Speeding to success
Kate Chapman meets speedway supremo Tai Woffinden, who has set his sights on claiming a record seven world titles.
He’s a three-time Speedway World Champion and the only British rider to achieve that incredible feat – but that’s not enough for Lincolnshire-born Tai Woffinden, who plans to firmly underline his place in the record books.
Bikes have always played a big part in Tai’s life; his dad Rob was a racer and, as a youngster, he enjoyed motocross as a hobby before turning his attentions to speedway.
Born in Scunthorpe, Tai grew up in Perth, Australia, after his parents emigrated when he was three. He was just 15 years old when he won his first racing title.
Since then his career has flourished; he’s captained the British speedway team, raced for clubs in England, Sweden and Poland and won his first Speedway Grand Prix championship in 2013.
Tai regained the title two years later in 2015 and when he secured it for a third time in 2018, he became the only British rider ever to win it three times, as well as becoming the youngest rider to have won the World Championship in the modern GP era.
“I started riding bikes when I was quite young – my Dad used to race bikes, so there were always bikes about,” says Tai, who is sponsored by Monster Energy.
“There’s a picture of me, when I’m about two years old, on a bike in the driveway – they were always going to be on the cards for me. At that stage it was just something to do, a hobby, but then it went on to become my job.
“Now it’s all about the titles; that’s what’s driving me. The current holder of the most world titles has six – I’m aiming to win seven.
“When I won in 2018, I was 28; Ivan Mauger who holds the record hadn’t even started by that age, so it’s nice that I’ve got a bit of a head start!”
Tai started out on motocross bikes – a form of off-road motorcycle racing – and then switched over to the junior equivalent of speedway, competed on an oval track.
“We moved to Australia when I was three; my Mum and Dad just wanted a better upbringing for me, as they felt the weather and lifestyle out there was much nicer,” recalls Tai.
“I started motocross when I was quite young and then I went to a friend’s house, where they had a track and just took to it; that was when I was about 12 and things just progressed from there. I joined a club and then won the Under-16 Western Australia Championship.
“The following season I had to make the decision as to whether I would travel over to the east coast to have a crack at the Under-16s title there, or go to Europe and start racing with the seniors and I decided that I would make the move to Europe.”
In speedway, riders race specialist 500cc bikes which have no brakes. Four, or sometimes six, riders compete on an oval circuit, with each race lasting around a minute.
On his return to the UK in 2006 Tai joined the Scunthorpe Scorpions in his hometown, before racing with the Rye House Rockets and the Poole Pirates.
In 2008, he joined a Polish speedway team and raced there and in the UK with the Wolverhampton Wolves.
In 2007, he won the British Under-18 championships and the following year claimed the Under-21 title. He was crowned British champion in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
“I love racing – it’s hard to say what speeds we’re reaching, but it’s probably nearing those of Formula 1,” says Tai. “I like it when I’m going around a corner as you’re on the borderline of being out of control, going ridiculously fast.
“That’s the best part of it for me – you’re in control but pushing the limits.”
Last year, during the defence of his World Championship title, Tai crashed heavily during a race in Poland and was badly injured, breaking his back.
But such setbacks do not keep true champions down for long. Having recently returned from Australia with his wife Faye and their two young daughters, Rylee (2) and four-month-old Callee, Tai is now focussing on his fitness and nutrition as he looks ahead to the 2020/21 season.
This year, Tai says he will be concentrating on racing in the Polish league with his current team Sparta Wrocław.
Renowned in the sport for his combination of flamboyant skill and raw courage, he’s also hoping to secure his fourth world title.
“I’ve got to a position now where I can look at my commitments. We’ve recently had another baby, so I want to be spending time with my family too,” he adds.
“By just competing in the Polish league, I’ll be racing at the weekend and a couple of nights, rather than three or four nights a week, so I’ll be able to retain a bit of normal life.
“As for training I’m looking at the fitness side of things, doing a bit of HIIT training, which is all about short efforts. But I’m always pretty active, when I’m back in Australia I run and swim a lot.
“There’s a lot to look forward to – lots more titles to win.”
Tai’s autobiography Raw Speed was published last year and is available from all good bookshops. For more information visit www.taiwoffinden.com