English rider carries nation's speedway hopes

RISING STAR: Tai Woffinden is England speedway's brightest hope.
RISING STAR: Tai Woffinden is England speedway's brightest hope.

English speedway ace Tai Woffinden may be only 22, but he's already carrying the weight of a proud nation's hopes on his shoulders.

Woffinden is regarded by many in England as being the proud speedway nation's golden hope to end its 13-year drought of world championship success.

The now-retired Mark Loram was the last English world champion after taking out the honours in the FIM Speedway Grand Prix in 2000.

And as he prepared for the start of the 12-round 2013 world championship at Western Springs on Saturday night, Woffinden talked of the lofty expectations that have been placed on him.

"The pressure and expectation that comes with it is massive, purely because there hasn't been [an English champion in 13 years]," Woffinden said.

"They already expect me to be fighting for the next world championship ... I am only 22.

"But you just have to forget about it, move on and focus on the racing. To be honest I won't even care what other people think when I go into the world championship."

Despite being born in Scunthorpe, England, Woffinden spent much of his formative years living in Australia.

When he was aged three his family relocated to Perth, the city where he lived until his speedway dream became a reality.

Despite his young age, Woffinden is no stranger to the world of the FIM Speedway Grand Prix.

In 2010, aged just 19, he was given a spot in the series.

He has few happy memories, finishing a disappointing 14 and losing his spot amongst the world elite until now.

"I feel like I am ready for it now," he said.

"I have changed a few things ... [in 2010] I tried what I had and it didn't work. There were team issues, there were personal issues and race issues. It was a mad year ... but it's behind us and we are now looking towards the future."

Spectacular rises up the ranks are nothing new for Woffinden, who had earlier made a spectacular entry into the ultra-competitive English professional racing scene in 2006.

After spending 13 years living in Perth, Woffinden returned to the UK aged 16 in a bid to chase his dream.

But it was anything but smooth after he had broken his leg just a week before departing after "being an idiot".

"Then when we got to England, after that had healed, I jumped on a bike and crashed and broke the fibia, so I was out for a bit longer," he said.

"It all looked pretty bad."

Once he had recovered his fitness, officials at Scunthorpe offered him a guest ride against a touring American racing team.

"I got 12 points [in the meeting] and that was the start of it all," he said.

"Things went up and up [quickly] and they [the FIM] offered me a GP spot and I couldn't really say no so I did it ... it might have been a bit too early."

He was also racing internationally for Great Britain in the Team's World Cup in his teens.

Woffinden has only got to where he is by making a mountain of sacrifices.

Right back to his early teenage years, improving his skills on a speedway bike was his priority.

While his mates were at the beach or enjoying other outdoor pursuits, Woffinden was most likely found at the gym or the track.

As time has gone on, his deciation to his sport has seen him miss friends' weddings and numerous family celebrations.

"But they are sacrifices I have had to make to become what I have become. I am only 22 so I still have a lot of time," he said.

"If everything goes good I am planning on racing for the next 18 years. By that time hopefully I will have some money in the bank and I can go home and see all me mates."

Fairfax Media