Ask David Howe

I am delighted that David has agreed to be the first rider to feature in the 2011-12 ‘closed season’ series of interviews, and am sure that you will find it of interest.

1: David I think that it has been well reported that you have had a rather up and down season, achieving one of your main objects, and failing at the last hurdle, in the other. How has it been overall for you and your career?

A: To be honest it was quite a tough season in many respects and good in others. I found the start of the season hard on both speedway and grass, I got caught up in the silencer issue and it took me a while to get my head around them and until then my speedway form was not great.

I had made some changes in the winter that didn’t come off and it took me a while to figure all those things out but when I finally did I started to get into a grove and was racing pretty well, even if not 100%.

As in previous interview I said that both the masters and euro final were my main aims for the season and I made it to both, however a knee injury the night before the masters stopped me from riding and nearly cost me my euro spot so I was bitterly disappointed not to be able to race in that meeting as it was my biggest aim for the year. I can’t say if I would have beaten Andrew that day or not, I’ll just have to wait until next year for another shot.

2: Most of us were bitterly disappointed for you at the ‘Euro Final’ going in to the Final, unbeaten in four rides on 20 points. Can you take us through the meeting ‘race by race’ as you saw it, and from your point of view?

A: The euro final for me was my “breakthrough” meeting; it was the first time I’ve really been up there with some of the big names. I’d raced a few times in Germany and had done ok, won a couple of races but was never threatening to win the meetings. Id also had big crash in Luddinghausen, then broke my finger and smashed it up in a freak pit accident at Bielefeld so it had not been a smooth introduction into top class racing. The euro final however turned out to be the turning point for me, I didn’t ride great really, I was still injured and the track was very hard to ride and really took away my strength of coming into corners hard as it was so grippy that you couldn’t turn unless you had the handlebars nearly touching the floor into the bends.

The thing for me was I finally beat some top riders; I burst the bubble that I had built up in my head around them. Andrew, Stefan, Martin etc I had built them up in my head as super hero’s that were so fast I could not compete but on that day I made good starts and even though I didn’t ride at my best I still won some races and then realisation hit me that these guys have two arms and two legs like me and can be beat the same as I can and this change in attitude helped me in the wlt challenge.

The track was very tough, a lot of rain had fallen on the Saturday and practise was called off to save the track. We all had a short practise Sunday morning and it didn’t go so well for me, I broke a belt in one and then on the very last corner I gave my knee a really big wrench. The knee injury is a funny one when it’s fine it doesn’t hurt but when I hurt it the pain is unreal, I couldn’t even get off the bike and at one stage I sat down with some of the acu to decide what to do, Charlie Saunders was looking good in practise and I didn’t know if it would be fair for me to do one ride and pull out and cost him a spot but we all decided for me to give it a shot.

My first race I think I was on gate one and it was my worst start of the day but I was lucky that I was on the inside and managed to nip around the inside, I didn’t feel very fast and I remember looking over my shoulder and seeing Mitch right on me but I hung on and won so I was really happy to start my first European final with a win.

My second was the ride that changed my season, off gate six with Stefan and martin I knew it was really tough, I made an ok start, pulled second gear a little too early and that cost me a little on the run to the corner. I remember Stefan seemed to come outwards from the start and I got pushed into the deeper stuff and I managed to get around the outside of Martin and going down the back straight I was going to try going outside Stefan but it seemed like he slowed a little and I changed my mind and switched up the inside and got through. That for me was a huge race; beating those two gave me the confidence that hadn’t quite been there and the belief that I was up with those guys.

My next race was against Andrew, now I think Andrew and I have a pretty good relationship, he’s the British number one and I want to beat him same as he wants to beat me. Andrew had thrashed me in La Reole a few weeks earlier and even though id been close a few times I could never out gate him or get close enough to try and pass him but this race I made a really good start and hit the front. I was really struggling around the pit turn, I was trying to go tight and it was getting quite rough and I could get the power on as I wanted to and I think it was lap two Andrew came around me down the back straight but I was again going tight around the far turn and just got my nose in front again, this time I went a lot wider on the pit turn and found it so much better and pulled a bit of a lead when Andrew broke down but him passing me helped me as I found a better line on that corner. 

My last heat is the ride that probably cost me the championship. All meeting I was riding very tight round turn three and four and even though there were two big bumps I was getting a good exit to the corner but they were getting bigger and I had to slow down too much coming into that bend. I  think it was the end of lap three and martin came very wide around the outside of me but I stayed in front and on the last bend I went a bit wider and martin and I went over the line together and I got the win but the seed of doubt about what line to take was sown.

