Dan Gilkes says there was never any doubt that he would return to Plymouth Gladiators in 2023 after his maiden campaign with the club was ruined by injury.
After the signing of Richie Worrall for the forthcoming campaign was announced by the club at the final meeting of 2022, Gilkes becomes the second rider to be confirmed by the club as team manager Garry May builds a side that he hopes can challenge for silverware in 2023.
The 20-year-old made an impressive start to life as a Gladiator, scoring heavily both home and away. But he suffered a nasty, season-ending crash in the away win at Scunthorpe on April 29, which ended his season almost before it had started.
The likeable Gilkes suffered five broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a broken and displaced humorous bone in the crash, but after recently undergone a further operation to remove the plate work in his arm, Gilkes is on the road to recovery and building up his fitness to be in the best shape possible in 2023.
“I wanted to get things sorted as quickly as possible, just so you have ease of mind going into the season and going into the winter and Christmas break sorted,” he said. “You know where you are then and you can try and sort out your sponsors and everything like that for next season.
“For me, it was a tough year after I had my injury at the start of the season, which ruled me out for the rest of the campaign. Obviously I was trying to get back for the end of the season, which was my goal, but given how bad my injury was, that wasn’t doable and as soon as I told Plymouth that I wasn’t able to get back racing this year, they were straight away talking about next season and it feels right to come back.
“The month I had there went well and I really enjoyed my time at Plymouth with the way the fans were towards me, the team management and Mark (Phillips) and Gary (May). A key thing – especially when you are a young rider starting out in the sport – is track time, especially at your home track. Coming to Plymouth last season gave me that opportunity to really get dialled in at my home track – and riding for them in the National League as well – that really helped me.
“For the month I was there, they were really helpful and coming back for 2023 was a no brainer from the moment they got in contact.”
Gilkes is also looking forward to rising for the Plymouth fans once again, after they supported him so wholeheartedly following that crash and raised thousands in a collection that was held at the Coliseum not long after his crash.
“I had only been there for a month and for a rider that’s only been there for a short time, to have the collection and the money raised down at Plymouth and also on the GoFundMe page – and to have the mental support and messages and things – was greatly appreciated,” he said. “It blew me away and while you can get the treatment – and as good as it is – through the NHS, to come back quickly, you really have to go private.
“I saw a private physio, surgeons and specialists and without all of that support and financial support, then none of that would have been possible. I have just had the plate work removed from my arm from the crash in April and at the moment, I am just working on my recovery.
“It has been a week since my surgery and I am still a bit tight from all the stitches and things, but once they are removed, it will be a case of getting back to it properly and getting ready for the season.”
For team manager May, there was never any question of asking Gilkes to be part of the team in 2023 after he showed glimpses of his potential in 2022.
“He was always 100 per-cent in my plans after the way he rode last year and with the average he comes in on you can’t let that rider go anywhere else,” May said.
“The way he is as well, he 100 per-cent wants to be a speedway rider and he just had to come back. Me and Mark did everything we could to get him to come back.
“He is like a Dane. The Danes are faultless, their equipment and workshop is spotless, everything is 100 per-cent, he is not like an English rider and eats fish and chips on the way home… I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a health bar or a protein shake!
“He had a horrible injury last year, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but hopefully he will learn from that. Up until then, he was absolutely fantastic scoring ten points from reserve away from home – he had to come back.
“I am really looking forward to working with him and seeing him push on again. Dan beat some big riders at Plymouth and I think he can do it again.”
Image credit: Jon Sproad