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The 1982 Debacle
By Tracy Holmes

Mitch Shirra

Times winged chariot waits for no man. It doesn't seem like over 30 years but lack of hair on my head and the spare tyre around my tummy tell otherwise! We still had the World Final then and in 1982 it was being held in L.A. Two Kiwis looked good for a start, Larry Ross who had been at the Wembley Final the year before and Mitch Shirra. But first, they had to qualify.

Two other Kiwis were going to be in L.A, Barry Briggs and Ivan Mauger as co-promoters. So it all looked so good for Kiwi cousins. Ivan was in NZ telling everyone that he wanted to be the first promoter to actually ride in the Final. Interesting indeed especially as he was manager of England's Kenny Carter, a favourite to win in L.A! A conflict of interests?!

To get to the L.A Final, August 28, Kiwis had to qualify from the NZ Final, at Western Springs, January 30, the Australasian Final, Te Marua, Upper Hutt, Wellington, Febuary 27, the Overseas Final, White City, London, July 4 and the Intercontinental Final, Vetlanda, Sweden, July 23.

Well, Ivan fell at the first fence. 5 points at the NZ Final. A first, a second to John Goodall and three engine failures. Then it got a whole lot more interesting. The Australasian Final was cancelled! Or had it already been?

A newspaper article dated January 28 said this, 'The cancellation may mean that only the top two scorers in Saturday's NZ Final at Western Springs will proceed to the next qualifying round.' The article went on to say, 'The secretary of the control board, Mrs Margaret Lloyd, said yesterday that the Australian speedway authorities were now checking to see if any track there could hold the event. But if no track was interested, two NZ riders from the Western Springs meeting along with the two Australians would go direct to the Northern hemisphere rounds.'

John Goodall remembers that at a riders meeting BEFORE the NZ Final, they were all told that if the Australasian Final was indeed cancelled, that 1st & 2nd from the NZ Final would go to the Overseas Final. Mitch won the NZ Final, beaten only by Roger Wright in round 5. Goodall was second; a third place in round one behind Mitch and Larry Ross was followed by 4 straight wins. David Bargh was 3rd with Larry Ross 4th. So Mitch and John Goodall felt they were assured they would go to the next round. This of course would present a huge problem as John was no longer a British League rider. His return fare with his bike would have to be met.

Well, that problem was taken of. A new round was introduced!!! A NZ qualifying round where 1st and 2nd would go to the Overseas Final. Arranged for Templeton, Christchurch, Febuary 27. Another newspaper article had this to say, 'Top Auckland speedway rider John Goodall may lose a trip to the Commonwealth Final [should have read Overseas Final] if an extra qualifying round is held in Christchurch later this month.'

The top 8 riders in the NZ Final all received telegrams informing them of the new Christchurch round. It went on to say, 'The decision to hold the eight rider run-off was made by a NZ Speedway control board sub-committee of Mr Bob Elvey from Masterton, Mr Tony Nesbitt from Wellington and Mr Arthur Roper from New Plymouth, but today was under review. Mr Elvey said the decision to hold the run-off was based on the principle that it was not fair to pick the top two from the NZ Final when some of the riders may have been riding for a safe place in the top eight who would normally have qualified for the Australasian Final.

However Goodall and Shirra said they and most of the other riders knew the Australasian Final was in doubt and that only two riders might qualify from the meeting for the next World Championship round. A Speedway Control Board steward apparently told some of the riders this possibility and the threatened future of the Australasian Final was well publicised. The Chairman of the Speedway Control Board Mr Don Tomkins said yesterday: "I personally favour the top two from the NZ Championship going to Britain but Im not on the committee that makes the decision." Shirra has been in touch with the FIM and the Auto Cycle Union in Britain to try and get the Christchurch run-off stopped and Goodall said yesterday that if necessary, he would seek a High Court injunction to prevent the meeting.'

John then asked for confirmation that if he rode in the Christchurch meeting and qualified, would his fares be paid for the British return trip? He never received a reply! John Goodall never went to that quickly arranged meeting. And he told Mitch not to go either, as they had already qualified. But Mitch jeopardized his place even further by travelling to Christchurch for that round. It was all so bizzare. Mike Fullerton also did not go to Christchurch. Things got even more crazy when it was announced that only riders who had enough points from the NZ Final to qualify for the cancelled Australasian Final, would have their points count from this new round!!! That's why Ivan had to run-off with Gavin Rhodes before the meeting started! As Ivan won, his points counted but Rhodes didn't!

At meeting's end, Larry and Ivan were 1st and 2nd, Mitch 3rd. But Ivan told the crowd that Mitch should not lose hope as he would consider not riding in the next round. He would see how he felt closer to the time. Whatever next?

