POPULAR former Newport Wasps speedway rider Barry Burchatt is fighting for his life after a horror smash at a grass-track event in his native Kent at the weekend.

The 20-year-old is in a critical condition after suffering serious internal injuries.

He was due to be moved tonight from the intensive care unit of Ashford's William Harvey Hospital to a specialist cardiac ward at London's St Thomas' Hospital.

His father David Burchatt told the Argus he and his family wanted to thank the hospital staff for all their efforts and said they remained optimistic he would pull through.

Mr Burchatt was at the track on Sunday when his son suffered severe damage to his chest.

He said: "The chain snapped on his machine and Barry tried to get out of the way - it was hard to see what happened because of the dust - but he was hit by another bike.

"It was a racing accident, we knew this could happen, but Barry's a tough little lad and he's young and fit so we've got to be positive "We are going a little into the unknown but we are hopeful of him pulling through although we know there's a long way to go."

Farnborough-born Barry spent last season in the Premier League with the Wasps and had signed for Cumbria's Working-ton Comets on loan from the Rye House Raiders just a fortnight ago.

Mr Burchatt said Barry had planned to sign with the Wasps on a full-time contract for this season but a well-paid employment offer made to the recently qualified plumber proved too tempting to turn down.

Barry had been spending more time concentrating on the day job rather than speedway.

His father said he was grateful to all the well-wishers who had contacted Barry's family with their messages of support "We've had so many texts and phone calls of support - a few from Newport. It is nice to know people care," he said.

"I can't mention Newport without thinking of poor old Tim Stone (the Newport Speedway promoter died from a heart attack last month, aged 54). That was absolutely tragic."

Workington Comets team manager Ian Thomas said: "He is a smashing lad who is already hugely popular among the rest of the team and our thoughts are with him and his family."

Comets owner Keith Denham said: "I think Barry's injury puts things into perspective.

"It's shocking and even though he's just been with us for a fortnight he had settled in really well.

"I got to know him and his father pretty well in just a short space of time and they are both smashing people.

"We are all praying for his recovery."