The Australasian Finals - 1976
Australasian Speedway had finally come of age. After decades of our riders having to compete in the British rounds of the World Championship, now they had their own. Leading up the Australasian Final, this held Quarter Final status. And it could not have come quick enough, especially for Kiwiland following the disgraceful debacle of 1975. That shocker saw Bruce Cribb score 34 out of a possible 45 points only to be denied his place in the Intercontinental Final, alongside Ivan Mauger. [ Mauger had scored the maximum 45! ] The other place had been 'given' to Barry Briggs after he got injured before the qualifying rounds. That tops the 'Hall of Shame'!!! Sadly, Cribby would not enter this years event.
The Australasian Final was held at Western Springs, Auckland, New Zealand. Febuary 21. The top 4 would go to the Intercontinental Final at Wembley on June 26. That's where they got to ride for a place in the World Final at Chorzow, Poland, September 5. There is wonderful You-tube footage of the pre-meeting pits activity. All 18 finalists with a multitude of other riders and former riders. Sadly, two Auckland 'Top Guns' were missing from the lineup. John Goodall had qualified for the NZ Final at Christchurch but was unable to make the trip. Mike Fullerton had THE most rotten meeting with engine problems and scored just one point. Both these guys would have been a serious threat to anyone at home. Another surprise from Christchurch was Robin Adlington. One point at half time, managed 6 at the end but lost the 1st reserve run-off to Canterbury's Dennis Sincock. Robin pulled out with engine failure on the first turn.
Arriving at the track two hours before tapes up meant buying programes, peering wide-eyed into the pits and off to the 'Fan Van' for photos, badges and other goodies. Then getting a seat, front row on the 1st bend. Let the good times roll after the mid afternoon showers had stopped and the clouds blew away, a fine warm evening just added to the magic! This historic occasion was made even more impressive by the NZ Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon presenting the goodies on the Grand Parade and the prizes at the end. Speaking of Kiwi nobility, Bob Andrews job that night was painting the white lines at the starting gate. [ Just imagine if they had Monster Energy Girls. May have been white lines halfway up the cycle track! ]
Ivan Mauger got the ball rolling with a win in heat 1 but it was 17 year old Australian Mitch Shirra that shocked the Kiwi pair, Colin Farquharson and Graeme Stapleton, taking the 2 points. [ Mitch would return to his Kiwi license in 78 ] The fireworks sparked into action when Barry Briggs broke the tapes in heat 2. Referee Bob Duckworth, ten years with Belle Vue, 50s & 60s would have none of the pleading and Briggo was excluded. In came Dennis Sincock who thoroughly enjoyed the experience, chasing home Phil Crump, Billy Sanders and Ricky Day. More tapes drama came in heat 4 as John Langfield and John Titman got sent back to the pits. That made a busy first round for Dennis Sincock and Robin Adlington got his first ride. Next 'good heavens' came in heat 6 as Shirra beat Phil Herne. Then heat 7 as Billy Sanders shot into the first turn to block Mauger who could find no way passed. Heat 9 saw fireworks for real as Graeme Stapleton's motor blew to bits! This was an ex Peter Collins Weslake and how no-one was injured by flying debris remains a mystery. Or perhaps they were and I just never heard about it.
The highlight of the night was sure to be heat 11. Mauger, Crump, Boulger, Herne. So Crump and Boulger were unbeaten, Mauger and Herne 5 points each. The atmosphere was as electric as the Light Orchestra, then Mauger broke the bloody tapes!!! What a let down. But sheer joy again for Dennis Sincock as he once again reveled in the drama and followed home Crump, Boulger and Herne. With Sanders winning heat 12, the halftime scores were Crump 9, Boulger and Sanders 8, Shirra 7, Herne 6 with Mauger, Ricky Day and Colin Tucker 5 each.
Half time, a dash to the loo to avoid the queue, hotdogs, chips and Coke. Tomato-sauce fingers, fantastic taste lingers and even had time for a smoke. [ Oh yes, young and daft! ]
Way too soon, it was back into it. Sanders kept on track, seeing off Herne in heat 13. Then for Crump, it was a case of 'if Mauger can do it, so can I'. With absolutely no pressure on him in heat 14, he pushed into the tapes, they broke and another cracking race went up up up in a puff of smoke. Protests fell on deaf ears, if Mauger was out, so was he! Shirra then made a bold move to stay in contention, taking his score to 10. Mauger moved to 8, and Ricky Day saw his hopes of an upset wave bye-bye as he went through the tapes. And Dennis Sincock got his fourth outing.
Four rounds complete, Boulger and Sanders 11 points each. Shirra 10. Crump 9. Mauger and Herne with 8. Round 5. This was going to be fun!
Crump nailed a place with his fourth win. Then the question on everyone's minds, would Boulger and Sanders cook heat 18 and allow their young fellow countryman to win and book all four places? The answer came from the start as Shirra found himself a spectator to his senior's battle as to who would take the top prize. John Boulger it was and how he so thoroughly deserved the win, holding out the persistent efforts of Billy Sanders. Heat 19, Ivan Mauger was now back in the hunt and when he and Ricky Day went into the tapes together, the whole stadium seemed to gasp. Well, they didn't break, Mauger made the gate, Titman and Tucker tangled [ terrible tongue twister ] and the Kiwi pulled out. Mauger held off Titman for the vital 3 points. Phil Herne then held off a fierce challenge by Barry Briggs in heat 20 to join Mauger and Shirra on 11 points.
So, to the run-off for the 4th and last place at Wembley. Me, being an idiot, had left my spot on the first turn and gone to the pits for autographs. So my view of the start was blocked by cars infield. But I had seen Herne and Shirra approach the starting area and then I saw Mauger do the same. All of a sudden, he was going into the first turn. It was the flyer to end all flyers as the starter Barrie Smith, not Bob Duckworth, let the tapes go up as Ivan was moving at 20ks toward them. Herne and Shirra were done like dinners as Ivan broke the track record!
Donkeys years later [ and Donkey shyte to you too pal ] I got to speak to an eye witness to the shenanigans that went on in the lead up to that barbecued start. He was right there and heard it all go down AND he tried to stop it. I would love to know why Bob Duckworth did not stop the race for an 'unsatisfactory start'. Anyways what was done was done and a very relieved Ivan Mauger joined Boulger, Sanders and Crump for the prize-giving ceremony.
So this classic night of pure theatre was all over. What a night at the Opera! For entertainment value and drama, I scored it ten out of ten. Armed with souvenirs for collectors overseas, that's how I got my Intercontinental and World Final programes, I eventually left in the hope of catching the last bus. I was so 'high', man I could have flown home!
Heat 1. Mauger, Shirra, Farquharson, Stapleton.
1st John Boulger. 3 3 2 3 3 14
This article was first published on 20th January 2019
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