DVD Review: World Finals of the 80s
Retro-Speedway take us back to the 1980s once more in this follow up to World Finals of the 70s. Four hours of footage is split between two DVDs, the first covering the 1980-84 period, the second up to 1989. Unlike the previously released Speedway in the 80s DVD, this production deals exclusively with the sport's biggest nights. Those who have seen that other DVD will find a degree of duplication here, but there's sufficient distinct content to justify this being released as a separate product.
The format is as we've come to expect from Retro-Speedway - voiceover, archive footage, interviews and still pictures are carefully edited together in documentary style.
So, what of the story itself? We'll let's start at the beginning - with a young Michael Lee winning his only title in Gothenburg. Lee is interviewed many years later and reflects on his win and the events leading up to it. Of course, we also see footage of the meeting itself, allowing us to see Britain's only win of the 80s.
Thereafter the film moves year-by-year through the decade. The 1981 final remains the stuff of legend. A great meeting played out in front of a packed crowd at speedway's greatest theatre. I'm sure many of us can visualise the Penhall/Olsen and Penhall/Knudsen clashes without the need for this DVD, but they truly are remarkable races and it's a delight to see them once more.
Refreshingly the footage from the 1981 Final is that from KM Video rather than the ITV World of Sport coverage. Although the brilliant on-track action remains the same, it's nice to see this classic meeting from a less familiar perspective.
We're all guilty of looking back at times through rose tinted spectacles, but the sight of some of the 'no-hoper' Eastern Europeans competing in the finals is a reminder that things weren't always better. The system introduced in later years that saw all riders having to qualify on equal terms was a definite improvement to an unsatisfactory system.
As is customary on these Retro-Speedway DVDs, there are interviews with those who were closest to the action - including those who won the titles. Lee, Penhall, Muller, Nielsen and Gundersen are all present and correct with Mauger, Briggs and Olsen also adding their own thoughts where appropriate. These interviews are all welcome additions, but the action footage itself is the real star of the DVD and the producers wisely allow the pictures to tell the story where possible.
The 1982 final gave 'Juicy Brucie' the chance to retain the title on home ground in the LA coliseum. The meeting is largely remembered for the controversial Carter/ Penhall crash in heat 14 - the one where Kenny had "Noooo chance". It's remarkable just how rough that race was, even before Carter hit the deck. The ragged start with Peter Collins touching the tapes just adds to the value to an extraordinary minute of speedway. As has been pointed out elsewhere, the biggest victim of the incident was Les Collins who may have been world champion if the race hadn't been abruptly stopped.
The Americans gave the event a fair sprinkling of razzmatazz, including bringing the riders round on stagecoaches and making them wear those coloured armbands - something unthinkable in these more sponsor conscious times.
Perhaps the biggest problem the DVD faces is that the '81 and '82 Finals were so fantastic and well-remembered that the finals that followed can't compare. Even Erik Gundersen says that the Danish domination of the sport was becoming boring by the end of the decade. If the story of 80s World Finals was a screenplay then the sequence of events would undoubtedly have been changed for greater dramatic impact. There's obviously not much scope for the producers of this DVD to tell the story in anything other than chronological order, but there's a definite sense of anti-climax as the film progresses.
I can recall watching the 1983 World Final on Grandstand and being totally underwhelmed. Thirty years on the experience is much the same. An afternoon meeting from Norden being in stark contrast to what we'd come to expect from the biggest speedway 'night' of the year. Muller won - not much else happened.
For the remainder of the decade the title stayed in Denmark - Erik Gundersen and Hans Nielsen both claiming the title on three occasions. Although these later finals pale in comparison to the heights of 81/82, there are still some great moments to be enjoyed once more.
The Gundersen/Nielsen rivalry is probably the greatest in modern-speedway history, it certainly hasn't been surpassed in the years since the Great Danes raced. It was made all the more interesting by the presence in their corners of Ole Olsen and Ivan Mauger respectively. All four gents are able to look back on those days with perhaps more clarity than they did at the time. It's interesting to hear their views and get an insight into the kind of psychological factors that used to be at play. Gundersen is fulsome in his praise of Olsen's contribution and now admits it was unfair for him to have the national manager in his corner.
Despite winning three titles, Gundersen's brilliance is not celebrated as much as it should, being overshadowed by the tragic end to his career. His Odsal pass of Dennis Sigalos and Shawn Moran in the 1985 World Final is up there with the very best speedway the world has seen. His jump from third to first forcing a three way run-off for the title.
That British held final was also remarkable as a low-point for British riders, with only Kelvin Tatum qualifying to represent the country on the big afternoon. Kelvin is now a wise old man on Sky Sports but at the time was a very inexperienced rider indeed and admits that the pressure of carrying home nation hopes got the better of him.
Tatum was back in the field the following year and feels that with just a little more experience he may well have been able to win the title that year. The man who did win the title was Hans Nielsen, finally getting his hands on the gold medal after coming so close the previous two years. We get another chance to see his famous crash with Tommy Knudsen that could have scuppered his chances had the referee made a different call when apportioning blame. Hans still believes that he wasn't to blame for the crash - buy the DVD and see if you agree.
The FIM big-wigs fancied an overnight stop in Amsterdam in 1987 and elected to stage the World Final over two days. An experiment that was such a success it was never repeated. Nielsen came out on top again after two days of unremarkable action. None of those asked to look back on the the final considered it had been a success.
We were back on more familiar territory at Vojens in 1988. Gundersen didn't have Olsen by his side that year as Ole was clerk of the course and that conflict of interest would have been too much for even the brave Ole. Despite this, Erik reclaimed the crown for the third and final time. It wasn't a straightforward win as his buddy, compatriot and team-mate Jan O. Pedersen passed him when the title appeared to be in the bag. At the time Erik admits he was rather upset about it, but his subsequent win in a run-off handed him a deserved win, hard-earned and untainted by any suggestion of 'favours'. Gundersen and Pedersen are both interviewed about this interesting incident that did neither's reputation any harm.
The '88 final was a good one, but sadly the decade (and DVD) finishes with a rather drab meeting in the Olympic Stadium in Munich. The narrow track was not conducive to good racing and it's a sad sight to see the world's best knocking off the gas as they exit the second bend - colliding with an opponent often seeming to be the only alternative. Kelvin Tatum describes the track as being "a compromise", seemingly necessary to obtain permission to make use of such a great stadium. Nielsen was the best on the day and nabbed the title back from his greatest rival, Gundersen having lost in their head to head and losing all hope with an engine failure in a later race.
In conclusion, an excellent DVD that makes for good viewing, even though the meetings it covers vary dramatically in spectacle. The DVD never tries to shy away from that, acknowledging that the action wasn't always great, but that there was an interesting story to tell nonetheless.
How To Order
By Phone : 01708 734 502
By Post : Send a cheque for £16 (payable to Retro Speedway) (add £2.50 if outside UK) to:
103 Douglas Road
Online : At Retro-Speedway.com
This article was first published on 3rd November 2013
"Erik Gundersen passed Lance King and Shawn Moran at the 85 Odsal Final, not Dennis Sigalos. Dennis had his career come to a sad end the year before by injury. "
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