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About the Author
John Chaplin spent 40 years working on major national newspapers, including the Mirror and the Daily Mail. He was Deputy Editor of Mail International and is the author of five books. For more than 50 years he has been a writer and columnist on Speedway Star, the world’s leading Speedway magazine, and is the founding editor of Vintage Speedway Magazine. He splits his time between living in Spain and Lincolnshire.
Read an Excerpt
The Man Behind the Myth
By John Chaplin
The History PressCopyright © 2012 John Chaplin
All rights reserved.
'If he lost a race it was never his fault. He was convinced he was the best.'
Distinguished sports journalist, author and friend of Ivan Mauger
As far as I'm concerned, Ivan is the guv'nor. Maybe not the most exciting rider to watch: that is, not a true racer like PC (Peter Collins) or Peter Craven, but unquestionably the most professional, most committed and ambitious rider I have ever seen.
They say 'Once a World Champion, always a World Champion' and some of Ivan's contemporaries were happy with that. Not Ivan.
He wasn't satisfied until he beat Ove Fundin's record of five solo world titles and if he had known Tony Rickardsson was going to come along and equal his own record, he would have made sure he won a seventh.
As it was, he won nine solo world titles and six more in team or pairs and rode in a record 52 World Finals. I saw him quoted once as saying, 'The only title worth winning is the world title', but he won everything else bar the National Lottery.
We first met back in the mid-1960s when I was doing speedway for the Daily Mail and he was riding for Newcastle. He was working on his bikes in a workshop in Mike Parker's house in Upper Chorlton Road, Manchester, and I don't think he stopped working throughout the interview.
The determination he showed in coming to England as a newlywed and virtually penniless 17-year-old, and again after failing to make a go of British speedway the first time, established his strength of character and ambition. Ivan changed the face of world speedway. He helped to get rid of its grease-monkey, Hell's Angels image because he introduced coloured leathers and because he was smart and articulate. Above all, he was a brilliant motorcyclist and a born winner.
He was a brilliant gater. He knew that whether races were started at the drop of a flag, with an elastic band or whatever, his reflexes were better than most. And he developed his fearless 'death dive' into the first turn. For me, Ivan's greatest strength was his self-belief. If he lost a race or a World Final, it was never his fault. It was either down to a mechanical failure, the track conditions or sheer bad luck. He was convinced he was the best. He knew every trick in the book and a few others besides. He was a master when it came to gamesmanship and kidology. There were times when he was utterly ruthless – another characteristic of a true champion.
Ivan helped develop emerging talents such as Ole Olsen and Peter Collins, but if they got in his way on the track, heaven help them. I never took much notice of the second-half races when I was covering Belle Vue's home meetings for the Manchester Evening News, but it was Ivan who insisted I forget my interviews in the pits to take a look at the teenage Peter Collins. Ivan knew PC had the makings of a World Champion, even at 16. Just like himself.
PC's greatest day was winning the world title in Katowice in 1976 but his greatest achievement was finishing runner-up in the wet in Gothenburg the following year, a week after having a leg almost severed by hitting a drain cover at Belle Vue. A few weeks earlier, when PC won the Inter-Continental Final at White City and Ivan struggled to qualify for Gothenburg, the guv'nor played a psychological card. He sowed a few seeds of doubt in Peter's mind when he said, 'Well done, Peter, but remember we both start equal in the World Final.' As it happened, they didn't, because of PC's injuries, and after Ivan's victory in Sweden, PC told him he had been lucky because he could have been excluded in his race (the controversial Heat 18) with Ole Olsen.
Ivan said, 'If you've got the time, I'll tell you about all the titles I would have won if I hadn't been unlucky – including last year in Poland.'
Ivan's durability was incredible. He knew he wasn't top of the pops, but he was top of the charts and he stayed there, continually confounding his critics. His then record-breaking sixth world title in 1979, just ahead of his 40th birthday, was another reward for his skill and dedication. It probably ranked alongside his first world title and his third, when he proved the Poles were not unbeatable on their own tracks. And he turned average teams into championship-winning sides with his attention to detail and leadership.
I had the good fortune to work with him regularly from a journalistic point of view for five years, at Belle Vue, Hull and when he was involved in the indoor meetings at Wembley. I also had the privilege of editing the brochure for his 30-year World Jubilee Series. Our paths have not crossed since I saw him at [Belle Vue boss] Jack Fearnley's funeral in Southport several years ago and feel guilty I didn't drop in on him on Australia's Gold Coast when I was covering the 2008 Rugby League World Cup.
Ivan and his wife Raye came to my wedding 36 years ago and we still exchange Christmas cards. There have been some great World Champions in speedway. And three of them came from the same city in New Zealand. But there is only one Ivan Mauger. The Guv'nor.
