Chris Rattue

Chris Rattue is a sports columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Speedway racing: Bike legend picks Aussie to win opener

Ivan Mauger says focus wins. Photo / APN
Ivan Mauger says focus wins. Photo / APN

Australian rider has mental qualities all wannabies need to be successful, says six-time world champion.


Ivan Mauger, the most famous of the many old legends in New Zealand speedway, has no hesitation in picking a winner for today's opening round of the world championships at Western Springs.

There is a personal connection in his prediction that the 36-year-old Australian Jason Crump will start on the right foot as he seeks to score his fourth world title this season.

Mauger splits his time between Christchurch and the Gold Coast, where he lives a short drive away from Crump. The Australian comes from a line of speedway riders, and Mauger has long known his father Phil.

"We've been friends since Jason was about 12 years old. I really think he's going to do it," says the 72-year-old Mauger, six times the world champion.

"I've followed him throughout his career and given him tips here and there. He is a very determined guy. That's what our young guys need.

"I coach young guys in Christchurch and Invercargill a couple of times a year and they are coming up for this.

"It can inspire them to become world champions. So long as they get their visualisation right and their mind power working - the mind power is all there is to it."

Speedway still dominates Mauger's life. He is restoring his old bikes and points inquirers towards his website. When asked about the demise of Western Springs as a bike venue, this champion from homespun days insists other tracks around the country are good enough to launch top careers in a sport that has resisted major changes beyond the cosmetic.

Mauger was introduced to the crowd at a pre-race function and took a quick bow as famous faces past looked down from the walls of the Ponsonby rugby clubrooms. A fascinating publication about the remarkable history of New Zealand speedway looked up from the tables, recalling stellar riders led by Mauger, Barry Briggs and Ronnie Moore, plus key backroom figures such as current promoter Bill Buckley.

There were more poignant articles, particularly on the death of the young Taranaki rider Gary Peterson at a Wolverhampton meeting in 1975, and of Australasia's pioneering speedway days. A look at speedway around the 1930s revealed an Irishwoman, Fay Taylour, competing in perhaps the first New Zealand title race at Kilbirnie.

The birth of the sport is put, loosely, at a dirt surface meeting in Natal in 1907, while the New Zealand-born John S. Hopkins is regarded as the father of speedway, having staged races in Australia in the 1920s.

As he stood by gleaming, colourful bikes of the modern age, Mauger was vague on career memories and Western Springs. Maybe you could sense an unspoken emotion however, as he wandered about the place.

"I had so many races here with Ronnie and Barry, from 1965 to 1981 when they put the clay down so we didn't ride on it after that.

"Actually I started at Aranui when I was only 15 and had to put my age up to 16. Now I am trying to take it off."

- NZ Herald

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