Western Springs 68-69
Sometime during the Winter of 1968 (June/July at a guess) the promoter at Western Springs Speedway in Auckland, Harley Arthur approached my father Michael Hendry, to be the race caller for the forthcoming speedway season conducted over the 1968/9 southern hemisphere summer. My dad was a genuine 'race-caller', not a reader of results, and he had developed his race-calling skills calling short-track pushbike racing around Auckland and at that stage in the 60's had already spent a decade calling the Lady Wigram Trophy races for the Christchurch leg of the Trans-Tasman Trophy races that world drivers like Moss, Clark, Surtees, Gurney, Ireland, Hill and Bonnier used to come out for.
I mention this because the standard of motor-race calling then (and I'm not sure it's any better now to be honest) was to tell the punters who was coming first and not much else and read out the results later. My old man applied to motorsport the common standards of contemporary horse-race calling in Australia and New Zealand, which then and now are far superior to anything of offer elsewhere in the world, and he 'called' the race. Harley Arthur knew what he was doing! Well, that and also that Dad was a newspaper editor of some note, well known to many of the Kiwi bike and car fraternity (MacLaren, Hulme, Amon, Ginger Molloy and former AJS TT rider Peter Murphy amongst others), so getting a mention for Saturday nights at the 'Springs' was never difficult.
Thus it was that aged 10, I sat at the trackside commentary box next to my father and enjoyed five months of excitement close up and in the process got to watch some of the world's best speedway riders in action. Come to think of it, and the 'Springs' might be unique in this as the track was shared with the cars (midgets and T/q's), I got to see some of the best drivers too, Bob 'Two-Gun' Tattersall comes to mind, as does another American legend, Merle Bettenhausen ...but that's for another day I guess.
Most weeks at Western Springs, the A Cat events were dominated by two riders, Englishman Bob Andrews and local Bryce Subritzky. The name Googie Allan comes to mind as well, but I can't recall if he was a regular or just a blow-in for a month or so either side of Christmas that year. Geoff Perry was one of the younger names about whom big things were being forecast and I seem to recall that he went on to ride in the States but I read years ago he died in an aircraft accident in the early 70's. Andrews was a Club pro for Wimbledon I think and genuinely a real professional, while Bryce had also ridden for UK club sides like Belle Vue and so these two regulars were generally a cut above the rest.
Bryce was a leading light though in that he took a real interest in younger riders and I can recall one of the Sunday's pre-season he was conducting coaching sessions for trainees and hopefuls on laying the bike down. Lap after lap he would come around and demonstrate to this young group, calmly laying the bike down and stepping off it as it slithered to a stop. Then, when the trainees hadn't quite got it right, going around and doing it again, and again! He was a straight-shooter, rough as guts actually, but a terrific man and I can still recall he and Track Manager Reece Facoory sharing some droll Kiwi wit after the races were done.
The highlights of the year however were the N.Z. vs U.K. Test series which were held in February if my memory is correct. Arthur had organised the terrific Boocock brothers Nigel and Eric, an incredibly exciting rider in Chris Pusey and ... struggling here, but I'll say Peter Collins to ride as the rep England team. Lined up against them were newly crowned World Champion Ivan Mauger, former World Champion Ronnie Moore, Andrews (as an adopted son of NZ) and Subritzky. In truth it was Mauger and Moore versus the Boocock's and Pusey. I can't recall now but it was about this time that the Jawa was dominating everything and Barry Briggs was probably making more out of selling the bikes than he was out of racing them. Subritzky might still have had a JAP and by this stage the poor old JAPrestwick was well and truly outclassed so generally speaking he was aiming to fill the minor places.
Everyone was talking about Mauger of course. Western Springs hadn't seen that much of him as he came from 'down south' (South Island) and done most of his riding there, but he was staggeringly quick. Everything about him, his bike, his gear ... it was all so professional and he rode accordingly. Of course he was also very talented and if he drew the #1 gate he was next to impossible to beat to the first bend. From the patriotic perspective I was delighted that the NZ team prevailed on two of the three nights. I recall that Briggo came up for one night but the weather washed it out and it was re-run on the Tuesday evening, which due to school requirements I didn't get to attend. Thus it was that I missed seeing the other great NZ speedway rider of the generation in action, but watching Moore and Mauger at close quarters made up for it.
43 years on the strongest memories are of a night when Eric Boocock won one of the heats riding out the outside with his handlebar quite literally flicking the edge of the wooden trackside planking in front of the commentary position directly opposite the start/finish line. In those days, and it doesn't appear to be quite like that now, the 'Springs' had a banked, outer concrete rim and a rider could forsake the shorter options and keep the power on and ride the banking at what I imagine was close to full throttle. I only saw it happen twice, once with Boocock and one memorable evening when Subritzky had been having a terrible evening finally got the bike on song and took to the concrete in what I assume was frustration. Both riders only won by the smallest margin so it wasn't a generally practical option, not to mention that in doing so, a rider flirted with the cable and wire fence that surrounded the track. Being garrotted if you made a mistake was probably enough for most riders to opt for the dirt.
The other memorable moment from these events that has stuck in the head after all these years was a race start on the last of the Test series nights. Ronnie Moore I think, had been called almost out of retirement (or that's how I recall the conversations now) to ride in this series. My father, keen observer and also conversationalist of legends Len Perry and Rod Coleman was in agreement with them that Moore was as quick as anyone, IF he was in the mood. Thus we come to a moment when the English riders are on top, the Kiwis need to win one but Eric Boocock has drawn gate 1 and his brother is out of #3. Mauger from 2 and Moore from 4 and when the gate rose Ronnie Moore made this blistering start and was into Pine Bend first, cutting across from the outside. Mauger also had made a flyer and covered Eric but I think he, like everyone was stunned to have Moore filling the space in front of and outside his back wheel. For three laps not more than two metres separated the two Kiwis and for the home crowd a great result as it put the locals back in front (although I can't recall the final result on the night).
Amongst other things I do recall that on one night Pusey's bike was well and truly on song and he rode with great flair and style and giving his compatriots and opponents alike a decent touch-up in the process. So sorry to read recently of his far too early passing in 2003.
One other recollection from the time is of two young American riders coming out to Western Springs for several months. The then American style was not competitive, with the riders sitting well back on their bikes and not allowing them to hang out and keep the power on through the bends. However one night shortly before they departed for Sydney one of them, Chuck Jones, embraced the Antipodean style and let it all hang out as he went on to win a race against Andrews and Subritzky. Whether it was set up or not is up for debate but what was not at issue was the young Americans' learning from the locals' much more adventurous and flamboyant style. The other rider might have been DeWayne Keeter who later returned to Australia with a touring side but I recall we received news in NZ that Jones had a major 'off' and broke his back during that Sydney leg of the trip. I don't know if he ever rode again.
Balmy summer evenings with the sound ... and well, who can forget the smell, was it only ethanol they were adding to the mixture? Enjoyed it hugely and I suspect we would have done it again and again if the old man hadn't taken us all on a long trip to Europe in 1969 and then accepted a job offer in Melbourne Australia early the next year. Trying to refresh the memory of some events it's been a pleasure to see some of the old names and that their involvement has been recorded on-line. The speedway scene in Auckland and some of the sports' greatest riders gave me some terrific memories.
This article was first published prior to October 2002
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