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Riders to Remember....Roger Wright
By Tracy Holmes

Roger Wright

Roger loved motorbikes from a kid and he would tear around his Dad's property with great joy. As a teenager, he rode to High School with "no warrant, no registration, no licence, no nothing!"

The late fifties saw a proper 'biker' haunting the local watering holes and enjoying the thrills of the Aranui Speedway. A few years after that closed Templeton Speedway was opened and Roger took his first riders in 1963, on a stock-bike he made to look like the real thing.

The 1964 season saw his solo debut and he finished that year at the top of the second division. The next seasons were in the A-grade alongside Murray Burt, Allan Brown, Trevor Mauger, Tom Black, Bernie LaGrosse etc.

In 1967 he won the South Island Champinoship and he gained his first cap for New Zealand the following year. It was in the 5th Test between British Lions and New Zealand. The Lions won 60-47, Roger scored score points.

After regaining the South Island title in '69, and after hearing stories from his friends about the excitement of British League racing, Roger paid his fare to the UK and with a recommendation from Ronnie Moore, spent the season with Rayleigh. He thoroughly enjoyed the life and this was reflected in his 7.2 average from 28 matches.

He was also selected to ride for Australasia against England in five tests in which he returned scores of 11, 0, 3, 3 and 6. At the season's end, Roger returned to NZ with a shipmate, one Chris Bailey, "a real nice bloke" who stunned this country winning the 1970 NZ Champs!

With no real thought of returning to the UK, Roger spent the next few seasons enjoying the local racing scene, made all the more exciting by the emergence of Graeme Stapleton. Roger would twice win the NZ Grass Track Championship and in 1971 was third in the NZ Speedway Championship behind Frank Shuter and Allan Brown.

In 1972 he won the South Island champs again and had a night at Templeton he would never forget. The World Champion, Ole Olsen wav visiting and playing around with Ivan Mauger, Ronnie Moore and Barry Briggs in some exhibition riding. Anyway, Roger won the A-grade Final and that gave him a crack at the 'Superstars'. To the delight of his home crowd, Roger flew from the gate to lead Olsen and Mauger for three and a half laps. While these guys had been paid to put on a show all night, Roger was really racing.

He takes up the story:

"Olsen then got serious and dived underneath me at 100 miles per hour. He took me right out so Mauger went by as well. But to get third was something real special!"

Sweden toured NZ that year and in the third test Roger scored 10 points helping NZ tow in 74-33. He would have also ridden against the U.S.A but the test was rained-off. Well, thats the 'official' reason!

The NZ Championships saw Roger finish second behind Bruce Cribb, pushing Graeme Stapleton down to third. After all of this, phonecalls and telegrams (you will have to explain to the cell-phone generation what those were) kept coming from the UK. Roger signed for Hackney and went on loan to Teeside. His 14 matches for Hackney saw a four point average while 22 matches for Teeside saw an average of 8.5. He found the 1st division too tough and a tangle with John Titman resulting in foot injuries didn't help. But a good living was made and he also tuned motors.

This would set Roger up in a lifestyle that would see him commute back and forth for the next nine years, doing what most of us could only dream of.

His British League stats are as follows:

1973 Teeside, 33 matches, 7.4 av.
1974 Teeside, 38 matches, 7.1 av.
1975 11 matches for Teeside, 7.6 av & 25 matches for Workington, 6.2 av.
1976 Workington, 31 matches, 6.5 av.
1977 Workington, 26 matches, 5.6 av.
1978 Berwick, 30 matches, 7.6 av.
1979 Berwick, 39 matches, 6.1 av.
1980 Berwick, 25 matches, 7.4 av.
1981 Berwick, 23 matches, 4.9 av.

He also rode for Australasia against England and Scotland while and was a regular test cap.

The Australasian Final was, for 6 years, THE biggest meeting in the Southern Hemisphere and Roger qualified in '77, '78, '79 and was reserve for '80.

In the '78 Final at Western Springs, his deat-heat with Mick McKeon will never be forgotten by all who saw it. In the '79 NZ Championship he was 3rd equal with Ivan Mauger behind Larry Ross and Mitch Shirra. For a guy in his mid 30s, with youngsters like David Bargh and Tony Briggs snapping at his heels, NOT BAD!!

1982 saw a second place in the South Island Final behind Larry Ross, pushing Alan Mason into 3rd.

