Local Derby for Kent Kings
Local Derby for Kent Kings

It’s Travel Plus National League [TPNL] action again at Central Park Stadium on Monday 14th. August (6.30pm start time) with the visitors being local rivals Lakeside Hammers.  

The side from just over the Dartford Crossing have only entered the TPNL this season and although the Arena Essex Raceway-based Hammers have visited Kent before in various ‘challenge’ matches, Monday’s match-up will be the first competitive league visit to Central Park of the side managed by Jon Cook and one-time World Speedway rostrum man, BT Sport TV’s Kelvin Tatum.

Tatum will be on his TV commentary duties on Monday, leaving experienced promoter Cook in sole charge of a side which currently lies in third place in the TPNL table.  With the gap between the rivals being ten points –   though the SLYDE-sponsored Kings having three matches ‘in hand’  -and the aim being a top four position to make the end of season championship-deciding play offs it’s clear that this battle between sixth placed Kent and their Essex rivals is of absolutely crucial importance.

The match is also notable for the first racing appearance at Central Park of a modern-day Kentish Speedway ‘legend’ – Paul Hurry was born in Canterbury and by the time he reached racing age his home city club had closed down.  So rather than Crusaders, it was Hammers for Hurry who lived up to his surname by quickly enjoying league title success (as a 16-year-old) with the then Arena Essex club.

Hurry has gone on to have a stellar career in all forms of coal racing with four British and one European Grasstrack championship titles and a rostrum finish (in 2005) in the World Longtrack Championship.  A serious injury in the 2010 European Grasstrack championship ended the Speedway career of the former GB Under 21 champion and one-time Team GB World Cup rider, so it was a surprise when after a near seven-year gap, Hurry returned to action with his former side this season, now in the TPNL.

Eyebrows were raised over the assessed average he was given which took account more of the period of his absence than his proven ability and sure enough his scoring for the Hammers has mainly exceeded the expectation set by that average.

Hurry forms a potent heat leader trio with two former Kent Kings’ number ones.  Both National League Riders Champions[NLRC] as Kings, the Hammers have Ben Morley and twice Divisional individual riders title winner Stevie Boxall in their ranks.
For Morley and the Kent faithful it will be a little disorientating to see him in the colours of the Hammers, as the 2015 NLRC winner has been guesting for the Kings with huge distinction for the past five weeks – barely dropping a point as a simply superb stand in for the injury-affected Luke Bowen.  The practice he’s had will, of course, like as not hold him in good stead for his return now in the colours of his home county side and 2017 employers, Lakeside. 

The Hammers are also without their number one – three times World Junior champ Zach Wajtknecht having suffered season-ending internal injuries in a horrific spill riding at his SGB Premiership side, Swindon.  Cook has been able to serve up Boxall though as a ready-made replacement – the Canterbury-born racer is the reigning Laurels champion and a major force to contend with around his old home track.

Lakeside have a rather longer ‘tail’ than is sometimes considered ideal including two more Kent based riders in 2015 Kings’ man Jamie Couzins and Connor Locke.  It certainly looks like a match where Kent will need to score points throughout their team to hold back the strong top three of their opponents; and ensure supremacy in the second string and reserve battles with the Kings’ George Hunter especially fired up to impress having been dumped from the Hammers’ ranks to accommodate Hurry earlier this term.

Hunter and team mates will have another busy night covering as they are under the Rider Replacement rule for missing Nathan Stoneman.

As for the number one berth vacated by Bowen when he broke his shoulder in  mid-June, this local Derby ding-dong would be a great occasion to make his much anticipated racing comeback.

That won’t be known until nearer the time though with Kings fans keeping their fingers crossed for the return of their favourite.