Category Archives: Feature Story

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Rod Colquhoun has been involved with Heffernan Motorports for nearly 12 months and during the past summer he was interviewed by respected journalist and broadcaster David Tapp – see the full interview below in the first of our feature interview series.

In this special feature, Speedway Racing News publisher, David Tapp, speaks to the man he regards as being Australia’s foremost bike commentator and journalist, Rod Colquhoun. Indeed Rod was the editor of SRN for many years and as the following interview demonstrates, the former international rider is not lacking in opinions when it comes to his beloved solo bike racing. Tapp thought it pertinent to feature an interview with Colquhoun, because, despite Australia continuing to produce an abundance of world class talent, he believes solo speedway in Australia is struggling like never before. The sport’s most traditional class of racing needs reinventing in the very country it all began and Rod remains philosophical about its future.

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Rod with son Sam at the Heffernan Motorsports/NSWSRA/Kurri Speedway Club presentation night.

DT: In recent years the sport of solo racing in Australia has slipped off the radar to some extent, despite our nation producing a host of world class riders…. What are your thoughts on this?

RC: I don’t think it has. I think you’re a lot like me David in that you think if you’re not involved in something it isn’t happening. I honestly don’t think speedway has ever been on the radar, certainly not in my 25 years of involvement. It’s a fringe sport and if there’s a big crash caught on film or an Aussie wins the world title it might hit the mainstream media for ten seconds – other than that we are a minority sport at best. The day I stopped being frustrated by the lack of exposure speedway receives I reckon I slowed down the ageing process. I now understand where we sit in the pecking order and somewhat reluctantly I have accepted it. Ask yourself where sidecar racing would be without the involvement of yourself and Dave Parker? It is the horse and you have led it to the water – but it would be absolutely nowhere without that guidance. The fundamental difference between sidecars and bikes is that your Black Chrome series is the only thing sidecars have worldwide, bike riders have six or seven countries actively running team events they can take part in, so they are less willing to drop everything and ride – and then there’s the money they want to do it…I’m afraid I can’t agree that bike racing is struggling like never before, in fact I think it is growing rapidly in NSW and WA in particular.

DT: As it currently stands there is only a handful of venues running bikes regularly; including Gillman, Kurri, Nepean, Mildura and Pinjar Park; with Gillman being the only major capital city venue (Adelaide). In years gone by major venues such as Claremont Showground and The Brisbane Exhibition Ground were running regular shows as was Newcastle Motordrome. Do you concur the sport simply must re-establish itself in major cities to come back to prominence?

RC: No not really, I believe the sport has found its place and is operating accordingly. Dave Lander delivered a Grand Prix to our biggest city’s premier sports arena in 2002 and it wasn’t overly popular outside the diehard fans, so I don’t agree with your view on that. Sydney and Melbourne in particular have a high density of migrants among their residents and they aren’t going to the speedway, they wouldn’t even know what it is – particularly Asians.

DT: The biggest problem the sport has faced in recent years has been the demise of bike venues combined with a lack of interest from clubs and promoters that control the majority of speedway racing’s major tracks such as Perth Motorplex, Speedway City, Avalon Raceway, Archerfield Speedway and Sydney Speedway, to name just some. I have been critical of the sport’s governing body for its lack of effort in liaising with major venues in an attempt to create interest……what are your thoughts?

RC: All of the tracks listed are good venues but not for bikes. The modern bike is too light, too powerful and in the wrong hands, too dangerous to be racing around a concrete lined clay track regardless of how it is prepared.

DT: Does the sport’s peak body do enough in totality?

RC: I dipped my toe in the water as part of the speedway commission for about 4 years and found it enormously frustrating but more so a very thankless task. It might sound stupid but I honestly thought I would ride an express train to the top of MA, but I needed reminding that speedway is just a small facet of what they do. When I instigated the GP style Australian championship series I consulted Mick Poole and Mick Holder just to make sure I wasn’t on my own in the view a series would be a good thing. I received support from the rest of the Commission and CEO David White also thought it was good so that was no problem. I’ve always found David (White) to be a decent bloke but appalling when it comes to answering emails. We were once told that there were other people at MA that responded to the emails and that they should be directed to them, but I didn’t like that. I don’t want to speak to the waiter when I can speak to the chef if you know what I mean? Unfortunately speedway is a bit weird in that the riders think the world owes them a living even if they haven’t achieved a level of success that warrants it. Sometimes I can understand why the ‘rule makers’ think speedway is a pain in the arse. MA does some good things as far as the world cup is concerned, as well as rider training/coaching, financial assistance to selected riders via grants but they do a woeful job of telling anyone, in fact it’s a shame they don’t sell themselves better, I’m sure their relationship with the sport or the perception of that relationship would improve. That is a role I would most certainly consider taking on.

