AN Stæchmann has a phrase that so sums up his introduction to the often secret world of the Ben Fund: “I was humbled by the whole experience.”
And that coming from an ex-rider who was completely underwhelmed with what the Speedway Riders’ Benevolent Fund actually did for those who felt they needed to the help of speedway’s principal charity, is quite something…
Jan, a man of many roles since his retirement from racing in Britain in 2005 after a 21-season professional career, is the newest addition to the board of Trustees of the SRBF (better and more simply known as the Ben Fund).
He has already attended two or three of the trustees’ meetings, more likely to be held over Zoom in these days where companies, businesses and similar charities are less likely to gather round a boardroom table with the spectre of the Covid-19 pandemic still casting its threatening shadow over lengthy group gettogethers.
Jan, who still lives over here, halfway between Crewe and Nantwich in Cheshire, admits: “It [being asked to join those running the Fund) was a bit out of the blue. I’m quite good friends with Paul Ackroyd and he sort of mentioned it when we were in Australia a couple of years ago and I didn’t think anything of it then.
“He came back and said he would like to explain the Board of Trustees and would I be interested. I thought I had enough voluntary work on my plate with the FIM and I was a bit hesitant, but I was pleased to be asked and I said it would give it a go. It’s such a humbling thing to be a part of it when you hear all the good that the Ben Fund is doing, all the stuff that’s not publicised as well, it’s absolutely amazing and more power to them.”
His decision to join Ackroyd, who is the Fund’s chairman, and fellow trustees Alex Harkess (Edinburgh co-promoter and former leader of the British Speedway Promoters’ Association), long-serving Wolverhampton owner Chris Van Straaten, ex-rider Kenny McKinna add Tony Noel, a past director of the Auto-Cycle Union (ACU) and the Speedway Control Bureau, doubles the contribution by those who have raced speedway.
Yet, and here he has been frankly honest, Jan admits that he was never the Ben Fund’s staunchest supporter during his riding career.
He confided: “It surprises me because over the years I have had a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Ben Fund. I have had my fair share of injuries and I was always knocked back off the Ben Fund and I had not had too much to do with them. As a rider I didn’t want to do the collections for it. I’ll put my cards on the table, it got to the point they didn’t want to help me, so why should I help them.”
It got to the stage where Jan actually refused to join his team-mates when they went round the terraces and stands with their helmet covers, collecting from supporters.
He admitted: “I point blank refused to do the collections.”
But that was then and this is now. It is commonly accepted that at one time, when the SRBF was principally run by members of the old Speedway Control Board, riders were left with the feeling that they almost had to have suffered life-changing injuries to get any help and the late Colin Pratt described, in graphic language, how he went to see the then chairman of the SCB, Mr. Nelson Mills Baldwin, a few months after the Lokeren tragedy in which riders Gary Everett, Peter Bradshaw, Martyn Piddock and Malcolm Carmichael were killed, to fight for compensation after it was discovered the mini-
BEHIND THE SCENES AT BEN
Former rider Jan Staechmann is a new recruit to the Ben Fund board, something he wouldn’t have thought possible during his riding days, as he tells PETER OAKES...
van driver, who also died in the Belgium road accident, hadn’t been insured.
Colin, who suffered a career ending neck injury as one of the fortunate passengers who was able to scramble out of the twisted wreckage, talked about that meeting shortly before his death, claiming: “He told me that the Board couldn’t do any more to help.”
The Ben Fund has, in all fairness, changed out of all recognition since those black days when they appeared to hand out as little of the SRBF cash as possible.
Today, quite rightly, the Ben Fund is there to help when there is a genuine case and a lot of that is down to the stewardship of current chairman Paul Ackroyd who took over when he stood down as a referee in 2007.
This year, so far,£34,150 has been paid out to 28 riders who have suffered racing injuries this summer, and that’s without counting the £5,000 gifted to ex-riders who have needed ongoing help.
There are several major sources of income: the proceeds from the annual early season Ben Fund Bonanza, the track collections (currently in full swing), bequests and one-off fund-raisers,
22 speedway star September 10, 2022