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Michal Przybylski. Working for Jarek Hampel for 21 years! (interview)

They make up the most delicate duo in world’s speedway. They are both equally important. Jaroslaw Hampel does his work on the track and Michal “Czarny” Przybylski does all the dirty work off the track. They are like an old married couple – always together, forever. There are times when they just say it as it is, for their own good. There is no other couple like them, with such a long working relationship. They’ve won some, they’ve lost some, they have seen it all. There is no time to rest on their laurels. See for yourselves, what Jarek Hampel’s mechanic has to say.

How many years by Jarek’s side?

If I remember correctly, 21 seasons.

Your paths crossed at Pila?

Yes, myself, Tomasz Gapinski and Jarek Hampel, we all have been born in the same year, 1982. All four of us were at the club at the same time, starting out. Jarek was coming over from Pawlowice with his people and we were locals. We started together in 1999, by the time Jarek came second in the polish individual championships in Pila and got a bronze medal at the junior world championship it was a full-time job.

Was it because you didn’t make it as a rider?

I did not make it to the license exam, I broke my collarbone during my last training at Pila. This was in October so the season had finished and the winter was long that year, the season started late and training sessions were sporadic. After a few rides, I had a couple of crashes and just had enough. In the nutshell, there was no great talent to be found in me, I was not a great rider. I was more useful in the pits, working on bikes.

Who was the decision-maker when it came to the team structure, Jarek, or yourself?

It depends. When we were just starting out, Jarek’s brother, Marcin, was working with us with another mate from Smigiel (Jarek’s home town). They didn’t hang around for long though. Speedway wasn’t as professional as it is now, back then. Some lasted two years, some stayed for four. This was influenced by various factors, some got homesick, did not like living on the road all the time. One year away could be a fun adventure but the following year some find tough. Irek Kwiecinski, for example, came all the way from Krosno, the other side of Poland. So sometimes it was Jarek who was looking for new solutions, new people to work with and sometimes it was the other way round, people got bored and fed up with the speedway life.

I understand that in your successful relationship nerves and quiet days did sometimes come out into the spotlight?

Of course, it happens to this day. Some do wonder if one of the fights will not end our relationship. It is normal that we may have completely different views on the same subject. In our case, it only takes 5 minutes in the van on the way back from a meeting to calm things down and get back to normal. It can look different on camera, can’t it? The viewers see a heated conversation and think, how the hell can those two work together? Jarek is no Nicki Pedersen, we have good relations.  

Bikes are not your only responsibility in the team?

Indeed. All the logistics – hotels, transit – are part of my job. I do have quite a few duties. Your typical manager deals with logistics. Mechanic goes home when he’s done with the bikes. I, on the other hand, after all the bikes are cleaned and packed away, sit down and plan the next week or two. When Jarek was in the Grand Prix it could get a bit hectic. When we rode at Cardiff and had the leagues the next day, one van was staying at home and the other one was making the way to the UK.

What if he gets back there…

This is a possibility, as Jarek will, as usual, start in all the qualifying rounds. We know that there is one place to take as a winner of the Golden Helmet in Poland. It would be good to be in the SEC as well. It’s great that we still have all these different goals, other than the Swedish and Polish leagues. You could fall into stagnation, otherwise. But luckily Hampel is an ambitious rider and he’s always looking ahead.

I respect Jarek for that. Despite all the pain he had endured in the past, he still has goals and ambitions. Some would say, take it easy, you’ve been there, got the t-shirt, take the easy line, but he fights on.

We know how his form is influenced by his equipment and bad timing. If your bikes are not set up as they should, you don’t know whether it will take you where you want to go. It’s a fact that the last season wasn’t great, especially that Jarek has such high expectations of himself. He believes he should be getting more than 10 points per match. The injury he sustained in the spring healed up well, there was no trace of it, but we have lost time. The weather had changed and we were chasing the season. With lack of riding time it was difficult to straighten things up.

Going back to your Wroclaw times, Andrzej Rusko kept saying that Jarek needs a good kick before every race to get him fired up. Do you feel the same, is that one of your jobs, to motivate?