He returned to Berwick in '83 for what turned out to be an ill fated trip. Just two meetings in and a crash ended it all. Back to Kiwiland and at the age of 40, he delighted yet again his hometown fans with a thrid place finish in the 1985 NZ Final behind Larry Ross and Alan Mason.

How does he sum-up this wonderful career?

"The fun, the friends, even the injuries, it was a ball!"

Today, still in Christchurch, Roger at 64 years young remains happily married and his son and daughter are grown and gone, if there ever is such a thing. He is a maintenance engineer with the 'Firestone Tyre' company where he's been now for 23 years. The love of motorbikes continues with restoring and riding 'Ariels'.

No speedway meeting at Moore Park is complete without Roger and friends enjoying a few drinks and even more laughs. Larry Ross used to sit with them, now he's back on the track! But that's another story!

Roger is a speedway legend in New Zealand and a true example to the next generation, one that certainly had the 'Wright' stuff.

 

We want to feature similar articles on riders from any era of the sport's rich history. If you'd like to contribute a piece then email us at speedwayplus@hotmail.com or fill out our form here.

 

This article was first published on 3rd April 2008


 

  • Steve Harland:

    "Enjoyed reading the Roger Wright article immensely and remember his time fondly at Teesside's Cleveland Park between 1972 and 1975. At the time he was seen as a major signing and the club enjoyed some productive years for most of Roger's time with the club. After his loan move was sorted out with Hackney he came to live on a farm in Picton near Yarm in Cleveland. The farm belonged to Stewart Collin who had a few second halves at Teesside, Stoke and Workington around 1974/5. I understand Paisley Lions rider Malcolm Chambers also lodged at the farm too.

    Oddly Roger seemed to ride better away from home than he did at Cleveland Park. He left Teesside a couple of months into the 1975 season following the departure of several well established riders. Club captain Bruce Forrester was the first to break ranks for business reasons and ended up ridng for Boston on a weekend. The injury of long serving Dave Durham, which finished his career, and then a transfer request from Roger citing a lack of team spirit did not go down well with team manager Tony Coupland. Roger got his wish and moved to Workington and then on to Berwick. Promoter Ron Wilson signed Tom Leadbitter & Doug Underwood as replacements but that's another story.

    Had the pleasure of visiting New Zealand in October/November 2006 and was hoping to meet Roger over there. Sadly we didn't get his contact details to the final day of our departure from Auckland - oh well at least we visited Christchurch but we did miss a solo meeting at Moore Park by one day. Now that would have been something to bump into him at an actual meeting!

    It's only when you read an article like this it makes you wonder why solos are so low key in New Zealand nowadays. Back then they seemed to have dozens of riders who competed in Britain. It's ironic though that we now have Wellington-based Jade Mudgway riding for the Redcar Cubs and others coming over to the UK to ride. Having met the people and driven on their roads I know how enthusiastic and keen speedway riders in New Zealand must be to travel the amount of distances to get from Invercargill on South Island to Rosebank on North Island just to share a bill with other forms of motorsport. Good luck to them. "

  • Andy Davidson:

    "In 1972 Roger Wright rode at Hackney as well, so he must have some average for that year with Hackney."

  • Terry Stone:

    "Just seen my old mate Wrighty on your site. We had good old days at Rayleigh with him. Roger did like a good old pint of English beer."

  • Gordon Richardson:

    "Liked the bit about Roger Wright. Saw him ride many times at Workington. Was great going round the fence and gave me lots of pleasure watching him."

  • Nigel Close:

    "Good Old Wrighty. We had some great times at Berwick in 79-80 and visiting Christchurch in winter 80-81. Fully and the rest of the Kiwis were well thought of at Berwick."

  • David Hoggart:

    "I was a regular visitor to Cleveland Park on thursday night. Great memories of some fantastic riders. I remember one thursday Roger Wright going round the outside along the back straight at Cleveland Park his clutch got stuck and he did a wheelie all the way down the back before coming to grief crashing into the fence on the corner. My father still holds quite a number of badges from there. Tim and Tony Swales were great riders as well"

  • Elaine (Collin) Nichol:

    "Loved reading this as Both Roger and Tom Black Lived on farm with our family. Roger used to get into trouble off my mam because when he had a smash and was strechered off, Mam used to worry. All he used to say to her was "why walk when you can be carried?""

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