The Australasian Finals - 1982
Alarm bells rang when it was announced that the 1982 Australasian Final would be held at the Te Marua stock-car track, Upper Hutt, Wellington. Nothing wrong with this circuit and speedway racing was no stranger to the venue. 1973 saw a Test Match, NZ V British Lions. 1974 hosted the Mauger/Briggs travelling circus. 1975 another Test, NZ V Poland and in 1978, The NZ Final.
Promoter Tony Nesbitt was himself a former solo rider who had finished 5th in the 1971 NZ Championship at Templeton, Christchurch with 10 points behind Frank Shuter 15, Alan Brown 14, Roger Wright 13 and Gary Peterson 12. This guy knew his stuff. But despite all of this, it did come as something of a surprise to see that the 'Jewel in the Crown' was to be staged there.
The date would be Febuary 27 from where the top 4 would qualify for the Overseas Final at White City on July 4. From there it was on to the Intercontinental Final at Vetlanda, Sweden, July 23. That one being the final step to the World Final in Los Angeles on August 28.
So, we arranged to have the Friday off work, drive to Picton, catch the midday ferry that would see us in Wellington late afternoon. Less than an hour's drive to Upper Hutt, book into a motel, fish and chips for tea. Le'ts just hope for fine weather and a smooth crossing.
All those plans went on hold however when we learned that Tony Nesbitt had pulled the plug citing financial difficulties. Nesbitt first applied to the NZSCB to have the number of Australians reduced from 8 to 4. The Australian Speedway Control Council rejected that outright. The NZSCB came back with the offer of 6 Australian places. The Aussies reluctantly agreed believing that it was better that, than to have no Australasian Final at all. So the Australian Final at Perth on January 15, was run with all riders knowing they were going for a place in the top 6. The result was;
1st Billy Sanders 14, 2nd Gary Guglielmi 14 , 3rd Glyn Taylor 11, 4th Phil Crump 10, 5th Les Sawyer 10, 6th John Titman 9, 7th Steve Regeling 9, 8th Phil Herne 9. 9th Keith Wright 6. 10th John McNeil 5. 11th Rod North 5. 12th Danny Kennedy 4. 13th Rob Ashton 4. 14th Mike Fiora 4. 15th Terry Tulloch 4. 16th Rob Townson 2.
Titman won the run-off for 6th place from Regeling and Herne.
Back to Wellington. Tony Nesbitt sold his interest in Te Marua and the new promoter, Dennis Berry said the meeting was off. It was now on to the NZ Final at Western Springs, January 30. Two days before this, 'The N.Z Herald' dated January 28, carried the following article,
'The Australasian zone final of the world speedway championship, which was to have been raced in Wellington, has been cancelled. The cancellation may mean that only the top two scorers in Saturday's New Zealand final at Western Springs will proceed to the next qualifying round.
The promoter of the Te Marua speedway in Wellington, Mr Dennis Berry, said yesterday that the zone final would not go ahead as the meeting was too costly to run. The meeting had earlier been allocated to the track by the NZ Speedway Control Board. But Mr Berry, who took over the reins of the track last week, said the meeting was outside his "financial capacity". Earlier, the former promoter, Mr A.G. Nesbitt, advised the board that he could not hold the meeting because of the cost involved.
The meeting, which was to be set down for Febuary 27, would have included eight Australians and eight New Zealanders, with the top four scorers going through to the Northern Hemisphere round later this year.
The secretary of the control board, Mrs Margaret Lloyd, said yesterday that the Australian speedway authorities were now checking to see if any track there could hold the event. If an Australian track held the meeting, six New Zealand riders would be eligible to qualify from the Western Springs meeting. But if no track was interested, two New Zealand riders from the Western Springs meeting along with two Australians would go direct to the Northern Hemisphere round.
After hearing of the cancellation yesterday, Auckland rider John Goodall said it was "typical of Australasian speedway to be in such a shambles." Goodall said the board had blundered in giving the final to Wellington before checking to see whether it could run it. The board should therefore help to finance the meeting he said.
Another top Auckland contender for the Australasian Final, Mike Fullerton, said the board or the country's speedway promoters should have had enough power to ensure the meeting was run after it was allocated. Another Aucklander, Mitch Shirra, said he did not know who was to blame for the cancellation but if the Australasian Final was held in Australia, it would be an embarrassment to New Zealand. Shirra said people had talked about New Zealand holding a World Final, but it could not even run a qualifying round.'
We cancelled our long weekend.
So, all the riders at the NZ Final were briefed before the meeting that with the Australasian Final in doubt, they needed to race for the top two places. John Goodall is adamant to this day that was the case,
"... four of the eight NZ riders that qualified through the NZ Final were prepared to swear in court that we knew of the possibility that only two would qualify. So too are members of the public such as the newspaper reporters that got their stories from the NZ Control Board."
The NZ Final ended with the following results; 1st Mitch Shirra 14. 2nd John Goodall 13. 3rd David Bargh 12. 4th Larry Ross 11. 5th Wayne Brown 11. 6th Mike Fullerton 9. 7th Roger Wright 9. 8th Greg Joynt 8. 9th Steve Hann 7. 10th Ivan Mauger 5. 11th Gavin Rhodes 5. 12th Colin Farquharson 4. 13th Max Brown 4. 14th Graeme Stapleton 3. 15th Alan Mason 3. 16th Barry Free 1.