In the past, when he was a junior, Jarek did need to be motivated or woken up a bit. Later though… When we had the best engines from Jan Andersson and had no issues with injuries, believe me, the mechanism was working perfectly well. I remember meetings when he started with a last or third place. Complete disaster. But he would come back to the pits, take his helmet off and say to leave it as it is. He knew it was all working well and I knew the next race will be explosive. And it usually was, no doping needed. Don’t forget Jarek isn’t as old as some think. This is not a time to rest on his laurels and think about retirement. I know how seriously Jarek takes his preparations and I am assured that it’s going to be a good year. Let’s hope for some good engines and no injuries.

Do you have some sort of unwritten agreement, according to which Jarek will give you a hint when it’s time to pack it in? To give you enough notice so you can get your career sorted?

We do talk about things like that. I’m sure I will see it in advance and act upon it. Maybe Jarek will say one autumn evening that it’s time, or maybe he will play it a’la Crump. When he will start to feel that speedway tires him more than brings him joy and will quickly pack up, after the season. In today’s speedway, the equipment plays a huge part, it’s not like in the olden days when a good rider could go on and carry on winning because he had the fastest bikes.

Bjarne Pedersen announced his retirement after 2020. Interestingly, people started to look at him differently – will he be more cautious now, or will he race as usual, will he stay true to his clubs and fans or will he just ride it out in safety…

I have been thinking about it a lot. Will ambitions prevail or will cold calculations take over? In all honesty, those shutting the throttle are endangering themselves more to those going flat out. It’s just a theory of mine.

Might not be just yours. At what stage does Jarek consult you before changing clubs?

Generally, after he’s made a decision. Money is not always the factor. He takes it all into consideration, the location, the distance from home, the club’s goals and whether he likes the track or not.

So, by staying at Leszno for the next year, you are actually hoping to make the team and ride all season?

Absolutely. We believe that we will stay in the club and all the talking about who is going to leave – Jarek or Brady Kurtz – is rather irritating. Jarek is very confident and let’s hope we will see the Jarek Hampel we all know and all the fans want to see. If Jarek wanted to go somewhere else he could have signed a good deal already.

Your workshop is based near Leszno.

Rydzyna, just outside of Leszno. I live close by, in Rawicz.

Tell me about your family?

Wife Zaneta and two sons: 18-year-old Jakub and Maks who’s 8. You should know of the older one, it is Kuba Miśkowiak, current Polish U-21 Champion.

It’s can’t easy to be working with Jarek not have the ability to watch over Jakub?

Not easy, but you can always help out from the sidelines. For now, his uncle Robert keeps an eye on him and leads him well. And I won’t be with Jarek forever. Besides, if you mix family and work, it does not always go hand-in-hand. It can get messy sometimes.

How about Maks, what is he into?

He plays football at a club in Rawicz.

Not going to make it to the track?

Can’t rule it out as he also enjoys riding motocross. But I have my reservations. We all love our sport, but we are talking about a very tough job that is often so overwhelming. It carries great risk and getting sponsors and funds is getting more difficult. When we were in the SGP it was much easier to get good sponsors and get good backing. The league is also an attractive advertising opportunity, but you have fewer options as you have to wear the club’s kevlars with their sponsors. 

Has „Czarny” the mechanic had any spectacular fails?

I’m sure I had some. Let me think… I don’t think there was anything drastic enough to stop him from winning anything major.

How about the biggest success?

Each good season, every good race is a success. But I think the sweetest of them all was the first Grand Prix win in Copenhagen (2010) and the silver medal that year. The medals we won after tasted good as well, but not the same. I can’t forget the Grand Prix of New Zealand in Auckland in 2013. Not many know that Jarek won it on a faulty bike. I was changing the oil and noticed that part of the timing chain was chewed up. This was just before the grand final and we had no time to fix it. I only had time to give Jan Andersson a quick call and ask him about it. He only said… he either gonna make it or not. We were stressing about it, whether he is actually going to make a start, and Jarek won it. We kept it quiet, so he knew nothing about it, otherwise, he wouldn’t go for it full gas. There is another thing we can call a success… We were always on time.

