Kent Kestrels win SDL title
Kent Kestrels win SDL title

Kent Crayford Kestrels won the 2018 Southern Development League [SDL] title, retaining their 100% record in the competition with three wins against south coast opposition at Iwade on Sunday afternoon.
The side went into the ‘triple header’ having seen first opponents, Exeter Falcons leap frog them in the table going top with a Saturday evening win over Weymouth.  The pressure grew on John Sampford’s charges when the Falcons’ Adam Sheppard and Iwade first-timer Max Pankhurst held current Kent Kings’ reserve Jamie Couzins at bay in heat one to draw the opening race.  With Development League stalwart Nick Laurence having been drafted in as a late replacement by the Devon side’s management, there was just a moment of concern that maybe the title wasn’t easily to be grasped.

But with Alex Spooner again proving totally unbeatable and actually lowering the SDL track record in heat one and equalling the new best time in his second ride, the Kestrels were able to take flight. Jacob Clouting making a happy return to the Kent club fold reeled off two heat wins and Couzins recovered from that sluggish start with paid six from his next two outings.  The hapless Laurence proved very far from an ace in the pack and a 24-12 win for the hosts took them back to the top of the table and on the brink of title success.
To clinch the championship title now required just a draw from the next two matches but against the bottom side Weymouth there was never any real doubt with the Crayford Supporters-backed side taking a 25-11 victory with the positive development of William O’Keefe back after suffering a dislocated shoulder less than a fortnight ago to join the title party -Couzins temporarily making way.
It was Clouting and Canterbury-based Andrew Palmer’s 5-1 in heat four that was the moment that mathematically the SDL title was clinched – the first national silverware for the Kent club.  Appearing for the Wildcats was Martyn Smith, an Iwade-based Sittingbourne Crusader back in the 1990s.
Highlight of the second match was Spooner lowering the SDL track record twice more – breaking the magic minute mark in heat one and then shattering the record with a sizzling 58.4 in heat three.  This was just 0.4 off the all-time Iwade track record – set 13 years ago by none other than Kentish racing legend and latest Kent Kings’ signing, Paul Hurry.  Back in 2005 when Hurry set that longstanding time he was a top division, GB international.  Spooner’s form in the SDL has been sensational – finishing today still with his 100% win record intact: a Development League record 21 successive race wins.
Next up for Spooner, O’Keefe, Clouting and replacing Palmer, Couzins was the Isle of Wight Wizards – who’d strengthened up since going down to a league record 30-6 defeat to a rampant Kestrels’’ quartet in Ryde last month.  It did look though like lightning might strike twice though.  Spooner of course went through the card again (for a seventh match running); O’Keefe ensured he too was unbeaten by an opponent in a Kestrels’ race jacket with a second paid maximum of the afternoon; and the impressive Couzins also got a paid nine. That meant there were five 5-1s with the only blip coming in heat four when Clouting found himself unexpectedly at the rear.

It wasn’t a day for last places though – it was a memorable one for winners.  A league all-time best for Alex Spooner and a seventh SDL win out of seven for the Kestrels, with members of the Crayford Supporters’ group whose sponsorship has been so important to the side’s title success reminding everyone how this SDL win reprises the Crayford victory in the Southern Junior League, a full 35 years ago back in 1983!  That was the past; what’s been clear from this SDL campaign (with just Reading away to come) is how secure the future of Kent Speedway club is with such a great squad of youngsters.