Now, the NZSCB offered the Australasian Final to Australia. Brisbane stepped up to the plate but needed the date to be changed to March 13. Not much to ask is it? Well, the FIM said, "No!" This was a shocking blow and I wonder who was behind that decision? It showed utter contempt for the Southern Hemisphere and total disaster for the sport down under. Christchurch then came back with an offer but wanted the NZSCB and NZACU to underwrite the meeting but they said, "No!" With that, the Australasian Final was dead!!!
What now? It was obvious surely. Even though the Australian Final was run on the understanding that the top 6 would qualify, the first two, Billy Sanders and Gary Guglielmi would join Mitch Shirra and John Goodall at White City. Easy! Well, what happened was ... two new qualifying rounds were hastily introduced. The NZ round at Christchurch on Febuary 27 and the Australian round at Brisbane on March 13.
Gary Guglielmi said,
"We were told in Perth that if the Australasian Final at Wellington did not take place, the first and second riders from the Australian Final would be seeded direct to the Overseas Final."
Guglielmi was now in the same boat as Goodall. These two new rounds suited some but not others. And they were NOT re-staged NZ and Australian Finals. For each, only the top 8 riders from those original Finals would have their points count.
Australia - Sanders, Guglielmi, Taylor, Crump, Sawyer, Titman, Regeling and Herne.
NZ - Shirra, Goodall, Bargh, Ross, Brown, Fullerton, Wright, Joynt.
The NZ round at Christchurch saw two Auckland riders not attending, Goodall and Fullerton. While Fullerton was injured, Goodall had a different reason,
"The whole idea of the Christchurch meeting was out of order as we as NZ competitors have to sign a contract entry form to compete in the World Championship rounds in our country. We were in legal contract with the NZ Control Board, that the NZ Final was the "FINAL" of the NZ qualifying rounds. Because they choose to break this contract and run another qualifier, I requested in writing confirmation as to who would pay my fare to Europe if I qualified through the Christchurch meeting. They refused my request. Yet the terms of the original form state the expenses of a qualifier that was not based in Britain would be paid. By whom?"
John Goodall's treatment throughout all of this was a disgrace! In the NZ Final, he had been beaten in round one by Mitch Shirra and Larry Ross. From there, he was unbeaten. Instead of being lauded for this achievement and finishing 2nd overall to Shirra, he was targeted as a troublemaker.
Shirra was also not at all pleased with the new round.
"It's just not on. We have already run this meeting. You can't run a World Championship round with only 8 riders. On present form, Larry Ross and myself would probably be the top two riders in NZ, but you can't take away from John Goodall the fact that he qualified in the meeting that counted."
The chairman of the Speedway Control Board Mr Don Tomkins said,
"I personally favour the top two from the NZ Final going to Britain, but I'm not on the committee that makes that decision."
Shirra wanted the meeting stopped and Goodall considered taking out a High Court injunction to prevent it taking place. Well, in Christchurch the week of the new meeting, Ivan Mauger was on the radio spouting how he wanted to be the first World Final promoter to actually ride in the World Final! "Oh for ..."
Ivan was delighted that the Australasian Final was a dead duck. He had never approved of it and had spoken against it since day one. And now as co promoter and Kenny Carter's personal manager, he wanted to be riding in the LA World Final as well. "And the farmer towed another load away!" Reigning World Speedway Champion, Bruce Penhall saw this as "a conflict of interests."
Hearing Mauger on the radio, this tweaked my interest to the full. Mauger had not finished in the top 8 at Western Springs. So what was he talkin aboot? Well, he knew what I did not. Goodall and Fullerton were not coming. Two sides of the coin here. 'Heads', no-one who was not in the top 8 should have taken their places. 'Tails', two step down, two step up, fair enough. Next in line was Christchurch's Steve Hann. So he took Goodall's place . Then before the meeting, Mauger beat Gavin Rhodes, also from Christchurch in a run-off for the 8th 'points scorer', taking the place of Mike Fullerton. And so, the two Christchurch 'Top Guns', Mauger and Larry Ross were back in the hunt. The results; * Indicates points that counted. New Zealand Qualifying Round. Templeton, Christchurch. Febuary 27.
1st. Larry Ross* 15.
The Australian round was held at the Brisbane Exhibition Ground, March 13. The results; * Indicates points that counted.
1st. Billy Sanders* 15.
And so at last, the four riders for the Overseas Final were known and the Australasian Final was dead and buried. There was no inquiry or Coroners inquest. The words 'fiasco' and 'disgrace' do come to mind but they don't get close to the real gut feelings of the time.
In 1976, Australasian Speedway had come of age and as a reward, the Southern Hemisphere was handed 'The Australasian Final', a World Championship Quarter Final. The equivalent of a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow. After 3 years, the Quarter Final status was lost and in 1982, this classic showpiece was wrecked and written off. Those responsible had their own agendas and Speedway in this part of the world could not be taken seriously again. There will be those who will say, "aahhh bollocks man!!!" And fair enough, I look forward to your replies. This brings to an end, the history of the Australasian Finals, as I saw them. Tarra for a bit.
This article was first published on 17th March 2019
"A great shame the series could not have continued for another two years, would love to have read an account of Barry Briggs' brief comeback in 1984 when he scored 11 points in the New Zealand final "
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