Speedway racer Ty Proctor is making a return to the circuit after a 16-month break. Morris Lubricants writer Charlotte Vowden finds out why the 2021 season is going to be such a significant return and discovers how he would like his story to inspire change within motorsport
Ty Proctor is taking a break. It’s been 16 months since the title-winning speedway racer has been out on a circuit, and he’s only completed four laps. Ty’s return, in his own words, has been “extremely eventful” and he needs a little time to adjust.
“I was all over the shop,” says the 34-year-old. “I’ve thought about racing for all those months, but I’ve never been off a bike for that long. I’ve forgotten to breathe and relax, when you do those things, that’s when you perform at your optimum. I was tense.”
During the 16 laps that follow, the Morris Lubricants racing ambassador finds a comfortable and confident state of familiarity between himself, his bike and the track beneath them. It’s a sign that he was born to do this: “That was the best I’ve felt in years. Speedway is a release for me, that adrenalin rush of sheer speed is something I always look forward to.”
Sacrificing the “buzz” of sliding into bends on a bike that accelerates faster than a Formula 1 car to prioritise work and volunteering for the NHS during the pandemic, Ty also chose not to take part in behind closed doors meetings between lockdowns.
This decision, he says, gave him the opportunity to establish a new balance between work, life and racing that he hopes will make him happier and more financially independent going forward. Ty’s “intense” 2021 timetable will see him work full-time and race in the evenings and at weekends.
“After a major sponsor pulled out in 2019 things got tough – I had about £100 to my name and paid for my VISA to work here. I’m not the only one in motorsport that’s had to deal with being on the back foot financially, but that pressure took away from why I started racing in the first place – my love of riding motorbikes.”
By his own estimation, Ty is “about halfway through” his career, and this next phase will see him dedicate more energy to laying down permanent roots. “When the day comes for me to retire I don’t want to look back and be bitter about the sport because I’ve got nothing. I want a home and my partner and I want to be at a certain level in our life before we have kids.”
Racing up to 130 meetings a year on circuits across Europe, Ty pursued the Grand Prix dream for the majority of his twenties but the lonely reality of living in hotel rooms took its toll. “I avoided the party lifestyle because I didn’t want to be that child prodigy that disappeared because they lost focus.”
In 2013, Ty broke his neck. “I sat down with my parents and girlfriend and said if I get seriously injured or die doing this, I don’t want you to be bitter or upset because this is the life I’ve chosen. Anyone that races any form of motorsport should not be scared of death or getting hurt. You’ve got to accept that. If you don’t, you live in fear and will never get to where you want to go.”
Ty’s experience and mindset is akin to that of fellow Morris Lubricants ambassador Guy Martin, who is determined to become the world’s fastest person on a conventional motorcycle – event if it kills him. It was following a crash at the Ulster Grand Prix that left him in hospital with a broken back (for the second time) that Guy started plotting this challenge, which you can read more about here.
After six months in recovery, Ty was back on the bike with a more mature mindset, but difficulties renewing his VISA in 2015 resulted in a temporary return to Australia. This time away led him to the conclusion that his solo ambition of securing a Grand Prix podium was no longer what he wanted.
This year, Ty will be racing his thirteenth season in the UK and his third with the King’s Lynn Stars in the SGB Premiership. He’s also signed with the Leicester Lions, who are tipped as the pre-season favourite to win the SGB Championship. “We race a team sport, not an individual one, and the thing I want most is to have success in the teams I ride for.”
Describing a speedway bike like “nothing else” on two wheels, Ty confirms that it takes an extreme level of core and upper body strength to maintain control – racing millimetres apart at speeds of up to 70mph is not for the faint of heart. “My risk level has come down. I’m more calculated and I’m more consistent.”
To maintain peak performance, Ty swaps between six engines depending on the surface of the track he’s racing on. “Our bikes only have front suspension, so you’ve got to have an engine with more horsepower that works when the surface is deep, grippy and loamy, and another one that works when it’s slick.”
Competing in up to six individual races during each session, Ty typically changes the Morris Lubricants Race C40 oil he uses at the half way point. “Speedway bikes have single cylinder engines that run off methanol so the engine runs really hot. They’re under a lot of strain, so changing the oil – about 800ml per drop – helps cool things down and keeps everything running well.”
It was over 15 years ago, when Ty was racing in Australia, that he first caught the eye of Morris Lubricants. “Their support has been massive, I use every product that they’ve got,” he says. With a global distribution network, the company was able to provide Ty with a reliable supply of product during his European tours. This included Workshop PRO Solvent Cleaner, MD4, Carb Cleaner, Fully Synthetic Chain Oil, Surface Conditioner and Solvent Degreaser. “Morris helped me everywhere because I was able to get product everywhere. It was a burden off my shoulders.”
Now realising the extent to which he has had to battle to fit into, thrive, and survive in the world of speedway, Ty wants to open up the conversation around mental health, bullying on social media and the importance of educating the next generation about the difficulties a career in motorsport can involve.
“In speedway everyone has a story,” he says. “I want people to understand who I am as a person. On the track I’m blunt, focused and serious, I’m there to do a job, but off the track, I’m actually a fairly open person and have a sense of humour. I tried to put stuff up on social media all the time but it was too much pressure, particularly after a bad race or during a bad run.”
“It’s important for young riders to know that it’s not about chasing followers – or engaging with bullies.” This, he believes, is one of the hardest challenges the next generation face. “If a kid has shown promise, that comes with a pressure to win every race. That sits on you, and if you’re getting negative comments made at you on a social media platform it’s going to add to that pressure. We shouldn’t take it personally, but it is still there in the back of the mind.”
Impressed by fellow Morris Lubricants ambassador and go-kart racer Catherine Potter, who is funding her motorsport career by upcycling old pistons and tyres, Ty believes it’s vital that riding speedway should be approached like running a business “because you’ve got bills to pay and that needs to be communicated with kids,” he says. “Catherine’s got her head screwed on and the fact that Morris is helping her is so cool. My advice; give the sport you love everything that you’ve got, make sure you’ve got a plan B, and don’t think that you’re a professional before you’re a professional.”
In the future, Ty plans to go in search of a world championship title in European Long Track motorcycle racing. “It’s important to have something to focus on in order to give you the drive you need to succeed,” he says. A much faster sport than traditional speedway, Long Track takes place on larger circuits up to 1000 metres. “I’ve ridden in the best leagues in the world but I still want that success, I still go to bed at night dreaming of it. It’s going to take a lot of effort but I think I can do it.”
For now, Ty’s focus is firmly on 2021. “My new chapter is starting. The Australian mentality is ‘let’s have a crack at it and see how we go’ and fundamentally, life is what it is. You have to live it to the fullest of potential.”