DT: Is the Motorcycling Australia appointed National Speedway Commission effective?

RC: No, I don’t think it is, but they are volunteers that probably feel better for having contributed something. It is good for changing rules where necessary or picking fields when called upon but it probably lacks the visibility and more importantly the credibility to be a real force. I know Ivan Golding puts together the sup regs and things like that for each major meeting and that sort of bullshit just does not interest me, so there is more to what they do than just huffing and puffing. I certainly don’t doubt their intention to achieve good for the sport and I’ve always had a lot of respect for Ivan as a person and we get on well. Dave Watt was put forward as a spokesperson for the riders a couple of years back but that seems to have faltered somewhat, so hopefully a replacement can be found if Dave has handed back the baton?

DT: What is your take on the sport at grass roots level? It’s obviously rolling along well based on the young talent coming through.

RC: I don’t pretend to be an expert on all regions but here in NSW we are strong in terms of numbers. The winter series conducted this year offered over $10,000 in prizes and over 50 different senior riders from three states competed at one time or another, many of them at all ten rounds. Above all else it bought about the unification of Kurri, Nepean and Tamworth as far as races dates is concerned and everybody benefited as far as I could see. The building of the Kurri venue is the most significant positive development in bike racing on this side of the country since I’ve been involved. NSW will breed champions and Kurri will be the reason, just as Adelaide will and Gillman will be the reason.

SRN Me and Leigh 2

Rod and Leigh Adams just 5 days before Leigh’s tragic accident.

DT: It was not long ago that the national championship, when you and I were involved previously, had television coverage on Fox Sports and Network Ten as well as all the trimmings with media launches, a major sponsor, corporate hospitality, a souvenir magazine, posters, stickers, press kits and a sprinkling of international riders……. Can this be rejuvenated going forward and who will do it?

RC: Really it was you and I that made that happen and outside of us I don’t think it will happen again in the short term. I could go around and scrape up some money from all my mates in the industry and we could get it on the box but at what personal cost to me? I have no children that race, I am just a bloke that had a go at riding and now I am involved on some occasions. I am happy to help a friend negotiate a contract in the UK or find a team place but I do that because I like the person. That said; I can’t take personal responsibility for every perceived shortcoming the sport has – it is too taxing. I remember I received an abusive email complaining about the fact we didn’t play a restart during the coverage of the Australian Final round at Sydney Showground when Rory Schlein was ruled to have jumped the start even though he hadn’t. After all the work we did to raise the money and get that on TV I could have punched that bloke right in the face. Over time it dents your enthusiasm a little.

DT: In recent months Leigh Adams has indicated he wishes to be a part of the sport’s administration; yet to the best of my knowledge no one in a position of power has contacted him. Surely this is a joke? He would bring a lot to the role, surely? Then, there are guys like Jason Crump, yourself, Mick Holder, who could all make a very positive contribution in senior administration roles.

RC: If Leigh wants to get involved I’m sure he can whenever he feels like it. He has a great rapport with David White and has enormous respect from everyone in the sport. Mick Holder is the benevolent dictator that all successful regimes need and the third member should possibly come from Western Australia. A trio that included Leigh and Mick would be tremendous and if Crumpy wanted to get involved then he’d also have my support 100%, not that he needs it. I’d rather Jason or Leigh was on it rather than both as they probably have similar ideas that may not apply to the common man.

DT: What are the sport’s biggest priorities at present in Australia?

RC: I think it is to continue to improve safety and not be afraid to go to a track and refuse to ride if it’s deemed dangerous by the most experienced riders on hand. We can’t have a Lee Richardson style tragedy here in Australia; many of us will never fully get over what happened to Ashley Jones and it really isn’t worth it. Life is too precious. There will always be accidents, but minimising the risk through riding on adequately prepared bike specific tracks is a must.

