There have been – in my opinion – maybe only five true natural speedway superstars in my lifetime.
Guys who could do impossible things on a bike, riders who could take your breath away.
Going backwards from the present day, I’d list Darcy Ward, Mark Courtney, Peter Collins, Peter Craven – and Ronnie Moore.
Of course there have been other riders who achieved much more by way of titles, earned a great deal more money and enjoyed longer careers.
Others had talent to burn, but sadly just burned it.
But these five guys I’ve named had the X factor. They could do the bits that weren’t even in the tin, let alone on it.
Produce drive when the rest were spinning. Extract amazing top-end speed from a standard engine. Find the passing line – especially in the races that really mattered – and make it look so, so easy…….
It is possible that the first of my ‘naturals’ was also the best.
I first saw Ronnie Moore in July, 1951. He was just 17 and led a New Zealand side against Scotland at Glasgow. He dropped a point (to Tommy Miller) in the first race, but sailed through the rest of the night untroubled.
I was nine years old, and totally captivated by the boy, who qualified for his first World Final later the same season. He won a couple of World Titles, finished second three times and was still going strong in 1970, when I had the honour to be a stand-in team manager for Wembley at Belle Vue one night Ronnie was a guest for the Lions.
It would be fair to say I was a bit overawed. Instead of making changes in the normal manner, I crept up to Ronnie, waited until he noticed me and asked if he’d mind taking a tactical ride – we were being well beaten – and he said “If that’s what you want, chief”.
Chief! If I’d been able to speak, I’d probably have called him God.
He rode in his last World Final at Gothenburg in 1971, and suffered career-ending injuries in Australia four years later.
Much later, in another millennium I was in his company at the Auckland GP and found myself just as tongue-tied, every bit as much in thrall to a mild-mannered, ever-smiling 78-year-old gentleman.
I asked if he would mind if I could have a picture taken with him. He smiled, and said “If that’s what you want, chief”.
Well, Ronnie Moore died in Christchurch this weekend.
My first and perhaps greatest speedway idol.
And he called me ‘chief’……….
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