FULL-THROTTLE speedway racing is a family affair for
Tina Slattery. She started going to the track when she was just a toddler and now takes her own children along to watch the riders in action. They have come to share her passion for this fast-moving sport, where riders speed round a track with no brakes t
She started going to the track when she was just a toddler and now takes her own children along to watch the riders in action.
They have come to share her passion for this fast-moving sport, where riders speed round a track with no brakes to the thrill of the crowd.
Tina's enthusiasm for speedway is infectious and a chance chat over coffee with users of Ely's Larkfield Centre soon made her realise that they too could enjoy the races.
Tina, who works for Cambridge County Council's Learning Disability Partnership as a full-time support worker at the centre, has seen a special bond develop between the adults with learning disabilities and the fearless speedway riders.
"I started running a Friday lunchtime speedway club at the centre showing DVDs of the riders and everyone thought it was great," said Tina. "Now they have visited the track and we have had a rider visit and bring his bike.
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"We have collected photos and made scrapbooks and it really has been therapy for the users at the centre."
But when she first suggested the idea some of her colleagues were sceptical as to whether it could work.
It was doubtful whether fast-moving speedway could be accepted by adults with special needs, many who find crowds and loud noises frightening.
"I remember one of the chaps watching the riders going round the track with his hands over his ears," said Tina. "I was really worried that he was finding it all too much. But he said it was great and I realised he was listening to the vibration from the track.
"One of the chaps here is quite shy and he wouldn't go into the hall but would sit in the foyer for long periods at a time. As soon as I put the speedway DVD on and he heard the noise of the bikes he would join in. He really enjoys it."
At the Larkfield Centre there is a wall of photos, paintings and drawings of the Fen Tigers showing their special friendship with the users and staff.
Those working in the centre's woodworking room have also designed and made coloured discs which are used on the track to show the riders' grid positions.
Tina plans to take her group on another trip to the Mildenhall track this spring and teach them how to fill in the scorecards so they can learn more about the sport.
As a flag marshall she waves the chequered flag on the speedway track at Mildenhall and gives up more than 15 hours of her time on Sunday during the season for the Fen Tigers.
She also sponsors rider, Mark Thompson, and has created and runs his website.
When the Tigers are racing away from home Tina and her husband, David, and their sons, 18-year-old Michael and Aaron, 14, will be there to watch them ride.
For Michael, who is autistic, the speedway track has given him a sense of freedom.
Tina knows that her son will be watched over, not only by the staff but also by the regular crowd who have got to know him.
Michael gets a chance to help park the ambulances round the track and help out with other trackside tasks.
"It's the only place where I can let him have his freedom anywhere in the stadium and I can still get on with my job. It makes him feel important to be involved," said Tina.
Mildenhall Speedway co-promoter, Simon Barton, said: "It's a family sport and we try to get locally-based riders so that we can be involved with the community.
"This is our second year in the Premier League and we have started our trophy campaign with our recent victory over Somerset."
For more information about the Fen Tigers visit the website at www.mildenhallspeedway.com.
Mark Thompson's site can be found at www.markthompsonracing.co.uk. The Mildenhall stadium can be contacted on 01638 711777.