Taylor made for Kent Kings
Taylor made for Kent Kings

‘Hampshire chasing points in Kent’ is more normally the sort of headline associated with one of the county’s other top sports played at The Spitfire Ground in Canterbury, as opposed to Sittingbourne’s Central Park Stadium.

But in this case as the saying goes, “that’s not Cricket” – for young Taylor Hampshire (actually hailing from Suffolk) is the latest in a batch of rising stars of British Speedway to ply his trade with the Kent SLYDE Kings in Speedway’s National League.

At 16 not out, Hampshire made a huge impression on what will now be his home supporters in a couple of dramatically impressive visits to the Speedway circuit at Central Park Stadium in the latter weeks of the last campaign – making him the young rider most wanted by the Kings’ management as they sought to build on 2017’s on-track success.

And there’s no doubt the one-time Midland Development League individual Riders Champion is a good catch – secured when the Kent co-promoters Len Silver and Chris Hunt stumped their rivals in securing Hampshire’s signature for the 2018 Travel Plus Tours-sponsored National League [NL] season.

Hampshire hails from Mildenhall in Suffolk but is wasn’t actually at his local track where he took his first rides in the Speedway game. He explains,

“I was riding Moto-X as a schoolboy and then I had a bad crash which side-lined me. Making my way back to fitness, I was persuaded to give Speedway a go in the Hagon Shocks Academy on the mini-track at Lakeside Speedway in Essex. I got myself a 150cc bike and made progress at that level before moving straight up from that to a full-sized 500cc machine.”

Opportunities did then come his way at the West Row circuit near to his family home.

“I started doing second halves at my local track in Mildenhall and got into their Midland Development League [MDL] side. At the end of 2016 I was asked to represent the Tiger Cubs at the MDL Riders Championship Final at Scunthorpe. It was a track I’d only ridden a couple of times before, but I had a really good meeting and took the title which was a big lift for me.”

Upon turning 15, Hampshire was considered Taylor-made for the step up to the NL and was signed up to represent the King’s Lynn Young Stars. It was a rocky baptism,

“It was a tough transition at first and when I suffered a bad crash racing back at Scunthorpe I did wonder if I should stay in the Development Leagues a bit longer rather than do the NL. But come the start of the 2017 season I was back with King’s Lynn and actually that’s when I first rode at Central Park last May”

It wasn’t the most auspicious of starts, although three points was mainly about learning racing on a track he’d not seen before. But his team were on the stickiest of wickets going down by 64 points to 26 and with rider retirements affecting them in the immediate wake of this drubbing, the Norfolk-based side withdrew from the league, expunging the records of that match and leaving Taylor without a side.

A new team berth was about to come his way though – and it couldn’t have been at a more prestigious stopping off point.

“I was surprised when Birmingham signed me up. It was pretty daunting to be honest – as the twice reigning League champions, they had a very impressive line up and of course a very good stadium in a major city – so there’s no doubt it was a step up for me at such an early stage in my NL career.”

Hampshire certainly pushed the boundaries though – and by the time he was back at Central Park this time in Brummies’ colours in September, he was to post a totally out of left field paid 17 points score. To say this was one of the most eye-catching performances of the campaign from a reserve berth would not be wide of the mark.

Hampshire’s tally from seven rides for the Second City side included four paid wins – with Kings’ homesters beaten by the rampant teenager including Jack Thomas, Anders Rowe, Dan Greenwood, George Hunter and the Kings’ Rider Of The Year Ben Hopwood.

Such a batting-above-his average performance certainly moved teen Taylor to the top of team boss Chris Hunt’s shopping list for the next season. That this was a track specialist waiting to be uncovered was further backed up by a quick return, this time in the colours of his 2017 Southern Development League side Reading the next week when a maximum effort helped seal the title with a win over Kent’s Code Kestrels’ outfit.

And so before declaring at just short of the 39 points limit, when Hampshire was indeed confirmed as a King for 2018 there was much delight among the Kent Speedway fraternity – with Hampshire able to feel the love from the Alpine slopes.

“I was actually ski-ing as a guest of our co-promoter Len Silver and his Silverski company when the news broke that I was signed up to Kent. I was inundated with messages of welcome and support from Kings’ fans – I can see what everyone says, what a great set of supporters they are. I’m getting in shape for the new season with regular sessions in the gym and was out on track at Iwade recently (after bad weather really stopped more regular winter on-track practice) and I’m raring to go”.

Hampshire’s new fans can see him – along with the rest of the Kent SLYDE Kings’ squad – in a full practice day at Iwade on Sunday 25th. March; with his home debut in the famous Invicta race jacket on Good Friday versus Eastbourne followed by the visit of his old side Birmingham on Easter Monday.

Everyone will be hoping that Taylor’s Kent Speedway story will run and run.

Picture supplied by Elizabeth Leslie.