Dream Team : Cary Cotterman
I first saw speedway in 1968, at Whiteman Air Park near Los Angeles, when I was fourteen years old. I spent a lot of time in the pits oiling, fueling, and pushing for various riders. I was keen to have a go myself, and in 1971 I entered the ranks of third-division (novice) riders for the entire season. Wholly unsuccessful, I resigned myself to the role of spectator until 1983, when I returned to the sport in a capacity to which I was much better suited--as a writer and photographer for 'Speedway' magazine. I still attend a few meetings a year and follow the Grand Prix on the internet and DVD. My dream team is an eclectic mix of riders domestic and international, past and even more distant past.
At the end of that first season of modern American speedway, Criswell offered to pay Ivan Mauger, just crowned World Champion for the first time, 150.00 U.S. dollars (equal to 585.00 GBP in 2008 money) to make an appearance at the Whiteman circuit. When the time came, Criswell couldn't raise the cash, so his pit steward, Harry Oxley, borrowed it from his employer, former World Champion Jack Milne. That transaction, small as it was, was the beginning of the Oxley-Milne partnership that resulted in the founding of Costa Mesa Speedway the following year, an event that touched off the American speedway renaissance that flourished in the 1970s and 1980s. For days, there was speculation about this 'Mogger' from New Zealand, whose name few here had yet learned to pronounce.
His legend grew until the anticipation was almost unbearable. He was said to be the fastest rider in the world. The story was that he jetted from continent to continent with only his special handlebars, which were attached to a bike upon his arrival, minutes before he took to the track. Finally, this hero arrived on a cool autumn night, when I was fortunate enough to be in the pits helping one of the American riders. The first half of the programme was finished, the interval over, and at long last the moment had arrived. Mauger strode confidently and casually toward a new JAP that had been specially prepared for him, and onto which, indeed, his handlebars had been mounted. After a short introduction by the track announcer, he swung his leg over the bike, adjusted his mask and goggles, and the crowd and pits fell silent while he was pushed off and the machine came to life.
I remember standing, along with everyone else, near trackside, my attention focused on the lone rider as he cruised around slowly for a full lap. What would he do, this exotic star clad in plain black leathers, black high-topped boots, and a New Zealand body colour? How fast could he truly be? As he came around to start a second lap, I was startled as he suddenly cracked on the throttle all the way and flew towards the first bend. But rather than remaining in the saddle, shutting down the motor, and tracking into the turn as I was accustomed to see the American riders do, the sound didn't diminish. Mauger seemed to shift his weight forward as he left the throttle on and pitched the machine sideways into the turn.
It's impossible to convey how astounding and thrilling it was to see it done for the first time. For four perfect, explosive laps he never let off the tap, and barely ever touched his left foot to the ground. The instant the engine's roar finally subsided and he turned back to the pits, the crowd burst into applause and cheers, and everyone knew that speedway in America would be different from that moment on. Before the week was over, Mauger's compatriot, the great Barry Briggs, had joined him in California, and while the pair trounced the young Americans effortlessly again and again at night, they also began to teach them at daytime training sessions. The Yanks were good pupils, and within a couple of years began to give their international-class mentors a good run.
Ubiquitous to almost any discussion of Mauger is the complaint that he was little more than a gating machine, a white-line rider with a limited penchant for passing. When he rode in the U.S., there were handicap heats in which he was forced to start 60 or 70 yards behind the gate, with five other riders in front of him. Far from being easy targets, by the early 1970s many of these American riders had become quite proficient and were, in addition, specialists at riding the shorter California tracks that Mauger only visited briefly once a year. I've seen countless races of this type where, by the back straightaway of the first lap, Mauger had passed three or four riders, and went on to win, riding near the fence as often as the white line, weaving in between his opponents and leaving them behind without ever touching them. The man was simply a superbly talented rider who earned and deserves every bit of his legend.
After World War II, Lamoreaux returned to the track and dominated racing in California, winning his only United States speedway title in 1946. Two years later, at the age of forty-one, he was persuaded by Sir Arthur Elvin to return to British racing, and joined the Wembley Lions. He transferred to Birmingham in 1949, a season that would bring him heartbreakingly close to a World Championship triumph. On the big night at Wembley, September 22, Lamoreaux was flying, leading his first race, Heat 2, by several lengths ahead of Dent Oliver and Jack Parker. Oliver went down and took Parker out with him, and the race was stopped. In the rerun, Parker had better luck and Lammy could only manage second place. Bad fortune struck again in Heat 12, Lamoreaux's fourth outing, when again he was leading by a safe margin. His engine failed entering the first bend of the final lap, giving eventual title winner Tommy Price an unexpected three points, while Lammy pulled onto the centre green with naught.
Had bad luck not prevented Lamoreaux from winning his encounters with Parker and Price, all three would most likely have ended on thirteen points, calling for a runoff to decide the title. If he had won the runoff, Lammy, aged 42, would have been the oldest World Champion ever, more than two and a half years older than Ivan Mauger was when he won his sixth title in 1979, a month before his fortieth birthday. Lamoreaux didn't return to speedway in 1950. He lived out his life in Pasadena with his wife, Margaret, and owned a motorcycle shop in nearby Glendale. He died at the age of fifty-six, in 1963.
A few British fans might remember Bast's poor showing at the Intercontinental Final in 1977, where he came dead last at White City with only a single point. Two years later, he qualified for the Intercontinental Final again, but chose not to make the trip to London. The idea of racing abroad never seemed to appeal to him, and a large part of the reason he stayed at home must have been money. In the early 1970s, the British League could not have hoped to compete with the annual 60,000.00 U.S. dollars (equal to 200,000.00 GBP in 2008 money) Bast was earning racing speedway in California. It's too bad that fans in the U.K. and Europe never got to see him at his best. Among the American riders who never attempted an overseas career, Mike Bast was probably the greatest ever.
This article was first published on 11th December 2008
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