DT: So, if you were given the responsibility of creating a business plan for the sport, how would you structure it?

RC: I probably have to throw up the white flag at designing a business plan as I’m not equipped to do so, but I believe the summer season will always pay its way and even exceed that if we can get our top guys doing 3 or 4 marquee events per summer. Making that attractive to them would be my priority. Perhaps MA could purchase a couple of rolling chassis from each of our top four and then supply them back to that rider each summer at no cost so the rider need only bring home two engines and carbies? After two summers of use the bikes could be sold on and the cycle could start again. It would ensure high quality rolling chassis’ for the top guys and it would also benefit the purchaser – having state of the art gear available second hand. I know Jason Doyle hired rolling chassis for this year’s title and that is not dissimilar to what I have suggested above.

DT: British Speedway is in all sorts of trouble with many venues going broke whilst others are pleased if they break even. Are the British promoters the architects of their own demise as it often appears?

RC: I think the change made last month to make the reserve places in the Elite League teams exclusive to Brits is a woeful decision that may cripple many of those riders from both a financial and confidence perspective.England has three riders (Woffinden, Nicholls and Harris) that are capable of competing with the likes of Ward, Holder etc, so to bring in twenty kids and ask them to learn from being belted by these blokes is farcical. If the reserves don’t beat each other then they won’t beat anybody. The Elite League is dreadfully weak these days, but clearly that has been driven by financial contraints; I would estimate the quality of the riders to be around 60 per cent of the quality it was in the late 80s – apart from the big boys mentioned previously. Just as an example of the mentality of many UK promoters, I recall after my big crash at Swindon while riding for Peterborough in 1993, I lost my place in the team to Ronnie Pedersen (Nicki’s brother). I was offered a lifeline by Exeter, the cellar dwellers of division two at the time but the BSPA vetoed the move because my average was .03 too high or something similar. I knew then that those wankers had no human interest whatsoever, it was all maths and rules and twenty years later look what they’ve got – not much.

DT: The state of the scene in England will eventually impact adversely on young Australian riders?

RC: Yes and sooner rather than later I believe. It is becoming more difficult to make a living out of speedway unless you are one of the top guys. It is highly hypocritical of me to say it, but I would urge any bloke nearing his mid twenties that isn’t really cutting it at Premier League (Div 2) level to pack it in overseas and just race in Australia. The long term financial impact of just making ends meet each year in the UK when they could be back here working and accumulating paid holidays, superannuation etc is almost immeasurable. Their friends might envy them because they are a ‘professional’ rider, but in 20 years time that envy will be reversed. One will have some sort of financial security the other will be chasing his tail. If my son wanted to race internationally obviously I would let him do it, but as soon as it became apparent that he was just another rider I would politely suggest that he come home while he’s in one piece and get a real job.

DT: What are your thoughts on the World Championship and the direction it’s heading in?

RC: I think it probably has a few too many rounds and I feel as though IMG is trying to force it around the globe rather than see if it evolves. I really dislike unnecessary expansion and the Western Sydney Giants AFL team is a good example of what I’m referring to. I like sports that play to their strengths and look after those that look after them. Take American Baseball for example, they run a world series and bull shit on about how great it is, but it is the world to them and they keep it strong within their own little world. I like that. Some of the stadiums the SGP series visits in Latvia, Croatia and Italy are not big and they are not packed out so I’d rather see a GP qualifier or something like that held there as opposed to a GP round, at least until demand calls for more.

DT: And the World Team Cup?

RC: I feel embarrassed when I watch riders slowing down so the ‘Joker’ rule can’t be used by the opposition. I think it is incumbent upon the FIM to enforce the scrapping of the Joker rule or just suspend the event indefinitely. It’s garbage, which is a shame because Australia always treats the event with respect and is proud of its record.

DT: Why is the sport so big in places like Poland?

RC: Probably the money filtering in at the top and the regular racing. In Australia we throw a couple of big meetings on over Christmas/New Year and hope people get on board, whereas in Poland the fans go to the speedway every second Sunday (Home match) the same way a footy fan does in Australia. That sort of familiarity with the riders breeds a relationship with the sport and we can’t do that down here. Team racing also encourages passionate support, again like our football codes here in Australia.

DT: Who is the best rider you’ve ever seen and why?

