ONE of Britain’s best speedway riders of a generation – and a former Eastbourne Eagles star – has died as a result of a track crash in Poland on Sunday afternoon.
Hastings-born Lee Richardson, who still lived in the town, died after he was thrown from his bike while racing for Rzeszow at Wroclaw in an Ekstraliga meeting.
The crash caused internal bleeding and breathing difficulties and he died in hospital that evening.
Here, in Britain, in the Elite League, he rode for Lakeside and had been instrumental in the south Essex team putting in a strong early challenge in this year’s title race.
Richardson, 33, was known throughout speedway as ‘Rico’. He learned much of his speedway trade at Arlington as a youngster but at the age of 16 in 1995 he signed for Reading.
He did eventually ride for the Eagles when, in 2008, he captained the team to victory in the KO Cup final over Poole. Rico’s father, Colin, had a long association with the Eagles.
Lee’s death has seen the wider speedway community as a whole unite in mourning, with tributes coming from fans and riders alike.
Leading the tributes was world champion, American rider Greg Hancock, who wrote on Twitter: “Unreal news. I just heard.
“It doesn’t seem real and another innocent one is gone.
“Our thoughts are with the whole Richardson Family. RIP Lee.”
Former world champion and Eastbourne rider, Dane Nicki Pedersen, said: “RIP Lee. You were a true gentleman, always a lovely person to talk to and work with. All my thoughts go to Richardson family. Not fair at all.”
And Britain’s Gary Havelock, who was world champion in 1992, said: “Devastated to hear the tragic news about Rico. He was a great team mate and a good man.
“Our thoughts are with his family at this needy hour.”
Eastbourne Speedway will hold a minute’s silence in memory of Rico tomorrow (Saturday) before their match with Swindon. If any supporters would like to send a sympathy and condolences card to Lee’s widow, Emma, and her family, they can be left at the speedway office by the turnstiles on Saturday evening. The cards will then all be delivered to Emma.
In a statement, the club’s management said: “Our thoughts are very much with Lee’s family and we send our heartfelt condolences to them.
“We know all Eastbourne supporters will be as distraught and devastated as we all are.”
Eagles rider Lewis Bridger was particularly devastated. Coming from Bexhill, he was a close neighbour of Rico. He and Rico regularly exchanged banter on Twitter and since Sunday Bridger has tweeted a number of times including these: “Rico always said to me if he was a little older he would have loved to be my mentor”
“RIP. Lee Richardson charity bands will be available soon, donations welcome which will go towards something in his remembrance.”
“RIP RICO top top bloke in the sport. I looked up to u so much man. I’m in tears right now I really don’t want to believe this.”
One of Richardson’s last tweets was on Saturday night, to Nicki Pedersen, who had just won the Czech round of the Speedway Grand Prix series.
He told Pedersen: “Well done mate, see you Tuesday.”
Tragically he never did.