I chose gate six in the final after a long chat to my manager Evi and her husband Harry. My instincts were to take the inside but Harry said if you want second, third or fourth and be safe take the inside but if you want to win and take a risk take gate six. I made a pretty good start but Jannek made a really good start to I had to go a bit wider and I cut back and went between Jannek and Martin down the straight but as I came to the corner I hesitated for a split second, I didn’t go inside where I’d been all day and I didn’t go wide to get a smooth arch and I got left in the middle of the track and martin drove hard underneath me and took me very wide, at one stage I was outside of the track, I couldn’t see for the dust and also in the mix up I gave my knee another twist and by the time I was back on track because I couldn’t just pull out into a cloud of dust I was miles behind.

 I wasn’t angry at Martin for being tough on me, I was angry because I let him get into that position, I should have closed the gap, I didn’t at that one move lost me the championship but I learnt from it, hardened up and I came out of that meeting a stronger rider for it.

3: You achieved your other object for the season and qualified for next years Long Track Championship. Were you happy with the way the qualification worked out and how do you feel about  joining fellow Brits Andrew and Glen, on some very long trips to Finland and Norway in addition to around Europe?

A: Of course I am happy I made it to the Grand Prix, it wasn’t really a major aim of mine, I had planned more to have a real crack after a season gaining experience in France and Germany. I really wanted to make the challenge and then see how it went but by the time the challenge came around I felt that I was riding good enough to have a shot. My qualifier was a tough meeting because I was riding the night before at Plymouth at couldn’t get a flight out in time so I had to miss practise and the track was very slick and it took me a few races to get set up but I made it through ok, losing the run off for third so in my first qualification meeting I felt pretty good.

The challenge went really well for me, I seemed to struggle a little from the gate but I had enough speed and I wanted it all tied up before the semi but I made a mistake in my fourth heat and ran a fourth so it left me with a bit more pressure in the semi. The race was stopped whilst I was in second but in the rerun I gated third but managed to get passed Franc and Tebbe to take the win and secure my spot in the Grand Prix.

I am really looking forward to the Grand prix and testing myself at the very highest level, I’ve heard good reports about the gp’s in Norway and Finland so it’s going to be exciting for me and the team.

4: I note that you are going to be riding as number nine in the WLT, are you happy with that, or would you have preferred to have another number?

A: It really doesn’t bother me what number I am but I wouldn’t complain if in 2013 I am number 7 or less.

5: You have been a keen supporter of many local Club meeting during the season, has that kept you ‘sharp’ for the bigger meetings, despite, at times, the lack of any real opposition to you?

A: I didn’t do as many this year as I did last season and a lot of that was to do with fixture clashes with speedway, next season I don’t know how many I will do until the fixtures are clearer.

Yes, it does keep me a bit sharper and fitter but at my stage I do need to race against the best because I need to improve, I was really pleased Andrew, Bomber and Glen were involved in the last two meetings I did in England because I needed to be more on top of my game and its better to finish second to the likes of Andrew etc than win easier races, not that any race is easy but you know what I’m saying. I felt I rode the season finale as well as I have ridden in England and that was because there was a good line up that pushed me on.

6: There has been a lot of speculation during the season that you have ‘bottled out’ of riding at several meetings because of the opposition, and not the injuries that you have received. Can you put the record straight about particularly The British Masters, The Masters of Midshires, and other big ‘name’ meetings?

A: Well, the only two big meetings I pulled out of were the “king of speed” and the masters. The knee injury I sustained was quite a bad one and was told to rest for three months but I carried on and after a while it bothered me less and less. The kos meeting was the week after I did the injury and I went out in practise and did one bend and that was all I did, if I was bottling it, why would I drive all the way to Collier street? I explained to Mitch and he fully understood.

The masters was slightly different, the van everything was loaded ready to go, we were racing at Leicester the night before when in heat 13 the knee let me down again, no one was more gutted than me to miss out but its just the way it goes sometimes, the body lets us down.

The Midshires meeting I did pull out of, but I feel I did it right, I emailed them and spoke to the club. I had a meeting in Nandlstadt that was rained off earlier that month and I then entered the midshires meeting but the Nandlstadt meeting was rearranged for the same day and the club wanted me to ride there as I had a previous contract with them. I pulled out of the meeting before the closing date; I spoke to the acu and went through all the correct channels. On a selfish point riding in Nandlstadt did my career a lot of good as I went on to win that meeting which will help me secure more bookings in Germany in the future.

Talking about me bottling it, even though the midshires meeting was a strong line up for England if I was bottling it why would I pull out of it to race in a meeting that had Spieser, Kroger, Katt, Franc, Diener in it?   

