TWO years ago Craig Cook had never even sat on a speedway bike. Now he is one of the brightest – and busiest – young talents in the business.
The 22 year-old from the tiny Cumbrian village of Cleator is fast making a name for himself around here, but then being an instant hit is nothing new to a man oozing class on two wheels.
Cook is a three-time British Schoolboy motocross champion who was forced to turn his back on that discipline due to a lack of earning potential.
He also snubbed the chance to go motorcycle racing when turning down an invitation to join the Red Bull Rookies series aimed at unearthing future stars when 16.
Had things worked out differently Cook could have been riding in the World Superbikes or Moto GP by now, but rather than rubbing shoulders with the likes of Rossi, Stoner, Haslam and Toseland he finds himself making waves on the shale.
Cook is a man in demand as he races at all three levels of British speedway. He turns out for Buxton in the National League, local club Workington in the Premier League and now Panthers in the top flight.
It is no wonder he admits his career has gone ‘a bit crazy’ but judging by what he has produced so far, the Cook report makes rather good reading.
He said: “One thing has led to another and speedway has just exploded for me.
“I went to the Premier League Fours up at Workington back in the summer of 2008 and in 10 minutes I was hooked.
“The place was heaving, the atmosphere was cracking and the racing was brilliant. I knew right then that I wanted to have a go at speedway so I got my hands on a bike and the rest is history.
“I had been thinking of doing it for a while and I’d had a pair of boots for a year before I finally got a bike in the August.
“I had a couple of skids on the beach near home and starting going around to second-halves to get a few rides.
“Workington signed me as an asset but I was left twiddling my thumbs in the winter. You do motocross all year round so I was a bit lost without any speedway.
“I emailed Buxton to ask for a team place for last season. They had never heard of me but I promised I would do a good job if they took a gamble on me.
“I turned a three-point average into a nine-and-a-half and got a few meetings for Workington too. Now this season it is really taking off.”
Cook will be hoping to sample another high courtesy of the speedway drug tonight when making his fourth Elite League appearance in quick succession.
Cook is again selected at number six for Panthers as they host Belle Vue (7.30pm) at an Alwalton track which left him spellbound when making his home debut last week.
Cook bagged two heat wins in the 57-36 drubbing of reigning champions Wolverhampton and is now eager to bounce back from a pointless Monday night outing when the teams met again at Monmore Green.
“The Elite League is really hard work – especially the travel because most of the clubs are down south,” Cook added. “It is three hours just to get to the closest track, Belle Vue.
“And the standard is unreal. I have never been frightened on a motorbike until I rode at Peterborough for the first time last Friday.
“The speeds we were doing around the track was unbelievable but I had a good night with a couple of wins.
“I was delighted to get 14 points from my first three meetings in the Elite League for Peterborough, but I was gutted to come away from Wolverhampton on Monday with nothing.
“Trevor Swales told me I was being too hard on myself, but I know what I need to do and it is frustrating if I can’t do it.”
But that minor gripe aside, Cook is more than happy with his lot. He has no regrets about opting for a career in speedway and has shown his commitment by already going full-time.
Cook continued: “I rode in the European Championship and the Schoolboy World Championship in motocross, but there isn’t the money in it.
“It might have been a mistake to turn down the Red Bull Rookies because I could have been in a big championship like the World Superbikes by now, but sometimes you do that when you are young.
“Anyway I’m loving speedway now because every race is a minute of sheer adrenalin.
“To do that four or fives times a night is such a buzz. It’s far better than spending three days in a field for a couple of races at a motocross meeting like I have done loads of times.”