BERWICK are to invest almost £50,000 in an effort to secure the long-term future of speedway at Shielfield.
The money is to be spent on a new state of the art safety barrier which the club hopes to have installed by the start of next season.
The polyfoam barrier, which will encompass the first and second and the third and fourth bends, is similar to that which is currently in use at Kings Lynn.
Bandits’ officials say that whilst it is more expensive to install than a traditional air fence, it will in the long-term be more cost effective.
It will remain in situ throughout the season, with no need to take it down between meetings, and it is cheaper to maintain, with no generator costs as are required for keeping air fences inflated.
The announcement was made to fans during the course of Saturday’s home Premier League meeting against Workington, and the news was warmly welcomed by riders and supporters alike.
Berwick captain Lee Complin said: “It is good to know that the management here at Berwick are thinking about rider safety. It is always better to have a fence than to have none at all.
“At first I thought it might have taken away some of the racing lines on the track by cutting down on the space on the bends, but we have been assured that the existing safety fence is to be realigned, so if that happens it will not affect the racing and that can only be a good thing.”
Promoter John Anderson said the decision to install the fence had been taken following a series of accidents at the track.
“In the past we have had incidents involving the likes of Scott Smith and Paul Fry, Gino Franchetti, Andreas Bergstrom, and of course, just recently, Alex Edberg,” he said.
“The incident involving Alex virtually forced our hand, because after that I sat down with some of my fellow directors and said it was about time we looked into installing a new safety barrier.
“At the end of the day the riders are going out there and risking injury - even their lives - so safety has to be paramount.”
Berwick will now become the first track in the Premier League to install a safety barrier, and the only one north of Belle Vue in Manchester.
“It won’t come cheap,” said Anderson, “but it is a price we have to pay if we want to see speedway continue here at Berwick into the future.
“It isn’t mandatory yet, but I think it is only a matter of time before the authorities tell us: ‘No safety barrier, no speedway.’
“In that respect we are just getting ourselves ahead of the game.”
The new barrier will cost around £35,000 plus VAT to buy, with the remainder of expenditure going on installation and the restructure of the existing safety fence and pits area.
It will be financed mainly by the club, but they are also hoping to attract sponsorship and or donations, whilst a series of meetings are also to be held with the riders offering their services free of charge.
Four of these meetings (two at home and two away) are likely to be held against Newcastle. Two are being planned for the end of this season and two at the start of next season, incorporating the traditional Tyne-Tweed Challenge.
The new Tracksafe Polyfoam Barrier System (TPBS) will consist of a line of foam bricks. In front of these will be a barrier of foam-filled bags, and they will all be enclosed in an outer casing.
Berwick team manager Ian Rae said: “The Tracksafe barrier has been fully tested by MIRA (the Motor Industry Research Association) and is fully approved for all FIM speedway meetings.
“The barrier is also similar to that used in Formula 1.
“It is more expensive to install, but it has so many more advantages over the traditional air fences.
“It is much heavier than the old style ‘bouncy castle’ fences which are installed at some tracks. This means there is less chance of riders sliding underneath them, as we have seen happen in the past.
“And of course, if an air fence is punctured or slashed, the air simply rushes out and it becomes totally ineffective.”
Anderson added: “We have taken the decision to place the barrier on order now and we hope to have it installed for the start of next season. This is a major investment by the club, but we feel it is one which is necessary and one which will be welcomed by everyone connected with the club and the sport in general.”