PURTON teenager Darryl Ritchings may only have been riding competitive speedway for three years, but he is already making a name for himself in the sport.
The 18-year-old currently rides for National League table-toppers Dudley Heathens having signed to the Midlands club in 2009, and also signed as a full Swindon asset on his 16th birthday in 2010.
Ritchings bounced back from a difficult start to his racing career after suffering a fractured pelvis and damaged vertebrae on his Dudley debut, to claim the Heathens’ rider of the year award last year after a magnificent season.
The Heathens currently sit top of the league going into the National League play-offs, and Ritchings has more than played his part having recorded his first maximum under the watchful eye of Robin co-promoter Gary Patchett, who is also involved with the Wolverhampton-based club.
The youngster learnt his trade riding the tight training track at Swindon, and came into the sport with quite some pedigree as a three time British junior grasstrack champion.
But speedway is his main focus now, and Ritchings never considered devoting his life to anything other than racing his motorbike.
“I started off riding on the little track at Swindon, and it was pretty small but it was okay and I learnt a lot,” he said.
“Ever since I did that I always wanted to ride speedway.
“I did a lot of training over the winter a couple of years ago and went back to the grasstrack, but I wanted to ride speedway and since then that is all I have done.
“For me it is just the thrill of it that I love, and I know it is a dangerous sport to be involved in but I don’t let myself think about that too much.
“I was going to go to Newport to start my career but that didn’t happen, so I ended up going to Dudley as their number eight.
“I didn’t get too many meetings in, but it was a good experience because I did a few second halves.
“I had one meeting for Dudley, and I was leading a race and then had a big crash, and I broke my pelvis and damaged some vertebrae in my back. So it wasn’t the best start.”
The tough start to his career didn’t faze Ritchings in the slightest, and he has gone on to become a vital cog as Dudley finished top of the National League going into the play-offs.
But the teenager is ambitious, and has designs on competing alongside some of the biggest names in the sport one day.
“Dudley gave me a full-time slot last season and I ended up getting the rider of the year award, then they promised me a slot for this season and I didn’t start things off too well,” he said.
“I had engines problems and things like that but it has got better and I think it is going well now.
“I was considering going into the Premier League next season but I am not too sure about that at the moment so I might do another year of National League first and then go from there.
“I don’t want to push myself too quickly because I have a lot of time on my side.
“I want to be in the Premier League after next season and then the Elite League, but I am not going to set myself too many targets about getting there because I need to be patient.
“I want to get to the Elite League but that is a long way off at the moment, there is no rush though and I will take my time.”
And once Ritchings does arrive in the big time, there is no doubting where he wants to be riding and who he would like to emulate.
“If I could choose anywhere to ride in the Elite League it would be Swindon for sure, because I have been going down there and watching them for years. I have done quite a few laps there too,” he said.
“When I was younger my idol was Leigh Adams and I have always followed him.
“He was so professional in everything he did, and if I could have a career even close to what he had I would be very delighted, but there is a long way to go.
“Gary Patchett has been good to me and has given me some good advice, and Alun Rossiter (Robins team manager) has helped me out too with some engines and things like that, so it is great to have people to help me out.”
Swindon co-promoter Patchett has backed teenager Darryl Ritchings to go a long way in the sport after a superb start to his career, and wouldn’t be surprised to see him one day line up in a Robins race jacket.
Ritchings is currently riding in the National League for Dudley Heathens, where Patchett is a partner, and the 18-year-old has impressed during his time at Monmore Green, winning the club’s rider of the season award last year.
Patchett played a big role in the Purton youngest becoming a full Swindon asset on his 16th birthday in 2010, and believes he could one day line up for the Robins if he continues his development.
“His ambition and our ambition for him too is to ride for the Robins at some stage in the future, but it is a sport where he has to progress through the ranks,” he said.
“Now he needs to get some rides in the Premier League and convince a promoter there that he is worth a go, and if he can succeed there then you never know where his career might take him.
“He has done really well at Dudley and rightly won the rider of the year award, and if he carries on like this there is no reason why he won’t ride for Swindon one day.”
Ritchings learnt his trade on the tight training track on the centre green at the Abbey Stadium, and Patchett believes that experience has played a vital role in his development as a rider.
“Wolverhampton is a tricky track to master and not many riders can go around the white line there, but Darryl is able to do that and has mastered riding at Wolverhampton because he is used to riding around the tight training track at Swindon,” he said.
“Anyone can look good in practice, but you need to get out there and have the skill to pass and what you need to do at the gate and things like that, and Darryl is learning all the time and he has done really well.”