RC: I would probably say Hans Nielsen. Four times world champion and dreadfully unlucky in a few other finals. He won the last ever GP he rode in and I was there to see it, so Hans is my man!

DT: Who is the most under rated rider you’ve seen and why?

RC: I’d say Todd Wiltshire may have been maligned a little because he was such a good gater and a myth developed that he could only gate. I hold Todd in the same esteem as I do Crump, Holder and Adams with Sullivan and Boyce just a fraction behind. Darcy will join this list at some stage, but not just yet.

DT: Can Chris Holder re-establish himself at the top?

RC: I don’t think Chris will be too long in getting back to his best. He has been given a permanent wildcard for next year’s GP series and if he struggles in 2014 I reckon he could rely on another one for ’15. It’s his first ever major injury so there are some unanswered questions, but having kept in touch with him and interviewed him recently I’m sure he will be fine.

DT: Will Ward maximise his undoubted potential?

RC: It’s not really my place to say as there are so many unknowns ahead, but I will say it will be a travesty if he doesn’t win an Australian Title at some stage and then a world title. It’d be nice if it was done in that order, but that looks unlikely. Darcy’s ability on a bike is beyond belief and maybe that alone is enough to get him to the top – we will see.

DT: Who is the next big thing in Aussie bike racing at international level?

RC: I think the door is ajar for Troy Batchelor if he can step it up a little, but time is running out for him to some degree. Young NSW rider Jack Holder has as good a riding style as I’ve ever seen. He has the control of Adams entering the turn and then looks a lot like Craig Boyce through the apex and on exit, unbelievable control. Brady Kurtz rides exactly like Jason Crump and Max Fricke has a beautiful compact style resembling Ryan Sullivan’s. These three kids are incredible and I am not exaggerating.

DT: Who is the sport’s best youngster coming thru the ranks at present?
RC: Hunter Valley teenager Max Croker looks very impressive. He seems to be cruising when he’s winning races and if he doesn’t move across to road racing I think he will be a big player over the coming decade.

DT: What are the highlights of your involvement in the sport?
RC: I have three. The first was as a rider when I beat Tony Rickardsson fair and square around Peterborough; that memory still means a lot to me.
The second was when I saw Tony in Mildura at a pub on the eve of the Leigh Adams farewell and he stopped what he was doing and walked over and embraced me like a close friend. I couldn’t believe I had made such an impression on the world’s best ever rider. The third was when Kylie Adams called me the day after Leigh Adams’ big off road crash that ultimately left him paralysed to update me on his condition. For her to do that under those circumstances moved me as much as anything I’ve ever previously experienced, incredible.

SRN Me and Tony 2

Rod interviews the great Tony Rickardsson in 2010

DT: What have been the low points if any?
RC: Obviously fatalities are a huge tragedy, we all know each other and it is a terrible reality check. As a rider I would say my inability to ride most small tracks. I had an 8.5 home average at Peterborough and a 4 point away average. That led to massive highs and terrible lows emotionally and forced me out of the sport eventually. I now have a tendancy to gravitate toward situations that keep me on an even keel, big emotional swings don’t work for me and it’s that time in the UK that contributes greatly to that. Thirdly it would be my involvement with the inaugural World Speedway Sidecar Championship at Wayville. I was disgusted by the fragmentation in that state (SA) and I was shocked by the level of disdain held for both the event itself and the people running it. I waltzed into town like I was the saviour and left with my tail between my legs and with a few friends less than I had when I got there. Frankly, it was sickening but because I didn’t and don’t know the history behind the hatred I didn’t know who to blame.
I learnt a valuable lesson on that trip and I’m a lot wiser for the experience.

DT: In concluding and in just a few sentences, how do you encapsulate your involvement in the sport so far?
RC: I am thrilled that I have been involved through the Crump, Holder, Adams, Sullivan, Wiltshire era. Provided I grow old it will be wonderful to be able to speak with a very solid knowledge of these blokes and what they achieved. Australia went for over 50 years without providing a world champion and now Aussies have won four of the last nine conducted. This makes me enormously proud and whilst I may have been getting covered in crap whenever I raced these guys, not everyone in the world can say they lined up against that sort of company; so that’s pretty cool. We can’t all be champions but it takes four people to make a race.

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In action at Poole in 1990 leading Scott Norman (SA) and former Premier League Rider’s Champion Gary Allen

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