Ben Barker says he wants to end his speedway career with the Plymouth Gladiators after committing to the club for the 2023 season.
The 34-year-old Cornishman has always gone well round the Coliseum and it is a track he openly admits is his favourite on the UK circuit. But after a tough 2022, which ended prematurely with his controversial ban after testing positive for a banned substance, Barker is desperate to get back on the bike and give something back to the fans that love him.
“It’s not so much a case of being fixed up for 2023, it’s being fixed up where I wanted to be,” Barker said. “It’s great to be back in the Westcountry again and back at Plymouth. It’s my favourite track, I love the fans and I feel like, after what happened last season, I have to give something back, you know?
“Plymouth is my club; I wanted to stay in this league and I don’t want to ride anywhere else until I call it a day. It’s not just that, I have Mark Simmonds working for me and logistically, it is great as well. We are a package and it all has to fit into place with him as well.
“There are so many things that make it fit for me and Plymouth. I have always called Mark (Phillips) my Uncle Mark! But he is actually a cousin of mine and he was another reason why I wanted to come back to Plymouth.
“I am also on a good average for what I can do around Plymouth and what I can do all round the country really. It just fits nicely, so we will do what we can and get some silverware next year.
“I think Mark and Gary have put a good team together and there’s no reason why we can’t have a good season. There are some that will up their averages this year and some will maintain. Some will improve a lot by having the likes of me, Richie (Worrall) and Kyle (Howarth) in the team to feed off and that is what they have got to do.”
Barker was in excellent form for the Gladiators last season when the season was curtailed prior to a meeting at Oxford on July 27. He was suspended with immediate effect and a Speedway Control Bureau court hearing then issued him with a ban, which expires on March 1, in time for Barker to return for the 2023 season.
“It was absolutely doing my head in,” Barker said. “But it’s over and done with now and it is not even at the forefront of my mind.
“At the forefront of my mind is getting back on the bike and going out and doing what I have to do and put some entertainment on for the crowd and show them what we can do and what they were missing.
“I was going to put a press release out about it all after it happened, but my attitude is the sooner it’s swept under the carpet and the sooner I forget about it, the quicker the season will come around.”
Now, Barker will spend Christmas with his family before getting himself in shape and off to France for some time on the bike before the new season begins.
“It will have been quite a break before I do get back on the track,” he said. “I am planning to go to France for a week with the bikes and that will be the next time I go on them. I expect that will be late February.
“There are no other plans really other than to do a bit of work, get fit and then we will go.
“France is ideal as you are able to ride there because of the weather and the tracks are really good. You are able to ride on them seven days a week.
“You can’t guarantee that it will be dry there, but it is a lot more guaranteed than staying in the UK, that’s for sure.
“You can’t use Plymouth and the nearest one you can use like that would be Leicester or Scunthorpe. But I don’t feel they are the right places to go, you want something a little bit different and I’ll get that in France.”
Team manager Gary May said it was a no-brainer to include Barker in his plans for 2023. adding: “It was a no-brainer because Ben is virtually unbeatable around Plymouth. On his day, no one catches him and you can’t let an exciting rider like that join another club and I think Ben loves riding at Plymouth.
“I know he is related to Mark, but he loves the club and just wants the club to do well. He was always phoning me, asking me who we had as guests last season and you just felt that he wanted the club to do well.
“It was really unfortunate with Ben last year, but you can’t go against the rules and it was a real shame for the Plymouth fans as well – and for me and Mark – because, with Ben there, I think we’d have done even better.
“The riders that came down may have got nine or ten points, which is all well and good, but Ben can get you 15 and that makes all the difference in the end in knocking another club out. But we have to move on and we just hope that Ben doesn’t do something like that again.”
As things stand, Plymouth are the only club that Barker has committed to for 2023. But he added: “There’s no one else at the moment, but that can all change.”
The Gladiators are still on the lookout for sponsors in 2023. The club have a number of packages available at varying cost, so If you are keen to get involved, then contact Mark Phillips on email@example.com or call 07766 700810.
Image credit: Jon Sproad