championship for 18 years since the Oxford Academy won the Conference League in 2005. On that occasion, Jamie Courtney was a rider for the Academy – this time, he was promoter! The NL title was a fitting reward for the promotion of Courtney and Kevin Boothby, along with team manager Peter Schroeck and all the riders of the Oxford Chargers.
A directive from British Speedway bosses on Monday following the postponement at Leicester’s Beaumont Park on Sunday decreed this would be the only leg, while the NL title would be awarded to table-topping Lion Cubs in the event that the meeting was rained off.
Track staff, led by Courtney and Wayne Hutt, both of whom were at the stadium since early in the morning, did an amazing job to prepare a raceable surface, despite an early afternoon downpour.
In the event, the meeting did not go the full distance. In Heat 12, Luke Killeen – who had a flight back to Australia first thing this morning (Wednesday) – made an excellent start. But Max Perry lifted entering the first bend and he straightened up and both he and his bike slammed straight into the air fence.
With Perry requiring medical attention, there was a delay in proceedings, during which time heavy rain arrived and showed no sign of departing. It led to an inevitable abandonment. Since the meeting had passed 10 races, the result stood as a two-point victory to Chargers. The delight of the home contingent was tinged by concern for 16-year-old Perry.
First thing on Wednesday morning, Max’s mother Cara Perry posted on the Max Perry Racing Facebook account: “Thank you so much everyone for all your messages, so sorry we haven’t been able to reply. Max broke and dislocated his right wrist, they put it back in place and he is in a cast. He has broke his right ankle, that’s in a cast. He has bruised lungs. There were signs from head scan of a stroke, but all physical tests show that it definitely wasn’t a stroke. He has to have two operations today one on his wrist and the other on his ankle. Will be in the John Radcliffe hospital for a few days.”
It was a shame that the meeting ended in such fashion, since the young riders of both sides had put on a fabulous display in testing conditions with just a handful of fallers.
Two of those occurred in the opening race in Heat 1. Oxford skipper Jordan Jenkins came down in a first bend incident that saw all four riders come back for another go. Lion Cubs were holding a 5-1 early in the re-run, but Jenkins thrust under opposing No 1 Dan Thompson on the third bend. Race-leader Ashton Boughen crashed on the second lap, but Thompson ensured a 3-3 by fending off Jenkins in the second re-run.
Jason Garrad was forced to pull up early in Heat 2, after his chain wrapped itself around his bike, and Lion Cubs took the lead with a 4-2.
There was then a crucial 5-1 from Chargers’ young duo of Jody Scott and Killeen in Heat 3. Scott trapped, while Killeen passed Tom Spencer and then settled into second place to make sure of the maximum heat win for Oxford.
Heat 4 was halted after Garrad fell on the opening bends of Heat 4, after contact with Max James. Garrad was quickest away in the re-run, but Joe Thompson soon led the race, while Henry Atkins passed James and settled into third place behind Garrad to ensure a 3-3.
Dan Thompson and Boughen hit back with a 5-1 for Leicester in Heat 5 that placed them 16-14 ahead. Killeen bounced off the back straight fence, and the following Scott had to slow, and it left the Leicester pair well in front.
There was then a remarkable ride from skipper Jenkins – in his meeting back since breaking his hand – in Heat 6. He nudged the tapes and earned himself a 15-metre penalty for the re-run. But he rode like a man possessed and swept inside Vinnie Foord on the second bend and team-mate Ryan Kinsley and Joe Thompson on the third and fourth bends, and led by the end of the opening lap, as Chargers levelled the sores with a 4-2.
Chargers then moved ahead with a 4-2 in Heat 7. Atkins won the race, while Jacob Clouting rode a sensible race and picked up third after Perry – attempting to ride the outside – got into difficulties on the third bend and fell and remounted.
James led Heat 8, but Kinsley overtook him on the opening lap and won the race as Chargers kept a slender two-point advantage.
Killeen swept around Joe Thompson on the second bend into the lead in Heat 9, but his cut-out came out on the third lap and he dropped to the rear, as Leicester levelled with a 4-2.
Chargers could perhaps feel that luck was starting to turn against them, when the same thing happened to Jordan Jenkins in Heat 10, again while leading the race. Jenkins was still able to take a point, since Perry – second in the early stages – had already pulled out with an engine failure. Kinsley came through to win the race as Chargers moved ahead once more with a 4-2.
A determined second bend from Atkins took him around Dan Thompson in Heat 11. Thompson then threw everything at Atkins in his attempts to re-pass the Oxford man. On the fourth bend of the third lap, Thompson reared as he attempted to force a route under Atkins, but both stayed onboard. Thompson again lifted as he tried the same move on the final bend, but Atkins held on for victory in what proved to be the match-winning ride.
With heavy rain due to arrive sometime between 8pm and 9pm, the meeting started bang on 7.30pm and referee Simon Humphrey-Kennett held the meeting at a good pace, despite the odd enforced re-run. The first 11 races were held in just over an hour, while Perry’s accident occurred just after 8.30pm. The rain then arrived and quickly became heavier.
By the time that the referee made his track inspection along with the team managers and captains, there was only one decision that could be made, since the track was in no condition to hold any further racing. The rain continued for the rest of the evening.
Chargers looked slightly stronger in the remaining races, but it was still a very harsh way for the title reign of defending champions Leicester to come to an end and there was a lot of sympathy for Lion Cubs, while everyone at Oxford Speedway wishes Max Perry a speedy recovery from his injuries.
Oxford skipper Jordan Jenkins said: “It’s not ideal that Max (Perry) had the crash that he did, and he’s picked up some nasty injuries, so first of all, we have to pass on our best wishes to Max.
“We’re over the moon to be National League champions. We wanted to win this title so much and collect a trophy for Oxford. It was a massive target on our list and we’ve managed to do it.
“I haven’t raced for over five weeks until tonight – the last time was here against Redcar when I broke my hand. I wasn’t bike fit tonight.
“I was so keen to win Heat 6 against Joe Thompson that I hit the tapes and ended up 15 metres back. There was no-one in the stadium more angry with me than myself and Pete (Schroeck, team manager) could see he didn’t have to say anything to me. I wasn’t in the best of moods, because I felt I’d let everyone down and the best thing was to go back out there and ride my *** off in the re-run and I came though and won it.
“In the third ride, my kill switch got caught on my race-jacket and I felt it came out down the straight. I had a job to keep the bike running one handed but got it going and picked up a point that proved vital in the end.
“This is the second time I’ve won the National League as No 1 and captain – I also won it with Mildenhall in 2021. This is the time I move on from this league to progress in my career.
“Leicester are a good team and they pushed us all the way on our home circuit. But we came out on top and all the boys can be proud of the part they played – it was a team performance where every point counted.”
WSRA Oxford Chargers, powered by SD Timmo Car Sales 34: Jordan Jenkins 6, Ryan Kinsley 8+1, Luke Killeen 3+1, Jody Scott 5, Henry Atkins 7+1, Jacob Clouting 3, Jason Garrad 2.
Leicester Lion Cubs 32: Dan Thompson 8, Ashton Boughen 4+3, Max Perry 0, Tom Spencer 5, Joe Thompson 8, Vinnie Foord 4, Max James 3.
* Reaction to follow from promoter Jamie Courtney
PHOTO: Jordan Jenkins, with his trophy for Rider Of The Night from Karen King of meeting sponsors SD Timmo Car Sales. Jordan was joint Rider Of The Night along with top-scorer Ryan Kinsley, who also received a trophy (PIC: LES AUBREY)