Published: 14:17, 28 July 2020
| Updated: 15:18, 28 July 2020
Bosses of Kent Speedway have paid tribute to rider Danny Ayres who began his career at Sittingbourne.
An inquest heard on Monday how the 33-year-old dad-of-two had taken his own life after failing to overcome his 'demons'.
Danny started his racing career with Kent Kings a few weeks into the second season at Central Park Stadium in 2014.
Club spokesman Derek Barclay said: "At 28, he was certainly a later-than-is-usual starter to the sport having only taken up speedway earlier that year at a training school at the Rye House track. But his impact was immediate.
"Perhaps unsurprisingly for someone with such limited experience, his early rides saw a fair number of falls.
"But he immediately became a crowd favourite by the way he remounted, sometimes seemingly in one movement, and carried on racing.
"It gave him one of his catchphrases that he came up with himself - 'from arsey to classy’. He quickly broke into the team and became one of the stand-out newcomers in the National League that season."
The following year he claimed his first national title as part of a Kent Kings duo with Ben Morley when the pair won the club’s first piece of silverware as best National Pairs.
He also finished runner-up to team mate Morley in the National League Riders Championship held at Rye House where he had learned to ride 18 months earlier.
Danny had one more season with the Kent club in 2016, before being poached by Glasgow.
Mr Barclay said: "Danny was always a hugely popular visitor when he came back to Kent in the National League with Mildenhall, the team he rode for the past two seasons.
"He will always have a place in the hearts of the Kent Speedway fans. He was the club’s first home-grown discovery and its most successful.
"More than anything, he was a showman, something lacking in modern-day sport. Danny was old-school. He realised his job as a top-level sportsman wasn’t just to ride and win, which he did a lot of, but to also entertain.
"He had a brilliant relationship with fans old and young with many becoming almost like family to him."
Danny hit the big time last year when he reached the British Championship at the National Speedway Stadium in Manchester and picked up a whole new army of fans in front of a global TV audience.
But Mr Barclay added: "Behind the ebullient personality, always doing all he could to please people, Danny clearly had demons, finding it especially hard to cope when close season or injuries during the season kept him off his bike. When his mother Ann sadly she passed away due to cancer this had a deep effect on him.
"But with two beautiful little daughters and his partner Jodie Pledge it was still a huge shock when we learned he had tragically lost that fight with his mental health issues."
He said the inquest on Monday highlighted the opportunities apparently missed for Danny to get the help he desperately needed.
Mr Barclay added: "Mental health is still a major issue in our society and within sport and among young men in particular."
A fund-raising project organised by Kent supporters and backed by riders and clubs throughout the sport raised £2,445 raised to support Danny's dependants.
Kent co-promoter and Danny’s first mentor Len Silver said: "I was shocked, devastated and sad beyond words when I heard of the death of my good friend Danny. Speedway and the world is a much deprived place after this awful loss of a great entertainer and great guy."
Sean Knight of CTA Fire who were the Kent Kings’ sponsors during Danny’s time with the club, said: "Sometimes people come along and light up your life in unexpected ways. From the first moments we saw Danny Ayres riding at Kent we knew there was something unique about him. And we were right. He was one of a kind.
"He was a true born entertainer and racer. The only guy who got back on the bike before he'd fallen off. That, of course, was in his early days.
"We watched through the following years as he grew into becoming one of the most natural and incredible talents speedway has seen.
"Only a few short years into his career he was leading multi-British champion and grand prix winner Chris Harris into the last bend of a heat in the British Speedway final.
"That race will go down in history as one of the most memorable ever. He came so far, so fast and will live on in our memories and hearts. Thanks for all the entertainment.”
His partner Miss Pledge said in a statement: “It wasn’t Danny who made the decision to end his life; it was his demons in his head. It would have been impulsive and not of sound mind, a decision that he would never have made if he had been sober."
Senior coroner Nigel Parsley at Suffolk coroners court returned a verdict of suicide. Mr Ayres had been found dead by Miss Ayres at their home on February 1. The cause of death was hanging.
*For confidential support on an emotional issue, call Samaritans on 116 123 at any time.
More by this authorJohn Nurden
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