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Images of Speedway Grand Prix Race Director Phil Morris from the Scandinavian GP

In Depth: Meet SGP Race Director Phil Morris

Sep 142018

Every two weeks for seven months a year, thousands of spectators gather to watch the top 16 speedway riders in the world go bar-to-bar as they battle it out for the world speedway championship. It’s a big show; hundreds of staff, tens of TV networks, hours and hours of work, and one man brings it all together.

Phil Morris enjoyed a modest but successful speedway career. He was a good rider, a solid points scorer at domestic level, but never hit the heights of the world championship. Now, he’s arguably the most powerful man in the series, and certainly the most hard working.

We caught up with the Speedway Grand Prix Race Director to find out more about his role, his work and his story.

"My heart is in the sport, I was a rider for 20 years and then when you retire it’s a big loss and a shock to the system."

Firstly, Phil, what is your role in the SGP series?

I’m the Race Director which means I have full executive control over the event from a sporting side. The track, the pits, riders, the FIM jury, that’s all under my jurisdiction. It’s my job to make sure that the track is safe to ride, that the pits are safe and meet all the criteria they need to, the rules are followed, the electrics work, the tapes work as they should, the radios, air fences – everything! 
Then during the meeting it’s my job to make sure it runs smoothly and on time and that everyone is as safe as possible – it’s not easy!

How did you find yourself in the role?

I was a speedway rider for 20 years and once I’d retired I got into team management, and I was playing golf one day when out of the blue I got a call from Switzerland asking if I’d like to do this job. I obviously said I’d be interested and they said ‘great, your interview is midday tomorrow in Geneva!’ so I booked myself a flight and I was there. I think they called me at 5pm and I was there for midday so it was all pretty quick.
It was a bit of a shock and I didn’t really know anything about the role, I didn’t know anyone else who was in the process, I just went along and the interview went well and they offered me the job that day. It’s a total honour and a privilege and I’m really lucky that the FIM put their faith in me and gave me the chance.
My heart is in the sport, I was a rider for 20 years and then when you retire it’s a big loss and a shock to the system. You have an affinity with the fans and when that stops it’s a big void, but the job I have now, I still get a buzz. It’s probably as close as I can get without jumping on a bike. I don’t take it for granted at all, if you could pick a job in speedway after you retire this would probably be it and I love it. It can be stressful of course, but I enjoy it and I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. 

" We are trying to modernise and we’re always looking ahead to see what we can do to enhance the series and we’ve tested a few things this year that have been good."

Talk us through a Grand Prix weekend for you…

I need to be at the track first thing Thursday morning so that means flying Wednesday evening normally from my closest airport, Cardiff, then it’s straight to the hotel to get a proper night sleep. 
Thursday is a pretty big day really, even though the riders don’t arrive until Friday. We have lots of staff meetings, meetings with the organisers, meetings with the promoters, I check the track safety and make sure everything is where it should be. I check the safety areas, the pits, the air fence, the press room – I have a huge check list to go through and I have to do it all. Wifi, passes, everything! It’s an important day.
On Friday I head back to the track in the morning and do a few odd jobs and then the focus shifts to the track. I work with the staff and check the starting gates and the fence – I take a slow-mo video of the starting gate so I can be sure it’s working properly and going up evenly. The FIM jury arrive on the Friday so I make sure everything is prepared for them, then we have the official draw in the afternoon.
After that we have our first international jury meeting and then we run to a practice schedule, normally between 75 and 90 minutes, and really that’s all about making the track as close to race conditions as possible. It’s frustrating for me if the track isn’t anything like what it will be for the race, so that’s a big focus. Then it’s some debrief meetings and often a dinner with the organisers or the local promoter – I don’t tend to get to bed early!
Saturday is actually possibly the easiest day because we’ve done all the preparation. I arrive at the track, check everything over then we have a production meeting that runs through the whole show minute-by-minute, then we’ll have another jury meeting and a meeting with TV. After that I hold the riders briefing, where it’s just me, the referee and the 18 riders and we talk about all sorts of things, sometimes it’s not just about this race. We have a good relationship and I always encourage them to give some feedback so that’s a good chance to have a chat.
That’s when the tension builds really, you can sense the atmosphere getting going and after we run the parade we have a 10-minute countdown for the race.
During the race it’s about making sure we run bang on time for TV and every four heats I’m out on the track making sure it’s okay, or trying to change it, improve it, whatever needs doing. Then we call the top eight, do the semi finals and finals draw and at the end I’ll take the top three to the podium and sit back and watch them celebrate!
After that we do some technical checks; engines, carbs etc. We’re very hot on engines, you always hear rumours about big engines but nobody would chance it in the GP’s because we’re really on it. Then we have a final jury meeting to confirm the results, deal with any protests, just wrap things up really. Normally I’m finished about midnight and I can pack my bag!

Finally, where do you see the GP series going in the future?

Well we have a really solid product and you don’t fix what isn’t broken. I love the fact that every point counts for the riders, every point they score goes on their overall total so you never have a dead rubber. 
We are trying to modernise and we’re always looking ahead to see what we can do to enhance the series and we’ve tested a few things this year that have been good. Timing equipment, audio, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t but you have to try.
Obviously a big focus is on locations and we want more outside of Europe. Whether that’s Australasia, the Middle East, USA, it’s not simple. People think you just find a stadium and plonk a speedway track in and people will buy tickets but it’s not that easy and you have to make sure it’s the right location. We’re working really hard and we have a new country being added to the calendar next year and probably at least one in 2020 as well, so we’re making progress and it’s only going to get bigger and better.