Keay on where he wants to take The Bears
Motorcycles are in the blood, speedway is engrained in the heart and the mind is convinced that bringing the feel-good factor back to Redcar is more than within the reach of both himself and his new-look SG Petch Bears side.
Kevin Keay was virtually born on two…or more accurately three wheels and the retired ex-policeman spent the last 16 of his 29-years service in the Specialist Operations branch of the Cleveland Road Traffic Unit as ‘pilot rider’ to everything from dangerous tanker loads to royalty. His task now is safeguarding the future of Redcar speedway and with the avowed intent of raising the Teesside club to it’s former glories and further.
Having had his promoters application approved by the BSPA Keay was unveiled at the Bears Christmas party as the successor to Brian Havelock, who stood down at the end of last season after almost nine years in charge at the South Tees Motorsports Park. And the former Northern Junior League racer’s vision for the future of the Bears, allied to the seven riders his right hand man Jitendra Duffill has lined up for next season, certainly enthused a packed house at the Redcar pre-Christmas Party enough to generate a buzz which, by common consensus and often as a result of unavoidable circumstances, seems to have been missing in the Bears camp for a while.
That’s no reflection on Havelock frugal management, but for which Keay and Duffill have been the first to stress the club might not even still be in existence. Injuries, bad weather, occasional track problems, rider walkouts and fall-outs have culminated in successive wooden spoons and that has an obvious affect on attendances, however good the racing has sometimes been, and many of those who remained loyal to the club became increasingly frustrated.
“It’s a case of bringing the club back to where it once was and trying to put smiles back on faces,” insists Keay.
“The club has had two very lean years and the crowds have suffered as a result and maybe there has been a bit of a negative attitude develop.
“We have to inject some passion and enthusiasm into the club, making it a happy place to go.
“We want the riders to be happy, the mechanics to be happy and the crowd to be happy and not able to wait for the next meeting to come along.
“It’s all a bit new to me at the moment – it’s going to take me a little while to adapt to the paperwork and administration.
“I was used to doing a lot of it in the Police but this is very different.
“I’ve sought advice from people I trust within the sport and at the club and hope that the enthusiasm that I have for the sport can take us a long way.”
Keay is Teesside through and through as, although he was born just up the road in Hartlepool, he has spent the majority of his life living in and around Stockton-on-Tees.
He has also never been any stranger to motorcycles as he recalls:
“My mum and dad had a motorcycle combination and, with five kids and two dogs, it was quite an achievement to get us all in!
“It was ‘bullet sidecar’ with two rows of seats and the dogs went in the foot well.
“When we went for picnics, people used to look in amazement when we all piled out – they thought we were getting out one-side and back in the other because of the amount of kids who emerged!”
“I started going to speedway with one of my elder brothers in the seventies and I was smitten straight away and eventually, when I had my own job and money, I bought myself a speedway bike.”
Work and families interjected and wife Anne and two now grown up children: Simon and Samantha later, thing went full circle. Keay takes up the story:
“I went along on opening night at Redcar and got the bug again so built another bike.and started riding second halves and at Scunthorpe.
“A few years ago Jamie Swales was running the Cubs in the Northern Junior League and one day asked me if I could fill in.
“I was a bit embarrassed at my age but he said that, if I didn’t make up the team, we can’t run the match and then the kids wouldn’t get a ride anyway.
“With Keay’s help the team won the NJL title in 2013 and about the same time he started assisting Havelock at Redcar’s regular Saturday training sessions.
“Brian Gladders (one of the Bears very industrious but less heralded directors) came up with the idea of running hire bikes to get the kids involved and asked me to take charge of that.
“Out of last season’s NJL squad, five out of six had come through the hire bikes.
“Chris van Straaten (founding promoter and still director) approached me in August and asked if I wanted to co-promote?
“I wasn’t looking for a promoting role but was keen to take over the training sessions.
“When the opportunity arose to become sole promoter (after Havelock stood down) I thought more about it.
“There didn’t seem to a long list of candidates and I have my own ideas of how things could be improved.
“The other directors thought I could do it and gave me their full backing, so here I am…”
Keay admits he currently has no financial stake but is no stranger to organising successful events, having been instrumental in ‘Ridewell’ – an annual motorcycle-orientated road safety scheme held at the not too far distant Preston Park for 14 years.
“I’m almost an unpaid employee of the directors in that I haven’t been asked to put any money in,” he explains
“My business plan does involve some investment and the brothers (Eric and Brian Gladders) have backed me on that – I have plans that are not all to do with the team and they have kindly given me their 100% backing.
“The club is not in a fantastic financial position but we are healthy.
“However we can’t go on the way we have been and it’s important to get the fans and the sponsors back involved – not only new ones we have but the ones we have lost.
“We are in the entertainment business and the fans want to be entertained and, if they are, then they will come back for more.
“My attitude is: What do the fans want? Can we can we afford to provide that and, if not, can we come as close as possible to doing it?
“My first move after I accepted the job was to get Jitendra more involved and we get on like a house on fire.
“I told him that I wanted him to be totally in charge of the team and be able to run it without his hands tied behind his back.
“I expected him to do a good job but he has done an unbelievable job putting this team together – he’s worked day and night and I do mean night!
“It’s not just been a case of putting seven names on a piece of paper – we have had about 12 teams pencilled in and we only signed our seventh and final rider a few days before announcing the team.
“He was given a guideline of making a team of entertainers.
“We gave him a budget, which was maybe a little bit more than before, but not a great deal, and he has done a terrific job of getting together a team of out and out entertainers. “He’s been very clever in how he has juggled the budget, considering travelling costs, etc.
“It’s been a nightmare trying to sort out the maths and we have had to let a couple of riders go whom we initially had an agreement with but we have tried to be honest at all times. “I think it’s fair to say that a couple of Elite League riders were a bit shocked by our budget. “I hope the fans will be pleased with the team we have put together – they certainly seemed to be when they were revealed.
“It’s important that I express my appreciation of how much work Brian and Marje Havelock have put in over the last eight years. “People don’t understand the extent of what they have done during that time. “I know Brian hasn’t always been Mr Popular with everybody but it can be a thankless task and he has kept the club running and in the black.
“Our league position has sometimes suffered as a result of the budget and this season is going to be a little bit of a gamble but one which we consider is worth taking. “In addition I’d like to thank the directors for putting their faith in me. “I don’t class myself as a promoter in the traditional sense – I’ll try and give the fans what they want and they are then ‘the promoters’ – going home and promoting our business by telling their friends and family and hopefully some of our lost fans back through the turnstiles.
“Even at this stage we are doing a lot of work, including improving the facilities for the fans which we hope will come together before the start of next season. Keay hasn’t discarded his roots either, stressing developing local talent is also crucial to Redcar’s future. He continued:
“Whenever we have a free date I will be looking to put on as many National League standard meetings as possible, obviously with reduced rates to spectators, as we need to start producing young British riders. “That’s why I’m so involved with our Saturday training schools and I would like the Cubs to become more involved with the Bears and not be two separate entities. “That’s one thing I learnt through 25 years involvement with a rugby club (Stockton) – it doesn’t matter what standard you are, you all belong to and represent the same club.
“I think the National league is greatly underrated – it might be a second or two slower but I have seen some absolutely cracking matches at that level. “You get raw racing with lads giving 100% for four laps. “But the main thing is to get the crowd back on board. “If we finish towards the top of the league as well then I’d obviously be very pleased, as will the fans, but my first aim is to send them home feeling they have been fully entertained.”
Extract from and courtesy of Speedway Star, December 10th edition.