Richard Lawson is the star performer as speedway riders come together to remember Danny Ayres at the Mildenhall Stadium
Richard Lawson ensured his first appearance racing at the Mildenhall Stadium was a memorable one on Sunday after storming to victory in front of a packed crowd at the inaugural Danny Ayres Memorial Meeting.
Despite having never turned a wheel on the shale at the West Row venue, the 36-year-old proved the man to beat in the meeting dubbed ‘Danny’s Day’, which was run in memory of the former Mildenhall Fen Tigers captain who took his own life in February 2020.
After racing to four successive race wins to secure one of the two automatic spots in the final, Lawson then had to settle for second best for the one and only time behind fellow unbeaten rider Danny King in a pulsating heat 20.
An entertaining semi-final saw Cameron Heeps and Connor Mountain take up the remaining two spots on offer in the final at the expense of Zaine Kennedy and Kye Thomson to ensure three ex-Fen Tigers would line up in the decider.
Try as they might though Lawson, who rides for the King’s Lynn Stars in the Premiership and Poole Pirates in the Championship, was not for stopping.
Making the most of an electric start from gate three, Lawson quickly took up the lead before defeating runner-up Heeps, who confined King to third, following a late race pass.
Lawson, who rode alongside Ayres for the Glasgow Tigers in 2016, said: “I felt pretty good off gate three in my heat and that’s why I chose that in the final.
“I was pretty confident of making a good start from it.
“We were all pretty level in the first bend but my biked hooked up and I was just able to come across Danny and cover the move and ride where I wanted to at the right time which was great.
“I’ve really enjoyed racing here and I’m sure everyone has had a good time. I think Danny would have been proud of us today.
“He would have loved to have been involved though he might have been disappointed with some of our celebrations. However, I don’t think we could have bettered his as he loved it.
“Hopefully there will be another meeting next year as I look forward to defending my title.”
As for runner-up Heeps, who was making his first start at the track since 2012, he admitted he was over the moon to finish second and delighted to be involved in such a special event.
He said: “To be fair I just loved coming back to have some fun as I’ve probably had the toughest year and a half I’ve had.
“When I got the call up I thought why not go back to where it all started for me in England to put on a show for Danny.
“I started off with a win then I went a bit mellow for a couple of races. I managed to come through the semi-final and then to finish second in the final I was over the moon.
“I didn’t have too much to do with Danny but he was always great to chat with and was full of laughs.
“It was refreshing to have someone like that in speedway and to do something like this to honour him is wonderful.”
The meeting, which began with solo spin from retired rider Luke Bowen on one of Ayres’ bikes together with the scattering of some of the former Fen Tigers star’s ashes on the start line, was hailed a success by the late rider’s partner, Jodie Pledge.
“I thought the lads put on a right show and that there was some real decent racing. We put some of his ashes on the start line to ensure Danny was there in spirit,” said Pledge.
“Danny would have loved to have raced in this meeting and he would have been all over the back of those in the line up.
“I want to thank everyone as I have been blown away by the support. I want to thank the riders and Laurence Rogers for helping organise the event along with many other amazing people and especially the fans as without them it wouldn’t work.”
While a final total of how much was raised is yet to be revealed from the event, which also saw current Fen Tigers rider Alex Spooner claim top honours in the Who D’Ayres Wins Challenge, Pledge hopes everyone felt more connected to the man who meant so much to so many.
“This has taken over my life to be honest but I was just concentrating on getting it right for Danny,” added Pledge. “We had the pits open for fans to meet the riders as Danny loved to interact with the public as in his eyes no one was better or worse than each other.
“There were people who came to this meeting that didn’t know Danny well but I’m hoping they went away knowing a bit more about him and got an idea of the entertainment value he brought to the sport.”