One of five Americans to win the individual speedway world championship, Billy Hamill hope
Speedway motorcycles are arguably the most specialized racebikes in the world. With limited ground clearance, no transmissions and the ability to turn only left, an oval dirt-track is the only place to ride one. There’s also the matter of learning to get around a track on a motorcycle that doesn’t have any brakes.
It’s not surprising that there are less than a handful of manufacturers producing these methanol-burning, 500cc four-stroke singles. And choices are even more limited for the younger set. Like many other aspiring speedway racers, Billy Hamill started out by building his own bikes and buying hand-me-downs from older riders.
That was more than 20 years ago, and things are almost the same today. Almost, because Hamill recently started a program for prospective junior speedway racers called the Billy Hamill Hagon Shocks Speedway Academy, held at the Inland Motor Speedway in San Bernardino, California.
“We’re trying to introduce the sport to a wider audience and make it easier to get involved,” Hamill says. In conjunction with Martin Hagon of Hagon Shocks in Great Britain, Hamill bolts a Chinese-made, 140cc four-stroke single into a standard speedway frame equipped with smaller wheels and other kid-sized items.
Perhaps more so than any other form of motorcycle racing, speedway emphasizes skill over horsepower. As Hamill notes, “You don’t necessarily need the best bike to be the best rider. A talented rider will stand out. Speedway is about balance, finesse and feel. A speedway bike is relatively simple. If you’ve got that natural ability and balance and that feel for the motorcycle, you’re going to make it.”
Top speedway veterans like two-time world champion Bruce Penhall join Hamill as guest inst
Parents might be understandably hesitant to put their offspring on a motorcycle with no brakes, but Hamill insists it isn’t dangerous: “I think speedway is a relatively safe sport at this level. I’m not going to say it’s safer than motocross, but you’re not flying 50 feet in the air!”
While adults who’ve ridden motorcycles for a while often have trouble adapting to a speedway bike, kids are usually easier to teach. “It depends on the kid. Girls are very easy to teach because they’re more receptive,” Hamill acknowledges. “It’s different than a motocross bike. The biggest thing is to get off the seat. Get as much weight as possible off that rear wheel to make it easier to slide.”
It certainly looked easy for 15-year-old Andrew Kingswood, who had just two years of play riding on an old Honda TL125 trials bike under his belt before watching his first speedway race and deciding to try it. What’s it like riding a speedway bike for the first time? “The first time I tried it out on the track, it was difficult just trying to get a feel for the bike,” he admits. “The second time, I really listened to what they’d said, like I needed to go faster down the straightaways. When I tried that, it became a lot easier. I’m not quite sure where it’ll go from here. I’ll hopefully do the Academy a couple more times and see where it takes me.”
Should prospective racers consider speedway as a career path, Hamill is quick to point out a little-known fact. “A lot of people in America don’t realize how lucrative speedway really is,” he observes. “A top speedway rider competing in Europe can make over a million dollars a year.”
Because it’s free for kids age 8-14, putting on the schools currently costs Hamill money, but he does it because he loves the sport and wants to get others involved. “We’re here to stay, and I think it’s only a matter of time before we produce another world champion,” he says. How fitting it would be for the 1996 world champion to nurture a future champ while introducing other rising stars to the sport!
For more information on the Billy Hamill Hagon Shocks Speedway Academy, see the school’s Facebook page or call 760.308.8124.