7: It must have been of particular disappointment to you not to have been able to ride in the ‘Inteernationale Specials Class’ at Groningen this year with ‘Cooperman’ as you will be riding there on July 7th in the third round of the WLT. Will you have something special next year to drive you round that huge 1200 meter track, and be ‘on the stop’ for the whole four laps?

A:  That was a disappointment but if fell on a very bad time, I’d for one reason or another ran out of engines and couldn’t sort it in time, the club were aware of this though.

We have plans in motion for those meetings, I will have enough engines, and Sean Wilson is helping me out to make sure I’m well prepared, we do need some more new stuff and we know what we need, I just have to get it.

8: Many of us fans were most alarmed during the season when it became known that a rider of your standing was finding it ‘hard going’ with a lack of financial support. Have you managed to at least ‘break even’ over the season and will you have a ‘main sponsor’ for 2012?

A: I can’t really say if I broke even, I doubt it but I bought a new bike in April but that’s still there for next season, I was hard going but it was my issue and I should have kept it to myself, I’m a bit of an open book and should keep my feelings to myself sometimes. That day I was really low, I had blown an engine to bits wreaked a bike, broke my finger which meant I missed the British speedway final and I just sent a begging letter out there on the forum. However all it did was turn some people against me. Like I said I should have kept my feelings to myself.

We did turn it around though, some people said I failed in Germany but I don’t see it that way, it was a learning curve, I came home regrouped and went back better prepared.

I’m working on the sponsorship side, I still haven’t got a main sponsor but I’m lucky a few people have come on board to help so it will all come together I’m sure.

9: Many fans were delighted to read that you are now a proud father. Has the added responsibly that it brings, changed you attitude to racing and life in general?

A: Anybody who says it doesn’t change you is a liar. It’s not affected me in a way where I protect myself or anything like that or feel I have to ride harder to provide but getting into a routine of being a dad was the hardest.

When Ava came it wasn’t easy, she came eight weeks early and for the first month she was in hospital and my wife pretty much lived there, I was trying to carry on the best I could, getting to the hospital whenever possible but it was hard. When I was at the hospital I was worried because work wasn’t being done and when I was working the guilt I felt was unreal. I am very lucky that Jo was fantastic throughout and never made me feel guilty when I wasn’t there but it was hard.

Ava was born on the Monday and that weekend I rode at Edinburgh on the Friday and drove straight to Dingolfing for my first long track so I was away until Monday night at the time I didn’t think it had bothered me but looking back it did and I didn’t appreciate how hard it was for Jo as well but everything is fine now and we’ve settled into a routine and are very happy.

10: Will you still be on the Jawa GM for next season, or are you going to ride something else?

A:  Everything will be the same as I finished the season. I tried a few things last year but they didn’t work out so I’m going to keep it simple and stick to what got me this far.

11: Many of us feel that the sport that we love is at a critical position and at a ‘crossroads’ at the moment, and unless something very radical is proposed and implemented very soon, it could be too late. How would you as a rider like things to change?

A: I still think we have a good product; its just very hard at the minute, money is tight. I do feel that if there we a few top class meetings in this country that would draw fans it might filter down to club level. I am not wise enough to be able to answer the question but I do think if we could get more international riders over here it would boost the product but then again that boils down to money, it’s a vicious circle.

12: If you had to choose your ‘racing moment’ from the  season, what would it be?

A:  Two things stick out for me, winning my first German open meeting and the semi-final of the challenge.

Winning in Nandlstadt made all the low times worth while, it was a beautiful day, fantastic track, I had Jo and Ava with me for the first time and was almost like a local meeting as it was only 15 minutes from Evi’s house so I had quite a few team Bavaria fans there.

The semi of the challenge was huge for me because winning that got me my GP spot. Those meetings are not nice, there’s a lot of pressure so winning that was a big release for me and a very proud moment.

13: On their 2011 form who do you think will be the top runners, both at home and on the continent for 2012?

A: I think on the continent it will be the usual riders gunning for the top, however I don’t see Andrew having another nightmare like last season. In England I think Georgie Wood is looking good, still got a way to go but he has taken things in his stride so far and I see him pushing on if he stays focused, and I hope I will slot in there somewhere.

14: Will you be undertaking any ‘keep fit’ routine during the Winter?

A: I made a big mistake last winter with my fitness, I decided I needed to lose weight and that would be the key for the long track, I didn’t take into account the amount of strength I would lose though and when I got to some of the deep tracks I could only go full tilt for three laps. I got my weight down to 59 kg (9st 3) and I was just too weak, this winter I will work very hard on my stamina so I am fully prepared for next year.

Thank you David, I am sure that I speak for all ‘real’ Grass/Longtrack/Speedway Fans, when I wish you a safe and successful season next year, and GOOD LUCK.

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