'I was left with my panties round my ankles. We were just kids and we weren't put under Ivan's wing at Hull'
Master entertainer, American international and World Finalist
As a teenager I looked up to Ivan and the next thing I knew I was on the same team as him at Hull, along with Ian Thomas and Brian Larner. It was probably one of the best things for me because it was a hard time. There was Shawn [Moran] and me in the same team together and he got sold to Sheffield halfway through the season. I was left with my panties round my ankles. I was just a 19- or 20-year-old kid from California.
When Peter Collins won the World Final I was just an average fan of speedway. Not too many people in America know what speedway is even today. If you mention speedway they think you're an Indycar driver. I got into it in the 1970s.
We did a tour down in New Zealand and I kind of got pretty close to the family. Raye got me my birthday present down there and she's a little sweetheart of a person. He's a different person, like we all are when we've got our helmets on. He was a real gentleman and a real grandfather.
That first year at Hull was really hard for me. I was surprised that Ian and Brian didn't put Shawn and me under Ivan's wing a bit and kind of give us a hand because we were blind. I had some mechanical knowledge. I knew how to work those JAWAs – Shawn knew a little bit – but the weapon of choice was the Weslake push rod. Kelly [Moran] was a different story. Put him on anything ... but I wasn't as talented as those two. Shawn and Kelly were a lot more talented and I just had to work harder.
'He's a really, really good ambassador for the sport.'
Former Poole captain and English international
To be honest with you, during the time when I was with Ivan and rode against him he was the most professional bloke I ever met, and he brought to my attention a lot of things in reference to how he prepared his bikes, his set-ups. I've seen him run last in a race in a World Championship, he'd come in, sit down, check everything and then go out and win the next four races. Absolutely brilliant.
I think one of the best things I remember about him was when I guested for Belle Vue in about 1972 and I won a couple of rides then my bike blew in my third. He came across to me and said, 'What's the problem?' I said, 'The rocker's gone.' And he said, 'Right, don't bother with that, borrow one of mine. Do what you like with it – change the handlebars or whatever. It's more important for me to make sure Belle Vue win.' And we did win.
I rode his bike and did very well on it. Come the second half and we got into the final and he says to me, 'That bike's going too good. Can we change bikes?' So we did and we had a race in the final and he beat me by about half a tyre on the line. Fantastic.
The guy's totally professional and a fantastic ambassador for speedway, in my opinion. A really, really good one. He was never secretive. He would always talk to you. Among the things he told me were 1) whenever you go to a track find out how they do it and ride it in your head. And 2) whenever you go to Poland always take a Mars bar and don't eat their food.
'His bike was a load of rubbish.'
Wimbledon, West Ham, promoter at Oxford and London White City who inherited the family track at Eastbourne
I can recall very vividly when Ivan came down to Eastbourne. He'd virtually been thrown out of Wimbledon, and my father [Charlie Dugard] took a liking to him. I'm sure Ivan will confirm it – when he arrived his bike was a load of rubbish and my father had to do the timing for him. He only had a pencil on him to measure it but he was very good with engines so he set Ivan's timing up for him and he was a much improved rider. He progressed enormously from there and went from being totally unknown to being the most outstanding rider in the league [which the magazines of the day called the Junior League].
Ivan was always very self-assured and incredibly focussed, but also very pleasant with it. I know he had a reputation for being a bit bolshie, but he was never like that with us.
'A World Champion walked in my shoes.'
Australian multi-international and World Finalist
I am 84 now and it's over 40 years since I gave up speedway, but I still have a few memories of Ivan. It was in the late 1950s, about 1958, that I was riding for Southampton at Wimbledon. I was in the pits early doing a few things to my bike when Ivan walked up and we started to chat. I said to Ivan, 'How are you going?' and he replied, 'Not so good. Ronnie Greene won't give me enough rides.' He then asked me how he should ride the track. I told him to watch the top riders. At the time he was cleaning the stadium.
After I came home to Perth I kept riding at Claremont and Bunbury, a country track. By this time Ivan had really got going, winning a World Championship and was one of the greats of speedway. He was booked in for Claremont for the Friday night and Bunbury for Saturday night. I had the same bookings. At Bunbury the lord mayor was putting on a reception for Ivan and some of the riders. I arrived at the town hall and met up with Ivan who was a bit upset. He said he had left his good shoes at home and didn't know what to do.
I said I had a pair of work shoes in the back of my car, so I got them out and they were a good fit, so after a bit of spit and polish Ivan wore them to the reception. It's the first time I have had a World Champion walk in my shoes.
I would like to say this about Ivan: he was the most dedicated rider I have ever met and he is a true champion of speedway.
'Ivan wants to be in on the scene.'
Former rider, Redcar team manager and father of 1992 World Champion Gary Havelock
He was secretive as far as the top guys were concerned. But anyone at the bottom end of the team who wanted to learn, such as me who was coming in as a raw rookie, then he would pass on information because he wanted the team to win. I mean, anybody does in their right mind.
Gary didn't have much to do with him, though Ivan was sniffing around when Gary won the World Championship – but that's Ivan, he wants to be in on the scene. But he didn't make us an offer. We never asked him to. We thought that if Gary and me had got that far we could get that bit further. ... He just said 'if you need any help get back to me.'
