An interview with : Brian Andersen
World Under 21 Champion, British Grand Prix Winner, Danish International - there's not much that Brian Andersen didn't achieve. We caught up with Brian at his tuning workshops in Denmark to find out about his new life and to look back on his glittering career.
Brian, Thanks for agreeing to take part in this interview
No problem. When you've been part of speedway for many years and been professional for 10 years you're used to being in the spotlight and then all of a sudden, within a few seconds, you're not. Which can sometimes be quite hard to get used to.
If I could ride speedway tomorrow I would, not for being in the spotlight, but just because I love to ride speedway bikes. When I was twelve years old it was what I wanted to do. It's nice that people still take an interest in what you do and where you've gone to.
Let's start by talking about your tuning business
I work with quite a few riders, a mixture of top riders and up and coming youngsters. Grand Prix riders - Antonio Lindback, Tony Rickardsson and I work with Piotr Protasiewicz. It's difficult to take in too many Grand Prix riders because it's very demanding to do the engines as the meetings are every fortnight.
Do you actually travel to the GPs?
I do yes. Last year I had a deal with Antonio to help him out at the Grand Prix rounds. A lot of people asked how I could just work with one rider, but I'd helped him for three years and going into the GP was a big step for him. He's only 20 years old and I've always been interested in helping the youngsters and he needed an extra pair of hands. He decided to pay for all my travel and for me being there, but it takes three to four days out of the week so it's a big thing to lose that many days throughout the season.
I've been going to all the GPs, I think Lonigo was the only one I didn't go to last year. Mainly because I also help Morten Risager on a personal note. I've been working with him since he started on the 500cc's. Morten is more of a personal project, it's how far can you get these youngsters by guiding them and passing on your experience? I really enjoy that. Hopefully they won't make the same mistakes that I did!
I do a lot of different riders' engines and we run the company so that no matter who they are, they get the same kind of service. That's our main aim.
You can look on our website and see what our tuning business does. We're selling our own products. We're making fly-wheels and all that for Speedway.
We take orders by email, but we deal direct with our biggest customers as we're doing all their engines. These days you have to build the engine up to individually suit each rider to give him the set up he likes. This means different types of fly-wheels, different size of crank pin and other parts. We have a GM import in Denmark so we're importing a lot of parts and tuning engines for our riders. We have so far around 32 or 33 different riders.
Could you take on more riders if they want to get in touch?
Yes, they're very welcome to give me a ring or send me a mail. We have a mixture of riders, we're based in Denmark but I think we only have three Danish riders. So it's mainly foreign riders - Swedish, Polish, English - we have a good mixture.
Looking back on your own career, you started out when you were 12 at Fredericia. What was the 80cc speedway like?
Yeah, that's where the Danish riders learn to ride the bike. 80cc bikes are not the easiest to ride on, you don't really have enough horsepower to get the wheel spinning. You have to really ride hard, use your throttle control and your body to get the bike to ride properly and the rear wheel spinning. In speedway you can't turn your bike unless your real wheel is rotating, spinning loose off the track, if there's full traction all the time you can't turn it. You have to slide and get your wheel spinning, it's a crafty thing, you have to get the technique and you learn that from an early age. In my first season it took me the whole year to slide the bike, I did it for the first time in the last meeting. Up until then I'd been two-wheeling the bike. All of a sudden it just clicked and it worked. From then on it gets into your backbone and stays there. I went out riding at the end of last season, just for fun, and the riding style is the same as when I got off the bike three years ago. It's just something in your spine and you can't change it that easily.
Is there no way you could consider a comeback, would your injuries not allow that?
No, since my injury, a prolapsed disc in my neck, I still have a lot of problems. Mainly to do with the muscles in my neck, every time I get a problem it puts pressure on my spinal cord and the muscles surrounding it tense up. I get a lot of headaches from that, almost on a daily basis. That's naturally keeping me away and not tempting me. I was out at Coventry's last meeting in 2005 and the Coventry riders asked me and my brother Jan to come over and have a match-race. I did that and I was very happy about it, but it didn't do the neck much good. I did have a lot of headaches from that. If I didn't have my neck problem I would definitely ride tomorrow, that's for sure.
You first became known on the world stage back in 1991 when you won the Under 21 World Championship, what do you remember about that night?
That's a few years ago but that's when I first broke into the news in England. I had spoken to Coventry a little while before the final at Coventry. Tommy Knudsen was a good friend of mine and asked me if I wanted to come to Coventry. I was in the middle of my apprenticeship so it wasn't really the best time. Eventually I agreed to do the rest of the season but then all of a sudden the averages didn't fit and I never got to ride for Coventry that year.
