Cornering at Speed with No Brakes

Tai Woffinden, aged just 29, and already thrice speedway world champion (2013, 2015, 2018), won the Club’s Torrens Trophy in 2019 – the first speedway rider ever to win it. And he has just published his autobiography, Raw Speed, with Peter Oakes, an award-winning Fleet Street journalist and devout speedway fan.

Scunthorpe-born, Tai grew up in Australia where his father Rob, a noted speedway racer himself, did a lot of his racing. The book’s chapter on his dad’s loss to pancreatic cancer, aged just 47, is particularly moving as is the accompanying dedication to his ‘best friend, my teacher, my travelling companion’.

It was an idyllic and rebellious childhood, ‘everything [about his adopted country] suited him … beaches, barbecues, a bong and beating the traffic cops’. And while busily accumulating junior speedway titles in both countries, he ‘slotted in’ taking a taekwondo black belt, aged 11!

It’s ‘warts and all’ writing with profusive use of the personal pronoun and liberal use of the ‘f—-’ word making the book as an immediate experience as you’d imagine.

‘Focused, loving, crazy and loyal’ are the four words that Tai favours about himself and there are copious examples winding their way through the book, the serious physical training amid myriad injuries, 10/10 for his beautiful wife Faye’ and his admiration for Great Ormond Street Hospital, the childhood escapades that could so easily have cost his life, and the debt he owes to ‘Team Woffinden’ for his world titles.

Top sportspeople are exemplified by their sheer perseverance, both physically and mentally, and Tai’s participation in those many earlier regional venues and junior classes before becoming world champion, and described in some detail, bears out that truism.

A whole chapter entitled ‘Fatalism and Fearlessness’ conveys the risks ‘involved in this as well as probably all forms of motorsport’, the terrible accident to Lee Richardson in Poland in 2012 particularly etched in his memory.

But the strength of personal bonds, with the likes of Rob Godfrey providing the first ‘big break’, and Pete Adams who “taught Tai everything he knows … but not everything I know!”, among many others, have carried the day.

Penning a chapter ‘On English Tracks’ had especial interest for me growing up near Ipswich Speedway. Tai is certainly a fan of the extensive facilities provided by Sweden and Poland over the ‘mother country’ – too many UK tracks, especially these days, for example, ‘double up’ for other sporting purposes.

How many more titles await Tai? At that Torrens lunch, the omens looked good when he told Ben Cussons, the Club’s Chairman, that his ‘fitness levels are at their best ever’ – and then he breaks his back shortly after.

Tai is content to admit that chasing after speedway legends such as Ivan Mauger and Tony Rickardsson, six world titles apiece, is an attractive proposition. But at the same time ‘growing up’ with his young family (young Rylee-Cru and baby no. 2 due this autumn) has many attractions too.

I enjoyed this book – it felt as if Tai was sitting beside me relating it all in person: that to my mind is a worthy accolade for any biography. And he nearly got away without me mentioning his ever so picturesque tattoos!

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Tai Woffinden and Peter Oakes, 2019. Raw speed: My autobiography. London: John Blake Pub. [Bonnier Books]. ISBN: 978-1-78606-278-9 (hardback, £16.99); 978-1-78946-158-9 (e-book).

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