PASSION IN FASHION
Jamie Courtney promises to take Cheetahs back to the glamour days with style. By PHIL LANNING
T was like Peter Stringfellow was wrestling with Bet Lynch in Jonathan Ross’ wardrobe.
The purple and yellow skin tight leotard Oxford race suits of 1998 were undoubtedly the worst threads on treads in speedway history.
Now, almost a quarter of a century on, and the big news is that the Cheetahs are well and truly back in fashion and soon-to-be strutting down the Championship catwalk.
It is a remarkable comeback for Sandy Lane, once the home of the supermodel professionals Hans Nielsen, Simon Wigg, Martin Dugard, Jason Crump and Leigh Adams.
More importantly for British speedway, it is the return of one of the jewels in the crown of the sport in the UK.
With a twist in irony and in total contrast to those sickly suits of ’98, Oxford are back under the control of a man who doesn’t like the limelight.
Businessman Kevin Boothby secured a 10year lease at the Sandy Lane site in June and appointed Jamie Courtney as promoter to usher in a new Cheetah chic.
It is a Courtney family trait to stay out of the spotlight. His father Mark, one of the greatest racing natural talents, went on to be a pivotal backroom brains for Grand Prix stars including three-time World Champion Crump.
Now Jamie and his brother Scott have adopted the same approach since successfully taking over at Berwick and now the Cheetahs.
Jamie, who raced for Oxford in 2004 and 2005, said: “I believe this is huge for the sport in the UK, that excites me a great deal. We need positivity and a return to Sandy Lane in that stadium is fantastic.
“But I’ve made it clear from day one, this is not about me, this is about the people of Oxford who have made this happen.
“It has been so rewarding to see the response from the people in the local area, the reaction in some ways has been overwhelming. That has underlined my decision to take it on.
“There’s no doubt it has been a massive task to get to this point, a lot of hard work and at times soul-searching. To take on this size of opportunity is a big undertaking.
“But I know this is just a great chance for everyone involved to make Oxford Speedway work again. This is a great area for the sport, a lot of passion and now we are back.
“Without those people this wouldn’t have happened. We would have lost that stadium and the Cheetahs forever. We must thank every person involved in the successful campaign to bring speedway back to Oxford.
“Without their tireless work over the past 14 years and commitment to keeping the Cheetahs name alive, it would be very difficult to be in the position we are now.
“We know what speedway means to
• New Oxford promoter
Jamie Courtney with his son Ruben. Picture: TAYLOR LANNING
people in Oxfordshire and we are determined to make everybody proud and put speedway back on the map.
“We’ve got big plans to make Oxford Speedway a community club where everyone is welcome.
“When I raced for the club there were two supporters’ clubs who worked so hard for different reasons but with such a big commitment to keeping the club going. It’s that sort of spirit that I know exists in this club and I want that to return.
“We’ll be making more big announcements including signings, but right now it gives me great satisfaction that the people of Oxford have their club back.”
Courtney, 33, was also quick to stress that taking on the Cheetahs does not have any impact on his promotion at Berwick. Both will dovetail without conflict, if not making life a tad hectic.
The brothers have done a sensational job at Shielfield Park, engaging a terrific family club and taking it to a top class marketing and excitement level for the first time since that illfated flirt with the top flight in 1991, while their base was a Berrington Lough.
Jamie added: “It’s very important to both clubs that I stress that this is a completely workable situation. In actual fact, it doesn’t change the way I work much at all as far as travelling is concerned.
“I’m based in Oxford and come up to Berwick for the weekends at the moment as it is. That won’t change.
“The only thing that makes it complicated for time in different areas is my main occupation with running Minibike Champs. But we already have an excellent organisation in place and I don’t foresee any issues.
“We’ve got a wonderful team of people at Berwick who worked so hard to make the club what it is. I will build a similar set-up at Oxford to make sure it ticks along and becomes a success. It will take time but we can achieve that.”
What is so blatantly apparent is the refreshing new ideas and concepts that reel off his tongue, a young promoter positively oozing with marketing gloss and potential.
The Courtney family have methanol pumping round their veins and they are, without doubt, making a huge impact to drag the sport kicking and screaming into the digital age of entertainment.
Jamie adds: “I’m very passionate about speedway and making sure that it goes to a new level which it so desperately needs right now.
“We’ve lost some big tracks and stadiums over the past few years. To get Oxford back is a massive step back in the right direction.
“They had the likes of Nielsen, Wigg, Dugard, Crump and Adams. They won league titles for fun and it was the glamour club in the mid-80s. I want those days to return, for Oxford to be fashionable again.
“I think that is possible very quickly. There’s lots of hard work to be done. But I don’t believe it is any harder than getting the stadium and speedway back on track. The rest is very do-able in the short-term.
“I return to my point, it’s the will of the people. There is desire and drive from everyone in Oxford to make this work. It’s people that make businesses work, that’s my philosophy.
“I had probably my best racing days at Sandy Lane. I do remember wiping out Henka Gustafsson in the Elite League, that wasn’t one of my fondest memories!
“But the club was good for me and I always felt it was a big club. It’s been a sleeping giant for 14 years and now we’ve got the chance to bring it back to its former glories.
“We will have our own ideas, we believe that speedway needs a fresh outlook on how it brands and sells itself. That’s what has worked at Berwick and we’ll do the same at Oxford.
“It’s going to be an insanely busy winter and it has been pretty hectic to get to this point. I think this has been on the go since June and has been a mammoth project. But it will be worth it to see bikes around Sandy Lane next March. The people of Oxford deserve that so much.”
But Jamie was also quick to quash one rumour that definitely won’t be returning from the previous century.
He laughed: “The purple suits aren’t coming back, no way. I’m not sure we’d get any riders if that was the case.”
The Courtney family are a breath of fresh air in this sport. They also know how to cut the cloth accordingly to make their business work.
November 20, 2021 speedway star 3