BERWICK’S new signing Kozza Smith finished eighth in this year’s Australian National Championships at the weekend, and admitted later that his performances ‘Down Under’ would stand him in good stead for his first ever season with the Bandits.
Smith is making the switch to the Border track after a spell with King’s Lynn, who have now moved up to the Elite League.
After claiming a fantastic third place in the final of the third round of the series at Broken Hill a few days earlier, Smith was unable to repeat his exploits at Mildura on Saturday.
But he said afterwards: “It’s good. I’m still learning this game, and to be eighth in our country’s pecking order is pretty cool.
“There are some great riders ahead of me, including Grand Prix men and a double U21 World Champion, but I’m on my way.”
Smith didn’t enjoy the best of fortunes in a long-drawn-out meeting, which saw several crashes and a delay while the racing surface received attention.
He was well ahead in his first race, but on the last lap lost the steel shoe which speedway riders wear over their left boot to help them skid into the corners, and dropped back into second place by the chequered flag.
In Heat 9 Kozza pegged reigning champion Chris Holder – who ended the night by retaining his title – back into third place, and a strong finish in two further races took the 22 year-old safely to the semi-final.
Unfortunately, a hotly-contested first lap of his semi-final saw rival Ty Proctor crash out behind Smith, who then suffered the disappointment of being excluded from the re-start, despite not having been involved in the stoppage.
A few days earlier, Berwick’s regular meeting presenter Dick Barrie was in Broken Hill to witness Smith’s super-show, and confessed he has never seen him ride so well.
“His first race was a classic, he arm-wrestled Chris Holder out of his way on the first turn and never looked to be in trouble thereafter,” said Barrie, who was called upon by the local promotion to assist with the evening’s announcements.
“His third ride was even better! He had a poor start, passed Ty Proctor on the first lap, then chased and caught Richard Sweetman before finally hunting down and roaring past Davey Watt on the final turn!”
Smith suffered a dislodged plug lead while leading Heat 14 and failed to finish, but captured another notable scalp in heat 19 by winning a race featuring double World U21 Champion Darcy Ward.
With four victories, Smith advanced to the A Final of the night, where he picked up third place ahead of the experienced former Bordernapolis champion Rory Schlein.
“He was the star of the show,” emphasised Barrie. “Four wins out of four finishes and a great third place in the final to a couple of the world’s best riders.
“He really is an extrovert character! After the meeting, still clutching his trophy, he told me that some of his mates have formed a band, and he’s talked them into recording a special song, to be played when he wins a race at Shielfield Park this summer!
“Let me say this – if he rides as well in black-and-gold as he did here at Broken Hill tonight, the fans at Berwick are going to be mighty familiar with the tune!”
Smith’s form throughout the championships (where he qualified for two semi-finals and one final) indicates a mouth-watering season at Shielfield this summer, and the rider himself admits he can’t wait to get to grips with the border track.
In the meantime, his final action of the winter will come this Saturday (February 5) when he will start amongst the favourites for the Australian Long Track Championships which are scheduled to be held at Tamworth, NSW.
Final standings in the Australian Championships were:
1 Chris Holder (69 points), 2 Darcy ward (63), 3 Davey Watt (63), 4 Rory Schlein (62), 5 Cameron Woodward (55), 6 Corey Gathercole (53), 7 Justin Sedgman (51), 8 Kozza Smith (50), 9 Ty Proctor (50), 10 Sam Masters (40).