Dream Team : Grahame Darlington
I have followed Wolverhampton Speedway since 1971 when I was taken by my father at the age of 4 and have been ever present since, only moving to Birmingham for 1981/2 and 3. During the years following the sport I have been to Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Italy, Germany, Czech Republic and Holland to watch racing and have even been a rep on some World Final trips. I work at Monmore Green for CVS and this year will be taking my licence as Start Marshall.
Mr Wolverhampton and in mine and many other peoples eyes, Mr Speedway. A remarkable guy who always takes time out to talk to fans and is very keen on promoting the sport in a positive way. After life threating injuries, Sam returned to the sport in 1990 less than a year after his horrific crash and was soon back to his best and in fact got better. This was crowned with a World Title in 1993 after another season of averaging over 11 points a match. A great racer and always entertaining and even now at the age of 45, he can still mix it with the best. Deserves to be remembered as one of the sports all time greats.
When the pint sized American arrived in 1987, it didn't take him long to settle in and he recorded a maximum at Edinburgh in the first two weeks of the season. Ronnie became a key rider at Wolves and with Sam he helped make the club into a very successful club after years of winning nothing and relying on one rider to score all the points. Inuries forced Ronnie out of the sport and he returned to America but found he no longer regarded the States as his rightful home and returned to England where he got married and became a father. In 2004, after a fast spin out in Richard Juul's testimonial, Belle Vue tempted him out of retirement mid season and in 2005 he returned to Wolves where he scored over 60 bonus points and averaged just under seven a match. I like many others regard Ronnie as one of the nicest guys in the sport and his ever present smile always shines through. Will always remember his brilliant first bend moves that were breathtakingly brave.
Can't say Freddie truly deserves to be in this list for what he has achieved at the present tender age of just 20 but I think in two years time he will be worthy of his main body selection. It's very rare for me to predict how far a young rider will go, but I can't see many others around of his age with his qualities that I believe will take him to the top of the ladder in this beautiful sport. Chris Morton, Scott Autrey, Malcolm Simmons, Split Waterman and a few others were under consideration but I believe Freddie will surpass them in speedway's all time greats list.
Although I only remember the later part of his career, it was always great when he came to town with his Green + White leathers with Exeter. I remember once when Exeter arrived, every rider had their bikes on the back of cars, Ivan turned up in a van and all his bikes were gleaming. I once had a picture taken with Ivan and the Golden Bike but sadly I lost it. Possibly the first rider to ever dominate the sport in a certain era and averaged 11.74 in one league season. World Champion at 39 to record a record sixth title at a time when a host of new stars were breaking through.
I rate Hans as the best rider of all time and was the ultimate pro with the smoothest style of riding I have ever seen. Like Ermolenko in the early 90's, Hans made the sport look easy, but Hans managed to do it for over 20 years at the top level. Should have won more than 4 World Titles and had a few years where a single incident robbed him of at least another four. He does however still hold the record for most FIM Gold Medals and at one stage held Individual, Pairs and Team medals. Hans also managed to go a whole season in the league without droipping a point in any away match and in the best ten averages of all time in a season, he holds five of those positions.
Always loved to watch little DJ ride and always felt for him as he always suffered engine failures on the big day and sadly never got to taste the riches he really deserved. One of my most vivid memories of the sport is DJ walking across the Wembley pitch with his hand in his race jacket and head towards the floor. Remember in 1980 I think it was when he rode against Hans Nielsen in the Golden Helmet at Monmore Green. He beat Hans 2-0 and broke the track record. Hans then beat him at his place and in the decider at Birmingham, Hans pulled off a remarkable cut back as they entered turn one to lift the title.
Tiger Tom was a family friend of ours and a great guy who was a gentle giant and a true gentleman. Tom gave me a ride on his speedway bike around the farm I lived on as his niece rode the horses and often he bought his bikes back to ours to clean them. Roger Harvey and Rob Hooper, (pro moto x riders) were usually around and they took me out on the bikes as Tom was also a former scrambling rider and they taught me to race and do jumps. Tom continued to take part in pre-75 grasstrack meetings until his early death in his 50's and was a local builder who built his own house which looks onto the Bowling Green Island in Lichfield. Tom kept the old bike cover he used at Wolves and it was yellow with a Wolf head on. Sadly it got pinched off the bike on the back of his car a few years before he died. Miss the guy a lot and always fun to be around.
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This article was first published on 6th July 2006
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