Riders to Remember: Erik Gundersen
Erik was of a later age than many of my heroes, and he did not ride for a team I ever supported (although I did, and still do, have a soft spot for Cradley Heath).
Erik was a rider (and superstar) of the early and mid 1980s. At the time there were several great Danes about, including Erik's great rival Hans Nielsen, and Jan O. Pedersen.
For those younger folk, Erik was a Cradley 'Heathen', and a rider committed to the success of his team.
The records show that Erik took the (for me 'Real', on the night shoot-out) World Championship in 1984 & 1985, and again in 1988 (Nielsen took the 1986 and 87 crowns, with Erik runner up).
Erik came 4th at his first attempt (at Wembley - I was there), and was 4th again in 1983.
Only 10th in 1986, Erik took two wins, but endured a retirement and only 7 points. 1987 saw Erik again runner up. 1989 saw Erik 4th once more.
Sadly a subsequent and terrible, life threatening, track crash ended Erik's racing career. I can remember seeing footage of the crash, and recall Erik being taken to Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield. Somehow Erik had touched many people and I was one of the thousands who sent him a get well card.
However, that is not the reason why I remember Erik, nor were the three World titles (I watched his successful 1985 Championship from the Odsal terraces).
What I liked so much about Erik, apart from the exciting style, was his accent, his commitment to his team and that he seemed a genuine nice guy.
I vividly recall a visit of Cradley to Ipswich. During the meeting, which did not go particularly well for Cradley, I wandered over to the pits where I saw Erik in demonstrative and animated discussion with a team mate, who I believe was a fellow Dane. I could clearly hear Erik's thick black country accent, apparently without a hint of a Danish accent, as he urged his fellow Heathen to do better. He took the handlebars of the other guys bike and was demonstrating how he felt the rider should handle Foxhall Heath. He also recommended adjustments to the machine.
Erik was small of stature and with a moustache placed just above a big smile. He seemed to me, like fellow Heathen Jan O. Pedersen, to be a friendly, nice guy, in every way a committed Cradley rider, doing everything he could to get the boys from Dudley Wood to the top of the pile.
I was very glad that he was spared, and that he later emerged in a management role, when his injuries had largely healed. I feel sure that, had luck not taken a hand, he would have won more than 3 World titles.
Erik, an all time great rider and a great personality. I really missed your riding skills, thanks for great memories.
This article was first published on 31st January 2016
"Erik was a brilliant guy, a black country Dane as we called him."
"I have always been a massive Cradley fan. I went to all the home matches at Dudley Wood. Eric was one of the very very best we had, he was for sure the very best gater that I have ever seen. We probably had the best team in the league, no disrespect to any other club, we had the team of the century. In my mind he was the heart of it."
"Very good article, went to Cradley about a dozen times from my home in London, was a West Ham regular as they were my team but was then and always will be a MASSIVE Erik Gunderson fan, probably the best rider I've even seem in my almost 55yrs of being a speedway fan."
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