Mildenhall Fen Tigers riders past and present pay tribute to Danny Ayres
Every so often in sport a character comes along that makes a positive impact on so many that when they are no longer around their absence can be hard to accept, writes Graham Clark.
On Saturday, shockwaves were sent through the world of speedway following the sudden death of former Mildenhall Fen Tigers captain – and fans’ favourite – Danny Ayres.
Loved by his family and idolised by supporters, the 33-year-old was one of those truly unique individuals that was the epitome of what every speedway rider should aspire to be.
With his showman style antics and incredible will to win, Ayres was one of the last great entertainers of the sport and though his wild celebrations will no longer be seen on track, he leaves behind many great memories that ensure he will be remembered for years to come.
Having ridden alongside Ayres at Mildenhall Stadium in 2018 and last year in the Championship with the Scunthorpe Scorpions, current Fen Tigers captain Ryan Kinsley knows better than most what sort of loss the sport has suffered.
“I’ve ridden with Danny for the past two years at Mildenhall and Scunthorpe and there is no other rider like him. He was a one off, ” said Kinsley.
“If you were ever having a down moment he would always be the one to pick you up and get your mood going and get you back in that winning spirit.
“He would give you 110 per cent no matter what and I don’t think there is a bigger character in the sport.
“He has had a huge impact on my career over the last two years pushing me on. He has helped a lot of young riders progress, while he had a bond with fans not many others have.
“There is not one abiding memory I have as every time we were on track was an amazing memory.”
The word ‘legend’ is often overused in sport and though Ayres may have only been a Fen Tigers rider for the past two seasons, he cemented his status as exactly that according to co-owner of the club Phil Kirk.
Speaking on behalf of the management, he said: “Danny was loved by fans and management alike and was a true legend of this club.
“The connection between him and the fans was something very special and his total commitment to his local club could never be questioned.
“On a personal note it’s very hard to take in, I have lost a mate and will miss our chats and his stories on our track walks, speedway was a much better place with Danny around.
“We all send our love and condolences to his partner Jodie and their daughters Lilou and Anaiya, his father David and all the of his family and friends at this most difficult of times.”
Having helped bring Ayres, who made history last year by becoming the first active Fen Tigers rider to appear in the British Final, to the club in 2018, former promoter Kevin Jolly was excited to be working with him again in 2020 following a dream move to ride for the Ipswich Witches in the Premiership, alongside his Championship commitments with the Scorpions.
“Danny was just a larger than life personality that had the heart of a lion,” said Jolly.
“He was a real showman which speedway badly misses. He was a complex character but a lovely guy with it. He will be a big miss.
“He was one of those guys that you met once and stuck with him as he had an infectious character. He was loved by everyone and by God I wish he could see all these tributes.
“I was looking forward to working with him at Ipswich this year as I think he would have been idolised by their fans.
“In the British Final last year he did himself, his late mum and everyone around him proud. I’m sure he would have been there again this year. I feel deep down he was in for such a big season.”
Current Fen Tigers team manager Malcolm Vasey may have only had the chance to work alongside Ayres, who started out his speedway career with the Kent Kings in the 2014 National League, last season - but it was a period of time that will live long in his memory.
“When you are team manager you talk a lot to your captain and he was a very good one to deal with. Even when he wasn’t in the best of moods himself he always had time to help his team-mates,” said Vasey.
“You wouldn’t find somebody more committed. He he was a real ambassador to the sport. I can’t believe we won’t see him ride again. He was a manager and promoter’s dream.
“He had done the hard miles and got his dream move to Ipswich and I really think he could have been a top Premiership rider as he was a man without fear that was never afraid to give it a go.
“He took a real step forward last season. I believe he was the best rider in the National League last season and his heat 19 in the British Final when he passed Chris Harris was a stand out moment.
“For me though it was his ability to make good riders looks slow around Mildenhall with his trademark surges down the back straight I will remember him best for. “
While having a unique bond with those on the terraces, another area Ayres excelled in was his work with younger riders, of which former Fen Tigers rider Jordan Jenkins can testify to after spending time on and off the bike with him in 2018.
“He was the biggest character I’ve known in my short career and was a rider that was good to have on your side. For speedway to lose a rider like him is devastating,” said Jenkins.
“I was only with him a few weekends ago practising with him at Rye House and he was looking forward to this year and showing the world what Danny Ayres is all about.
“I helped spanner for him in 2018 when I was injured and just seeing how he wanted that extra edge was amazing.
“If he won by half a lap he wanted to win further next time but that was the sort of drive Danny had.”
Though the sight of Ayres tearing up tracks up across the country may be consigned to the past, his spirit will no doubt live on and one thing can be assured – a new lap record will soon be set around the speedway track in the sky by the sport’s ultimate Mr Entertainer.