Craig Cook is already counting down the days to the new Edinburgh Monarchs speedway season which begins at Armadale in March – with the 25-year-old Cumbrian racer knowing that 2013 could be the year that springboards him into the big time.
Cook, a former grasstrack star, has plotted his career path with almost clinical precision despite haven taken up speedway just five years ago. He will almost certainly swap life in the Premier League to step up full time in the Elite League from 2014 which is the gateway to riding in Sweden and Poland where higher earnings are on offer. More importantly for Cook, however, he can hone his track craft and widen his experience, and this could ultimately gain him his entry card into the Grand Prix series.
Cook will also ride for the Elite League’s Belle Vue Aces next season, doubling up with Monarchs and his bosses there see him as a future Aces captain, with manager Jason Attwood claiming: “The sky’s the limit for Craig.”
A fourth league championship for Monarchs next year would be a dream come true for Cook and would represent a fitting finale to his Premier League stint, but he underlined the importance of a final campaign in the lower division.
“I don’t want to go Elite League full time just yet because the money isn’t there nor are there enough meetings, so I have to keep myself ticking over in the Premier league, but next season will probably be my last. I need to move up in 2014 and I also need to be riding in Sweden and Poland.
“To be frank I haven’t got the equipment or sponsors to race in either of these countries at the moment – and you certainly don’t want to compete in Poland with just half-decent machinery. It would not make a very good impression, so I will wait until I have everything in place.”
Edinburgh’s decision to buy Cook’s contract outright from Workington Comets is now looking like one of the shrewdest deals they have ever done and, when he moves on, Monarchs should benefit handsomely from his sale. However, it hasn’t all been plain sailing. When Monarchs snapped Cook up in 2011 he allowed personal problems to demonise him after a promising start to the season and by the end of his first campaign it was far from certain whether he would be offered a contract for 2012.
Cook recalled: “I wasn’t very happy with myself and I wasn’t happy when I got on to the track, but I sorted myself out during last winter. My dad quit his job to be with me full time and it’s made the world of difference to me. I’m 25 and realised I had to grow up if I want to rise in the sport, and that meant no more partying or going out drinking.”
Cook’s new regime certainly paid off as he topped both Monarchs’ and the Premier League averages last season and his sheer endeavour culminated in him being crowned Premier League Riders Champion at Sheffield’s Owlerton Stadium in October. “That was a fantastic feeling,” said Cook. “Winning the trophy meant so much to me for various reasons; it was a very emotional occasion and the Monarchs supporters that day were fantastic, as they have always been to me since I joined Edinburgh.”
As Cook waits to ring in the New Year he is conscious of the expectation that has been placed on his shoulders, but is adamant: “It’s no good wanting to stay in the British leagues for the rest of your time. You have got to want to progress.
“I think I’ve exceeded my expectations already, which has surprised me because I have never been a great believer in myself but after this season I really did believe in myself and I know I can go far in the sport.
“I don’t want to be average or run-of-the-mill. I want to get to the top, so I have got to continue to believe in myself in everything I do. Hopefully this will get me to where I want to be in the future.”