Exactly. Jarek isn’t known to be very punctual and working to deadlines. But then again, he always manages to get out of trouble and smooth things out with his charming smile and his friendly voice…

Precisely, he is one of those people, that can get away with anything. To me, this is the biggest challenge to get the logistics sorted out. I dread it when Jarek tells me he’s going with us to Sweden in the van. My calculations say that we have to leave by 5 and he asks me to pick him up at 6, I have to somehow make that ground up.

We won’t find another two like you in today’s speedway, with such a long career together?

I don’t think so. Wojtek Malak, who’s with Rafal Okoniewski now, was with Tomasz Gollob for a long time, Rafal Lewicki also stayed loyal to riders in the past.  

You have made a few trips to Jan Andersson with engines in your lifetime…

Indeed I have. In those Grand Prix seasons, I am not going to exaggerate if I say I was there once a week. Usually Tuesday mornings on our way to the Swedish League meetings. We would get off the ferry and make our way up to Jan to pick up the engines and have a chat about things. I think Jan retired from tunning too early. Jarek was the first rider to be told. This was his decision and we took it well.

This was also a long-lasting relationship.

We worked together for nearly 15 years. We had some great engines from Jan. Every time we’ve picked one up and put it in without testing, there were no faults or mistakes. Kowalski’s engines are also great, but they require different set up. I think if we didn’t pick up that injury last season, we would have it all worked out with the gearings and different set ups.

I’m sure you have heard the news about Martin Smolinski’s purchase of Jan’s machinery.

Yes, we have heard, but we also know that some of it ended up with Jacek Rempala too.

What are you going to ride on in the new season?

It will be Kowalski, for sure. We will see what else. I think we might have something from Ash-Tec (Holloway) and we always have an engine or two from Finn Rune Jensen.

Have you got your set routines if something (touch wood) bad happens? If Jarek doesn’t make it into the showers and is on his way to the hospital. Who’s in charge of the keys, documents…

We don’t plan things like that, because we don’t assume these things will happen. But if they do, it is down to me, I’m the one that goes with him and we leave the boys behind. They know what to do. We then call each other up and find out the next steps. We try to avoid all the other calls form all the people that want to know what happened. We just concentrate on the job in hand.  

What does a speedway mechanic do after his boss has a serious crash like Jarek had in Gniezno and has a 6-month break or longer? Do you then find another job or stay put?

We have been working together after that crash. In the beginning, we didn’t know what the future will hold, but as Jarek started to be mobile, on crutches, I was taking him to his rehabilitation or three-day consultations in Warsaw. Sometimes I was taking the bikes to Zielona Gora for others to use. It was still work as usual. It went quick. I must add that Jarek never let us down. There was never anything like: “Listen I had a crash so you guys find something else to do for now…”. We still got paid.

The team also consist of Piotr Domin, I take it you are still working for Jarek offseason?

Yes.

What about the future?

I’m not sure if I would like to do the same full time. But maybe I would have missed it?

Just like Darek Sajdak, who had sleepless nights working for Crump or Rickardsson and after a long break he made a comeback with Grigory Laguta.

Maybe I would get a rest too and would want to come back as well. I don’t think I would want to get back to the Grand Prix season though. This is a very hard task. Saturday – GP meeting. A normal fan watches on his TV on the sofa, we are working our asses off to get moving. We have Polish League the next day, at Tarnow or Leszno, for example. After that, another hard night to get the bikes ready for Sweden, we have to leave Monday before midday. We race on Tuesday evening and return to Poland. We’re usually home Wednesday evening. Thursday we have to start getting the bikes ready for Friday’s GP practice or another league meeting.

All week on one breath.

Working all year round.    

Is the missus happy with that? Does she follow speedway?

She’s used to it. She has to love it if her son is riding. But it all does get a bit too much.  

In that case, I won’t disturb any longer. I wish you all the best at work and I hope Jarek becomes the Great again.

WOJCIECH KOERBER

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