Didn't you sign for Newcastle at that stage?
Yes I did. After the World Final, Newcastle signed me for the rest of the season. There was only three weeks left and it was only for three meetings. I did a deal with my employer and they agreed I could take time off if I made the hours up afterwards, so I had a busy time in the winter making up those hours! I rode the three meetings for Newcastle and that was my introduction to British Speedway. It was quite good fun as a young guy, I was only 20 at a time, so it was good experience.
The following season you signed for Coventry
Yes, it was obviously in the pipeline as they had already contacted me. So in my contract with Newcastle it said I was free to go at the end of the season. Tommy found me a family to stay with, Craig and Angela, who lived a little bit outside Leicester and I ended up staying with them for three seasons. It was a good place for me, as a young rider, to get established. I was like one of the family, with Sunday dinner which we're not used to in Denmark. It was quite nice when you're away from home to be part of someone else's family.
You stayed with Coventry for almost 10 years, what were the highlights of your time there?
First of all, I should stress that Coventry was my favourite track. The old track, before they changed it, was for me the best track in the world and the best home track you could ever wish for. It was big shame for me to see that getting changed.
We didn't really win any silverware at Coventry apart from the Craven Shield. We had some really, really strong sides on paper but we got hit by a lot of injuries. The team never really seemed to perform as it should.
I really enjoyed Coventry and I had the opportunity to ride with a lot of good riders. When I first came over there was Rick Miller, Tommy Knudsen and John Jorgensen. There was also Peter Ravn at one stage, Simon Wigg and Hans Nielsen. I've been able to ride in the same team as a lot of good guys. I was all ears and eyes, studying their professional approach, I think that helped me during my career.
What about the Grand Prix, your first year in it was 1997 and you actually finished sixth that season.
I was actually second at one stage in the Grand Prix standings after my victory at Bradford, which was obviously one of the highlights of my career. I was second in the standings and only seven points behind Greg (Hancock). Things were going good, even in Elite League meetings, until three or four days before the next GP at Wroclaw. I broke my collarbone.
Was that the first time you'd broken it?
Yes, the very first time. On 80cc in 1987 I broke my foot, otherwise I'd gone through ten years without major injury, which is obviously quite good for a speedway rider! In '97 I unfortunately got hit by this injury before Wroclaw. What I did then I've regretted many times afterwards, until I spoke to specialists. I broke my collarbone in Sweden on the Tuesday and on the way back I spoke to Tommy Knudsen who organised for me to see a doctor on the Wednesday. I consulted him and on Thursday lunchtime I went to get my collarbone plated. I went for an operation, had a plate put in and on Friday I went on an airplane to Wroclaw and on Saturday night rode in the GP.
Unfortunately the track was very, very rough as it had rained a lot and it looked like it may be called off. Unfortunately it wasn't and I had to go through the pain barrier big-time as you're not allowed to take any painkillers, because of doping. I'll never forget that!
Do you think may have affected the injury in the long-term and you may have been better to rest then?
A lot of people said that and I had that in the back of my mind. People have said I shouldn't have done that and "It ruined the rest his career". I've been talking to specialists and they say the healing process of a bone can actually stop if a bone breaks with a very high force. The people I've been speaking to have said that if I hadn't had it plated it might not have healed anyway. I'm now thinking that maybe I didn't do anything wrong. It was wrong of me to ride three days after the injury, that was stupid, whether it was plated or not! If you have the ambition to be world champion you do anything within your power to compete. At the time I didn't think about it, but I should have known you can't go out and win a Grand Prix with a broken collarbone. I never had that thought in my mind, I've thought about it afterwards, but not at the time.
I still managed to win the 'D' final against Leigh Adams and another couple of guys (Henka Gustafsson and Rafal Dobrucki), so I wasn't doing that badly with a broken collarbone and it was something of an achievement.
If I recall it, that was actually the night that Princess Diana got killed, I always remember that. I couldn't sleep that night because I was in such pain. All I had was a water cooler, a thing that you wrapped around your shoulder, just to take some of pain away. I remember I couldn't sleep and then we heard on the news that Diana was killed in a car crash. I have many memories of that GP!
You were still in the Grand Prix as recently as 2001, but your performances after that '97 crash were never at the same high level.
No, a lot of people don't know but after I had my collarbone plated, the following season I broke it again with the plate still in. I actually went to my doctor who took the plate out and he said they could tell from the x-ray that the collarbone had healed. I could just feel that it hadn't. I could put my fingers down and feel the two bones and they weren't following each other. I never felt 100% and I also broke my left collarbone. I think that my collarbone injury has cost me a lot in my career, there again, the decision I made at that time may not have made any difference.
