By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) – Tai Woffinden has so many tattoos, he is not sure where he would put one to celebrate a record seventh speedway world championship.
The Briton, who grew up in Western Australia, has ‘only’ the three titles so far but has no doubt he will need to save some space on his skin.
“I want to be the greatest of all time. There’s two guys that have won six so I want to be one better and be the greatest,” he told Reuters.
“I’m 28. If I stay enthusiastic I’ve got another 15 years at it,” added Woffinden, in London to collect the Royal Automobile Club’s Torrens Trophy.
Woffinden has so far refrained from inking any of his speedway successes onto his body because the target is not yet half reached, but the canvas is shrinking.
He has ‘Pain is weakness leaving the body’ written on his upper torso and he has had plenty of broken bones to know about that, and suffering too.
“My wife’s brother is a tattoo artist. I’m at the point now where if I see a gap, I need to fill it. So there’s a gap here on my wrist, a tattoo needs to go here to fill that gap,” he said.
“I can’t have a three time world champion on my wrist because then when I am a seven times world champion, I won’t have enough room on my wrist to put it. So I’ll wait until I’m finished and then I can get it.
“I haven’t done my legs yet so there’s still plenty of space.”
Speedway is motorsport in the raw — 500cc motorbikes with a single gear and no brakes that accelerate faster than a Formula One car and power-slide around shale-based oval circuits at speeds of up to 130kph and a heady whiff of methanol.
Tough on riders, with the constant risk of injury, it was once hugely popular in Britain but now struggles for media attention despite crowds of 50,000 for the showcase British Grand Prix at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.
“I’d love for somebody like (snooker and darts entrepreneur) Barry Hearn in his spare time to come and look into it and say ‘yeah, I’ll take that on,’” said Woffinden, whose late father Rob was also a speedway rider.
“It’s an exciting sport but it’s classed as a minority sport. You walk through the grandstand and there seems to be a lot more older people, there’s no younger people yet it’s a younger generation of kids that are riding bikes.
“We are all in our 20s so why isn’t that attracting a 20-year-old fanbase? Because its relatable. They can go, ‘Wow, look at this guy he’s the same age as me and he’s doing this, this and this.”
Woffinden races mostly in Sweden and Poland, where it is so mainstream that there are even speedway hooligans and his WTS Wroclaw club’s 17,000 seat stadium is sold out for home races.
In Britain he is used to being recognised — the big discs in his earlobes an easy spot — but not when it comes to events such as the BBC sports personality of the year, where he failed to make it onto the shortlist last year.
In 1966, England’s World Cup winning soccer captain Bobby Moore won with speedway rider Barry Briggs runner-up. Geoff Hurst, England’s hat-trick hero in the final, was third.
“There will be a point where they can’t overlook me. Maybe when I win my seventh and become the greatest of all time. At that point they will physically not be able to do it,” said Woffinden.
Growing up in Perth, with an Australian passport and spending his winters there, he started out in taekwondo but abandoned it for speedway after reaching black belt.
If he sounds more like an Antipodean than someone born in Scunthorpe, he is also proud to race for the country of his birth.
“The Australians call me their adopted world champion and some of the Brits call me a British world champion,” he said.
“And some of the Brits also call me a stupid Australian idiot and say I should represent Australia because I love Australia more than I love England.
“But at the end of the day, mate, my parents are English and I was born in England and I represent England.”
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Christian Radnedge)