fans to honour Rico

Lee Richardson
Lee Richardson

Eastbourne Eagles will hold a minutes silence for their former number-one rider Lee Richardson on Saturday.

Saturday’s meet against Swindon will give Arlington fans a chance to pay their respects to Richardson who skippered the side to a Knockout Cup triumph in 2008.

Lee Richardson

Lee Richardson

Richardson, 33, a former World Under 21 champion, died on Sunday night after he crashed head-first into a solid fence during a Polish league match.

He had suffered leg injuries, breathing difficulties and severe internal bleeding.

His death is the most high-profile in the sport since Sweden’s Tommy Jansson was killed almost 36 years ago to the day.

Richardson was racing for PGE Marma Rzeszow against Betard Sparta Wroclaw at the Wroclaw Stadium and the fatal crash once again raised safety concerns within the sport.

In 2000, air fences were introduced to the Grand Prix series designed to slow down the riders and absorb impact when they part company with their machine.

But, 12 years on, several league tracks around the world have not invested in these potentially life-saving barriers, which is largely down to the estimated £20,000 cost of installing them.

Richardson’s innocuous looking crash happened on the back straight as he pursued Wroclaw duo Tomasz Jedrzejak and Freddie Lindgren in heat three.

Richardson was said to be conscious after he collided with the fence and spoke to the medics as they attended to him.

He was rushed to hospital and underwent surgery after suffering internal bleeding and breathing difficulties. He died on the operating table at around 8pm (BST).

The crash inevitably raised questions on the safety of the high-risk sport and if organisers are doing all they can to protect the riders.

Eagles captain Cameron Woodward admitted this week improvements still need to be made at certain venues.

He said, “Some of the tracks on the circuit are not as safe as they can be. The riders know which ones they are and improvements need to be made.

“We have air fencing across all the circuits but some of the tracks are not as safe as they could be.

“We are riders, we know the risks but we also have families and want to make sure that what we do is as safe as it can be.”

“If any good can come of this, then it has to be that safety must be improved. This cannot be for nothing.”

Woodward rode with and against Richardson on many occasions and travelled with his friend to meets across the UK and Europe.

He added, “I just couldn’t believe it when I heard the news. It came as a real shock because he was not a dangerous rider.

“He didn’t need to be because he was so skilful. He was one of the most skilful riders out there. He was a great competitor and a friend and was one of the most easy-going and friendly blokes I knew.”

The balance of risk and reward is something speedway riders live with everyday.

A top speedway rider in the Elite League will be well rewarded.

Salaries will vary hugely with signing on fees and a paid by the point rate keenly negotiated by the riders. Appearance fees, travel and insurance expenses will also be covered.

Few will rival the £600,000 Jason Crump is reportedly paid for competing in the Polish Ekstraliga but with crowds averaging between 10,000-12,000 the financial rewards in Poland can be high.

Between meets, riders competing at the highest level will meticulously plan the logistics of racing and transporting their vast amount of equipment between the Elite, Polish, and Swedish leagues, as well as the Grand Prix series, in order in maximise income around a congested and often confusing fixture set-up.

At 33-years-of-age Richardson was nearing the end of his career. He began on the practice tracks at Arlington and would watch on as his father Colin Richardson and his uncle Steve Weatherley rode for Eastbourne with current Eagles boss Trevor Geer.

He left Arlington and enjoyed a fine racing career in England with Reading Racers, Poole Pirates, Peterborough Panthers, King’s Lynn Stars, Coventry Bees, Swindon Robins, Eastbourne Eagles and finally the Lakeside Hammers.

In Europe he rode for PGE in the Polish Ekstraliga and Vargarna in the Swedish League.

His finest hour for Eastbourne arrived in 2008. His typically skilful riding helped Eagles progress to the final of the Knockout Cup.

In the final, Richardson was inspirational and top-scored as they beat odds-on-favourites Pirates to claim the trophy.

His former manager and long term friend Trevor Geer added, “During my time here at Eastbourne it’s fair to say he was one of the best riders I have dealt with.

“Always honest, easy to deal with and always had a smile on his face. He was a top rider as well as a family man.

“He had a young family and it’s just a real tragic loss.”

Eagles star Lewis Bridger wrote on Twitter, “RIP Rico. Top, top bloke in the sport; I looked up to you so much man. I’m in tears right now. I really don’t want to believe this.”

Richardson’s most recent club, the Lakeside Hammers, thanked the speedway community for the countless kind messages and offers of support to Richardson’s family.

After consultation with the family, the Hammers will set up a support fund for Lee’s wife and three children. Donations will be possible via a link on the Hammers’ website.

There are also plans for supporters to buy white Lee Richardson t-shirts for the FIM British Speedway Grand Prix to be held on August 25.

Approximately 40,000 fans are expected to attend and organisers hope each one will wear the t-shirt and create a ‘white out’ in the Millenium Stadium.