I did struggle along in the Grand Prix for five years and it wasn't always fun psychologically as I felt I could do better. It never really went right for me after that. You can have regrets but I did my best and even though I didn't get the best results in the GP, I still put everything into the sport and everything into my bikes and had a professional approach. I did fitness training and everything to make good results but it didn't work out. I just wanted to make sure that when I was sixty I could look back on my career, with my grandchildren around me and say I did my best. I may not have been World Champion but I did everything within my power to get there.
In '97 things were working out well but it wasn't to be. That was my biggest chance of the title and I enjoyed that system, it worked for me. The following season they changed to the 'cut-throat' system and I was not that kind of rider. If you look back on my '97 GP season I almost always threw my first race away. I don't know if it was nerves, it just never worked in the first heat - even at Bradford I was third when I snapped a primary chain. I made a full house after that. All the other GPs were the same, I might as well have thrown away the first race and not taken part. I think it was nerves, after the first race you settle and then go to work.
Of course, in the new formula if you messed up the first race you were in trouble.
I felt that quite often you would get out on gate three or four and then if you make a bad start in the first race then you've got one leg out of the door. The spirit between the riders totally changed. I remember at the Bradford GP everybody talked and had a laugh, it was serious racing when the meeting was on, but before and after it was like a normal league meeting. We would help each other and lend people things. I remember the Bradford Grand Prix when Greg Hancock's van went on fire on the way up to the meeting. I offered him a loan of my bike even though he was my closest opponent, we were fighting for first and second place in the GP. I loaned him my bike and Norrie, Mark Loram's mechanic, was there changing tyres and loaning him tyres.
That wouldn't happen today, after the system changed it went 'cold air' between everybody, in the pits and even after the meeting around the vans. It lost that big family feeling. I personally liked that, when you could talk before you got down to the serious business. It wasn't like that when the new system came in. I don't think people could face other and be nice to each other when they knew that when it came to the crunch they had to put people in the fence. I didn't like it and I know a lot of other people didn't like it.
We also see now that they've changed it back again that a lot of the more steady riders' results are starting to get better again. I'm thinking about a rider like Bjarne Pedersen, he's more my type of character. He doesn't make out he's the World Champion, he's very quiet and concentrates on his racing, he's not a wild guy but he makes good results because he's a good speedway rider. He's not a dirty rider and in the end he's going to win if they keep this system. This system will help him as he's there all the time and all of a sudden he's got enough points and he's in the 'A' final.
You didn't win anything at Coventry, but you moved to Oxford and won the league.
Yeah, that's one of the highlights in my English career. I didn't manage to do it with Coventry, which I had very much wanted to. I always quite enjoyed Coventry, the way we did the contracts and the way I was involved with the team and the team managers.
Things did change a little bit when Colin Pratt came in and took over as co-promoter. Things went in a different direction to what I liked and in the end we couldn't agree terms and I sat out for quite a while until Colin Meredith called me up. That was at the end of 2000, he phoned and asked if I was interested in coming to Oxford. I agreed to go there and was quite happy and agreed to stay there.
The following season we had a very good side. I especially enjoyed my partnership with Todd Wiltshire, I'd had a similar partnership with John Jorgensen one year. I'd say that would have been '94 or '95. John and I were paired on 3 and 4 and we scored so many 5-1's together and had so many great races. That year with Todd was the same, we'd swap racejackets and score a lot of 5-1's. It's a very nice feeling as a rider when you don't really have to talk, because you know on the track what the other one is doing. It took a little while before Todd realised how I would team ride, once he clicked that we were quite an awesome pair.
That was definitely an enjoyable season and we became good friends with Colin Meredith and his wife Norma. She's actually staying here, she came today for a short holiday. They're more or less our English grandparents for my daughter. I got to know them when I was Coventry and I lodged with them when I went to Oxford.
That was an enjoyable time and I was riding for them again in 2002 until I crashed. I think it was the first time in all my English career that I started off with some really, really good scores. I usually started off slow, with sixes and sevens. That year I started with elevens and thirteens, before I crashed!
And you missed your own testimonial meeting
That was a big shame as I was very much looking forward to that. You can't do anything about injuries.
Speedway Plus would like to thank Brian for taking the time to speak to us. You can find out more about his tuning business - Brian Andersen Engineering - by visiting his website at http://www.bar-engineering.dk.
Pictures from Odsal 1997 courtesy of Steve Hone.
This article was first published on 19th May 2006
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