Big Interview: Nature and candles – how race ace Tai Woffinden relaxes
He may be the outspoken tattooed triple speedway world champion used to flying around corners at break-neck speed – but there is a calmer side to Tai Woffinden.
“I love garden centres,” he reveals in an in-depth interview with the Express & Star. “My friend’s got one with a huge olive tree in a pot plant with bird feeders on it.
“You just sit there and watch it. It’s a getaway from life, we just switch off, turn our phones off and watch the wildlife.”
“Even before we had Riley, me and Faye went to garden centres.”
Woffinden is 28 now, and family life is beginning to take priority.
Riley is his one-year-old daughter, and when she crawls over to interrupt this interview, like all proud parents, the speedway champion can’t help but show her off.
“She was one recently,” he says. “We got her a tonne of presents, we did a Peppa Pig theme and took her to a big garden centre in Nottingham, she was loving it.
“Obviously I’ve not been there that much because I’ve been away racing a lot but we’ve been so lucky, she’s such an amazing child.
“When she’s teething she doesn’t winge. Unless the tooth’s cutting she doesn’t winge. She sleeps through. It’s unreal. She did six steps today.”
The stresses of fatherhood can be taxing, which makes Woffinden’s achievements last year even more impressive.
Crowned world champion for the third time in his illustrious career, he is now the most successful English rider to have ever graced the sport.
But as he reveals, it took its toll on family life.
“It was cool because it was a hard one to get mentally,” he reveals. “With three or four rounds to go the pressure was there. I put pressure on myself to be successful.
“After I won, Faye told me that in between the (final two) rounds in Germany and Torren we were at each other all the time.
“I was like a live wire, the smallest things would annoy me and that’s all because of the pressure I was putting myself under to win.
“There’s all these behind the scene things nobody knows. Silly things like that, me and Faye being ratty with each other.
“Even though you’re not thinking about it, you are subconsciously.”
Woffinden was crowned world champion in 2013 and 2015 before last year’s triumph, but he’s equally pleased with all three victories.
“Every year is different, every year has its own challenges,” he said. “None of the years have been the same.
“2013 was my first world title, it was almost like a shock. 2015 I walked it. No problems.
“Last year I walked the first half of the season, I was scoring 16 to 18 points, I was unstoppable.
“But there’s always been two halves of the season, you either start good and finish bad, or start bad and finish good.
“I don’t think you can score at the highest level for the whole season. I don’t think anyone can do it, I’ve never seen anyone do it.
“When you’re struggling you need to hang in there, that’s when the Championships are won.
“My worst grand prix in six years was last year in Slovenia, I got five points, which is so bad for me.
“I was devastated on the way home, angry at myself, pissed off at the world.
“I woke up the next day and thought ‘ok, we learned a lot that night’. We made a mistake with the set up.
“It was about hanging in there for the tough rounds, I did what I needed to do in Germany and Torren.”
Woffinden returned to form in the final two rounds, winning 16 and 15 points respectively to finish 10 points ahead of his closest rival.
But this year he has his sights set on something he hasn’t done yet, successfully defending his title.
“I got on the podium in 2016 but I haven’t done back to back,” he acknowledged. “That’s the challenge. That’s what I’m doing this year, I’m ready, I reckon I’ve got it.
“I said I’d be world champion last year so bet on me. Everyone was thinking what an arrogant arsehole but I did it.
“I’ve had two cracks at doing it back to back and I know why we didn’t do it so we will next year.”
There are two sides to Woffinden. On the one hand he is a relentless racer, driven to succeed and focused on making history.
But he’s also aware of a life outside of speedway, and his new responsibilities as a father. Which is why, rather bizarrely, he’s set up a company selling scented candles.
“I work with a company in Poland,” he revealed. “He’s the biggest candle producer in the world but he does grave candles because in Poland they’re really religious.
“I said they don’t do that in England, I like scented candles. It’s six of my favourite smells and one for Faye, cinnamon and gingerbread.
“There was a box of 400 smells and I sat there and smelt them all. I like the flowery ones.
“It’s just the first batch, they’re in garden centres and flower shops. But I haven’t pushed them to my biggest market. We’re feeling the water, it’s just another business on the side to tick over.”
Woffinden is acutely aware his speedway career won’t last forever, and with a family to think of now, he’s preparing for the future.
“There are a lot of speedway riders that finish racing and have nothing,” he said. “I don’t want to be one of them guys, I want to make sure if I pass away in 15 years the girls are set up and ready to go.”
But how does he find the time to be speedway champion, green-fingered gardener, and candle entrepreneur?
“Make the time,” he shrugs. “I’m always flat out. Faye hates it, she likes to chill a bit more and spend a bit of time together.
“She hasn’t finished her food and I’ve already got my jacket on saying ‘come on what’s next?’”
Hopefully a fourth world title, making him the first champion to defend his crown successfully since Nicki Pedersen in 2007 and 2008.
But there’s now more to his life than speedway.
“Riley hasn’t seen the bikes yet,” admitted Woffinden. “I sat her on a balance bike and she loved it, but not the big ones. The noise would probably scare her.”
After all, speedway meetings are quite a bit louder than garden centres.