WELL, it was announced in March that Ivan was barred from riding! A newspaper article dated March 25 said this, 'London, Wednesday- New Zealand's six times World Speedway Champion Ivan Mauger has been ejected from the 1982 Championship by a ruling of the sport's governing body.' The article went on to say that Ivan should not have been allowed to ride in the Christchurch round. The British Board's manager Mr Dick Bracher went on to say, "It was clearly irregular for them to allow those who had been eliminated to compete." FIM ruled that Shirra should be promoted to the Overseas Final and Mauger excluded.' The article concluded, [quoting Mr Bracher] "The way they acted was a clear-cut breach and FIM's ruling will be the end of the matter. Ross and Shirra will ride for NZ in the Overseas Final."

Seemed like Mitch had a reprieve but what about John Goodall? There was no mention of him at all! So Ivan was out... Ivan Mauger however had other ideas and nothing and no-one was going to stop him riding!

Ivan told me of a phone call he had with Briggo. Turns out that neither of them wanted Mitch to be at the L.A Final. They both did not agree with his lifestyle that included the use of recreational drugs. So Ivan asked Briggo what he should do and Briggo said "don't let Mitch ride!" That's the way Ivan said it to me.

So here we have a World Final co-promoter and Kenny Carter manager, riding in the Overseas Final with the one aim of not letting Mitch ride. That's one ugly situation and smacks of fixing as Mitch was never going to win the World Final if he qualified, but was the kind of rider who could take points from favourites like Carter! Gets more ugly as Ivan told me, "Even if Mitch did ride and qualify, he would never have got past Vetlanda!" [Venue for the last round.] I told him there was no way he could know that. Deadly silence! So I asked him what he meant by that. No reply, deadly silence! None of this is pretty!!!

Ivan rode in the Overseas Final, scored 6 points and failed to qualify. But his mission was accomplished. Larry got to the Intercontinental Final but failed to qualify so there would be no Kiwis in the L.A Final. 'Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.' Well, almost!

Why bring this up after over 30 years? Why not? It's a great story and it's all true. And it may have answered some questions. Still plenty to go! All I know is that in 1982, NZ Champion Mitch Shirra had a possible World Final appearance stolen from him. Certainly the right to ride for that appearance. Times winged chariot hasn't forgotten that!!!

 

This article was first published on 28th July 2013


 

  • Cary Cotterman:

    "Fascinating article about backstage machinations prior to the 1982 World Final in Los Angeles, but it raises a few questions that I wish Mr. Holmes would illuminate. If the FIM ruled that Shirra was to ride in the Overseas Final, how did Mauger end up riding instead? Briggo's s tatement, "Don't let Mitch ride!" seems odd, because what authority did Mauger have to control who would be allowed to participate, especially since the FIM had already decided? What was Shirra doing as Mauger usurped his spot at White City?"

  • Tracy Holmes:

    "I dont know if Mitch was at White City or not. I have the programme and he wasnt even listed as a reserve. 17 was Mike Lee. 18 Scott Autrey. 19 Gary Guglielmi. As for the other questions, I don't have the answers. Muchos speculation! You must remember that Barry Briggs and Ivan Mauger were hugely influential personalities. Perhaps they had clout we know nothing about?! All I know is what Ivan told me on the phone. Briggs said, "don't let Mitch ride." So were they above the FIM? Certainly would appear so because Ivan indeed, did not let Mitch ride! Had he stepped down, as he suggested he might after that NZ round, Mitch as NZ Champion would have had the 'fought for' opportunity to qualify. No saying he would have! But had Mitch failed to qualify, it would have been on the track, down to him and not the result of a phone call between World Final co promoters!!!

    Mitch wasnt the only one cheated. The NZ speedway public was too. Firstly, no Australasian Final and second, NZ's only other World Final prospect made to miss his legitimate place. Third, Larry Ross blew the last round and so no Kiwis would ride in LA. As Ivan told me, he and Briggs had issues with Mitch Shirra's lifestyle. Seems they had no problem with the Yanks and everyone knew what they were up to. Oh but the World Final was being held in the home of Mickey Mouse. Nothing wrong with that, never did Walt Disney any harm !!!"

  • Patrick Beacock:

    "The article and feedback items make no mention of the fact that Ivan Mauger was allowed to take his rightful place in the Overseas Final after an appeal (to the RAC, chaired by Lord Shawcross(?)), that as one of the 8 highest scoring riders PRESENT at the re-staged final (Gooddall and Fullerton were absent), he was indeed eligible to qualify from the re-staged NZ Final. "

  • Tracy Holmes:

    "Thanks for that info Patrick, another piece to the jigsaw. Problem is, Ivan was NOT one of the highest 8 scorers from the NZ Final at Western Springs. Yes, he was PRESENT for the Christchurch meeting but that did not alter the fact that he was not in the top 8 at Auckland. Another thing, the Christchurch meeting was NOT a re-staged NZ Final. Mitch Shirra is still the 1982 NZ Champion. The results of that meeting were not declared 'black'. The Christchurch meeting was a NZ qualifying round of the World Championship. Hastily arranged in place of the cancelled Australasian Final. As Alan Mason told me a few days before it was run, only those in the top 8 at Auckland would have their points count. As Alan was not one of them, I asked him, what if somehow he was 1st or 2nd ? "Wouldn't count!". The non appearance of John Goodall and Mike Fullerton should not have altered that arrangement. Top 8 scorers from Auckland, yes. Was Ivan Mauger one of them? No!"

