Speedway’s greatest - Ivan Mauger remembered
SIX-time world champion Ivan Mauger OBE/MBE was more than once asked why New Zealand’s golden era of motorcycle speedway racing ended with him.
“We always had Ronnie Moore to look up to,” Mauger said in an interview seven years before he died yesterday morning, aged 78.
“Then for a few years there was Barry Briggs, and then for 15 years there was me. But I retired in 1986, and I don’t think any young New Zealander has been dedicated enough, and had the will to win and put all distraction aside to be champion.”
Dedication, indeed obsession, were the key drivers in Mauger becoming “the Pele of speedway” in a glittering career that saw him race in 29 countries, win everything that was worth winning and rise above all to become a sporting icon and superstar.
His was a tale of rags to riches, the story of a kid from a Christchurch working class suburb; who only ever wanted to ride bikes and followed a dream to the other side of the world.
At the age of 17, Mauger and 16-year-old wife Raye boarded a boat bound for EnglandAt the age of 17, Mauger and 16-year-old wife Raye boarded a boat bound for England.
“We were kids then and we were bloody fearless,” he said in a 2010 interview with the Sunday Star Times. “We soon found out when we got to London by ourselves that there was a lot to be worried about. We struggled and struggled.”
“They were literally two teenagers who got on a boat going to the other side of the world with someone’s name written on a piece of paper,” daughter Julie said in a Sydney Morning Herald story last year.
“My mum and dad’s story is a love story. She stood by him all this time. Dad wasn’t money driven, he was driven by winning . . . Mum loved the whole thing.”
A year after arriving on the other side of the world, Raye and their eight-month-old daughter (Julie) headed back to Christchurch in an emotional farewell, leaving Mauger to focus 100 percent on his burgeoning career.
“That was hard and it definitely made me stronger,” he told London’s Times newspaper in a 2006 interview. I had a one-bedroom flat in Wimbledon and couldn’t afford for them to stay. I never saw or spoke to them in eight months because we didn’t have phones. Kids today have it easy.”
Mauger started his climb. He worked at the Wimbledon track, cleaning toilets and tending tulip gardens, where Moore was kingpin.
He returned to New Zealand, worked in a factory, then went back to England in 1963 to continue his rise. He rode at tracks all over Europe, gaining a reputation for a win-at-all costs attitude that did not exactly endear him to the local crowds.
“I was never the most popular rider but I thrived on that,” he told The Times. “It really didn’t bother me if there were 70,000 people booing. I think they had a grudging respect but I liked winding them up.
“In England, it was a team sport, and I wasn’t well liked at Poole, or Swindon, or Wolverhampton, because I used to go there and beat their hero in the first race, and mostly break the track record. But I was popular in the other 28 countries.”
Mauger won his first world title in 1968Mauger won his first world title in 1968. It was the same year footballing superstar George Best helped Manchester United to the European Cup, and the pair became neighbours several years later. Mauger won again in 1969 and in 1970 two American fans said if Mauger won his third consecutive title at the worlds in Poland, they would have the winning bike gold-plated.
He did and the pair stuck to their word. At a cost of $NZ500,000 the 24-carat Triple Crown Special bike was created. It was later bought by Christchurch’s Canterbury Museum for $1.7 million.
Mauger went on to win the world title in 1970, 1972 and 1979, and was runner-up three times. He was world long track champion three times, a two-time Australasian champion, four-time New Zealand champion, and won every major title in the sport, along with pairs and team titles and test appearances.
He won the supreme award at the New Zealand Sports Awards in 1977 and 1979, and retired from competition in 1986.
“A lot of it was about being psychologically stronger than the next guy,” he said.
“Saying goodbye to your wife and kid when you’re only a kid yourself makes you grow up. I fought for everything.”
Psychology and visualisation were a major part of his successPsychology and visualisation were a major part of his success — something he reinforced over his life through books he wrote and co-wrote, and training camps he ran.
“I always set a goal. I always wanted to be world champion.”
Speedway New Zealand chief executive John McCallum said Mauger was recognised as the greatest speedway racer of all time.
“If Ivan had achieved what he had in other sports that perhaps New Zealand is quicker to recognise, I’m sure we would have seen some greater honours for him,” said McCallum.
“There is no one else that achieved what Ivan has and he did it as a proud Kiwi. He never forgot the fact he was a New Zealander. He was the Pele of speedway. He was recognised wherever he went. He was a superstar.”
Ivan Mauger, who had been suffering dementia for several years, died on the Gold Coast yesterday morning. He is survived by wife Raye son, Kym and daughters Debbie and Julie.