ALMOST as soon as he was able to walk, Darryl Ritchings could be found charging around the Abbey Stadium terraces pretending to be his early hero Jimmy Nilsen, but this year the Purton teenager will be looking to emulate his idol on the other side of the safety fence.
Having attended his first grasstrack meeting to watch his father Nigel when he was only a week old, and visiting Blunsdon for the first time not long later, it seems the teenager was destined to follow in his dad’s footsteps and be a racer himself.
And so he progressed, taking to the grass and winning national titles on the way before being handed a guest spot with Newport in speedway’s bottom tier in 2009. The night ended badly as Ritchings suffered a broken hand, but that didn’t stop him as he was soon back on the bike to enjoy two seasons with Dudley, followed a successful year with the Isle of Wight which saw them pick up the Islanders’ rider of the year award.
After all that Ritchings is about to make his debut for his hometown club and, having had to wear ear defenders during his first few years watching speedway due to his fear of the noise, the Purton rider knows the season-opening Elite Shield clash with Poole will be an emotional moment for he and his family.
“I can’t explain the feeling really because it’s just a dream come true. I’ve been coming up to watch Swindon as long as I can remember so to ride for them is something really special,” he said.
“I was just able to walk and I remember charging around up here pretending I was a speedway rider, wearing ear defenders because I was frightened of the noise. I was a week old when I went to my first grasstrack meeting with my dad and I was at speedway soon after that.
“It’s going to be amazing to ride for Swindon and I think when It comes to the first meeting I will be pretty nervous, but at the moment I’m feeling pretty good at the moment.
“Swindon takes priority for me at the moment. I live two minutes away and coming here and scoring points is what I want to do. Swindon is it for me.
“This is a big thing for me and my family because everyone has made a lot of sacrifices to get us to where we are now, so if I could just make them proud I would be really happy.”
While Swede Nilsen was his early hero, the man Ritchings really looks up to is club legend Leigh Adams. And while emulating the immaculate Aussie is a long way off right now, the new reserve has lofty ambitions.
“My idol was Jimmy Nilsen but after he left it was Leigh Adams, that was who I loved to watch,” Rithcings said, “Since Leigh left I’ve replicated his bikes a few years ago and I always looked up to him. He was so well prepared and so professional. His bikes were always immaculate and that’s what I’ve based my career on him so far.
“It would be amazing if I could end up like Leigh Adams and be Mr Swindon Speedway but that’s a little way off for me at the moment. If I can just score a few points for Swindon I will be very happy.”
TAPES-UP: PICK UP YOUR COPY OF TODAY'S ADVER FOR AN EIGHT-PAGE SWINDON ROBINS SEASON PREVIEW