  • Graeme Frost:

    "I don't see this as the conspiracy it is being made out to be. If anything the only possible conspiracy was by the British SCB to try to keep Mauger out of the World Championship for reasons best known to themselves. To my knowledge the ascertion that the top two from the National Championships would go to the Overseas Final was never going to happen, so if the NZ officials told the riders they would be, they had no right to say that. The Australasian Final was in doubt at least as early as December 1981 when the Australian Speedway Control Council heard the company running the Wellington track was in financial trouble. The Wellington promoter, Tony Nesbitt, subsequently said he could not raise the necessary financial backing to run the meeting. Instead of the NZSCB simply moving the event to another venue, they tried to reduce costs by cutting the number of Australian riders.

    Nesbitt first applied to the NZSCB to have the number of Australians reduced from 8 to 4. The Australian Speedway Control Council immediately rejected that suggestion and they raised the question about whether the meeting should be held in Wellington at all. The NZSCB then came back with the offer of 6 spots for Australians, or for the top 2 from the national championships to be seeded to the Overseas Final. The ASCC viewed the latter as totally unacceptable, and reluctantly agreed to the offer of 6 spots, believing running with just 6 Australians was better than having no Australasian Final. So when the Australian Final was held (a fortnight before the NZ Final) the riders rode on the understanding the top 6 would qualify for the Australasian Final. Nesbitt then sold his interest in Wellington and the new promoter did not want to stage the meeting. The NZSCB then offered the meeting to Australia and it was agreed to run the meeting in Brisbane. The only proviso was that the date be changed from 27 Feb to 13 March because the Brisbane promoters said there was no way they could get a good crowd with only a couple of weeks to advertise the meeting.

    The FIM approved the change of venue but not the change of date, so that was Brisbane out. Christchurch then looked at running the meeting but wanted the NZSCB and the NZACU to underwrite the meeting, which they would not do, so the Australasian Final was dead. It was then decided to run both an Australian Qualifying Final and a NZ Qualifying Final. Both would have 16 riders competing, those 16 being the 8 from each country who had qualified for the Australasian Final (as was originally intended before the suggestion of 6 Aussies) plus another 8 to allow the meetings to be held over the 20 heat format, but only the riders who were eligible for the Australasian Final were eligible to qualify for the Overseas Final. Nothing shady about that as I see it.

    As for the line-up for the NZ Qualifying Final, the same rules would have applied as for the Australasian final, that is if one of the top 8 were unavailable the ninth rider would have taken his place as a legitimate qualifier. So when John Goodall and Mike Fullerton withdrew, the 9th and 10th finishers from the NZ Championship legitimately took their places. Hence Ivan Mauger had a legitimate right to be in the Qualifying meeting as one of the 8 qualifiers. So to this point Mauger has had no say it what would be done, and has ridden as a legitmate qualifier.

    As far as the Overseas Final goes the British Speedway Control Board did refuse to accept Mauger's qualification. As he had legimately qualified I can only assume this was for some personal reason against Mauger? Mauger had every right to ride in the Overseas Final and understandably challenged the BSCB ban and won. Love or hate Mauger, I can not see where he has done anything wrong, or that he has got anything he was not entitled to. If Mitch Shirra and John Goodall thought they were the rightful qualifiers for the Overseas Final that is down to a problem with the NZSCB. To my knowledge the FIM was never asked if the qualifiers could be the top two from the National Championship so the riders should never have been told that was going to happen. Also were they told it “would” happen or it “may” happen.

    As for Mauger riding in the Overseas Final just to deprive Shirra of a place, I don't buy that either. As we all know Mauger was probably the most driven speedway rider there has ever been and I don't believe he would have given up a chance to ride in a World Final for any reason whatsoever, least of all just to keep another rider out. As for the comment "Ivan told me, he and Briggs had issues with Mitch Shirra's lifestyle. Seems they had no problem with the Yanks." I think anyone who has ever discussed drugs with Mauger will know he had very strong views on riders using drugs, and I know riders were not selected for, and/or kicked off his Golden Helmet tours of Australia because of drug use. "

  • Tracy Holmes:

    "Thank you Graeme! Filled in a good few pieces of the jigsaw. Excellent read, cheers !"

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