He's very much like Briggo [Barry Briggs]. Whatever they can get out of the sport now is an absolute bonus to them.
'He raced with me for just a handshake, but when the heat was on, Sprouts got serious.'
Known to Australians as Mr Speedway, Perth-based former leading promoter and veteran speedway commentator
I fondly remember he would come to the now-defunct Claremont track to do a media day. Most times it was 100 degrees. When the media stuff was completed for me he would settle down to do serious practice. When I mean serious practice, he would bring to the track at least six rear wheels all fitted with gearing he thought he needed.
He'd bring an extra 50 engine and rear-wheel sprockets and use the lot of them. WOW!
I remember saying to him many times, 'Sprouts [his nickname], you don't have to wear yourself out doing all this practice.' He would turn to me and say, 'You might be right, Con, but on Friday night when we race I will know every inch of this track. In other words there will be no place that will frighten me if I have to ride or avoid a prang.'
What I loved most about dealing with him: his word was his bond. You know, each time he raced for me I never had a signed contract, only a handshake. Or my word and his over the phone. Can you imagine doing business like that today with the top line racers? No matter what discipline they race in. One in a million! His wife Raye is a wonderful woman.
'A totally respected rival.'
Speedway World Champion 1980; Long Track World Champion 1981; World Team Champion 1977, 1980; British Champion 1977, 1978
He was always someone I looked up to when I raced and you base yourself on that to get to the top. A great guy, dedicated to speedway, and this dedication in my opinion was what gave him the achievements. I didn't have close contact with him as a friend it was more as a rider, but a totally respected rival. He was one of the guys I always struggled to beat, to be honest.
'I'd love to know the real man.'
Speedway World Champion 2004, 2006, 2009; World Team Champion 1999, 2001, 2002; World Under-21 Champion 1995; Australian Champion 1995, 2007
Not thatmany people know the real Ivan Mauger. Raye knows the real Ivan Mauger – I would say about as much as anyone in speedway knows him. But I would love to be able to know the real man because he has such values as far as families are concerned. What he did with family was pretty amazing when you consider all the years ago that it happened. It's something that my wife and I try to do with our kids. We take our kids everywhere.
I can give you an example. At the end of 2006 I was honoured by the Gold Coast City Council; Ivan was a very big part of that whole thing and we were to go out for a dinner with the Mayor of the Gold Coast, Mr Ron Clarke, the former Olympic athlete. They said that the dinner was for adults only: there were no children. And when Ivan told me on the phone I said to him, 'Well, I'm sorry I can't make it. I can't go if there are no children allowed.'
And he said, 'Bloody right. That's exactly the same answer I would have given. Bring your kids.'
Speedway World No. 3, 1976 and father of Jason Crump
I get on with Ivan good. I've got a house close to him in Australia. Probably about 5 or 6 kilometres apart, and I see quite a lot of him when we're in Australia. To be honest I didn't have very much to do with Ivan when I was racing. I rode in his tours in Australia and he was always very good to me. When I was racing in England I had very, very little to do with him. Every year now, when we go back to Australia, we have a couple of barbies around Christmas and stuff. We've found him a very good host. We go out on his boat with him.
Developer of the SR4 (Street Racing Four-Valve) speedway engine, former international rider and Australian World Cup winning team manager, Jason's grandfather and Phil's father-in-law. Neil died in October 2011, aged 80.
Don't talk to me about Ivan Mauger ... he is no friend of mine!
Ronnie Moore MBE
'Ivan saved my life.'
Speedway World Champion 1954, 1959; World Pairs Champion 1970 with Ivan Mauger; New Zealand Champion 1956, 1962, 1968, 1969.
Ivan saved my life when I had the bad crash in Newcastle in 1975. He did a lap back to where I lay, and pushed the track staff out of the way because they were trying to get my helmet off without undoing the strap. He took off my helmet, pulled out my tongue which I had choked on and held my head in his lap till the ambulance arrived.
After the meeting he and Barry [Briggs] rushed to the hospital to be informed I was as good as dead, and there was nothing they could do. Ivan arranged an ambulance and two police escorts and a mad dash to North Shore Hospital in Sydney, where they put a drill through my head, and that started getting things beating again.
Naturally I knew nothing about this as I was in a coma for a long while.
Excerpted from Ivan Mauger by John Chaplin. Copyright © 2012 John Chaplin. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword by Martin Rogers,
Ronnie Moore MBE,
Tony 'Hawkeye' Hurren,
Debbie Pritchard (née Mauger),
Mark and Bernard Robinson,
Dave Appleton, HMP Stafford,
Deborah and Dennis Sigalos,
Len & Andrew Silver,
Nigel and Cynthia Boocock,
'Sudden' Sam Ermolenko,
Peter Collins MBE,
Chris Morton MBE,
Kelvin Tatum MBE,
About the Author,
By the Same Author,