Riders to Remember....Mike Fullerton
Ian Fullerton was a motorcycle mechanic who started riding speedway in 1944 at Huntly and progressed to the Western Springs track in Auckland where did several seasons. In 1963, he was appointed to the Springs as NZ Control Board Steward. Ian and his wife Eunice had 4 sons and 3 of these would take to solo racing; Colin, Robin and then Mike who was born on March 27, 1950.
He made his debut in the 71/72 season where he won 9 of his 26 starts and ended the year as Auckland junior Champion. The following season 72/73, Mike took over from his brothers as number 1 Fullerton. Now a regular A-grade competitor, Mike entered the 1973 NZ Championship at the Springs and made everyone sit up and take notice, scoring 9 points for 6th place behind Gary Peterson, Bob Andrews, Graeme Stapleton, Roger Wright and Bryce Subritsky. He gained a lot too by travelling to places like Gisborne, Napier and Palmerston North, riding against the above along with World Champion Ivan Mauger, Ronnie Moore, Barry Briggs, Graeme Smith, Frank Shuter, Freddie Timmo, John Goodall, Ian Ross, Dave Whitaker and Colin Farquharson.
At seasons end, Mike flew to the UK to ride for Bradford in the British League 2nd division alongside fellow Kiwi Robin Adlington. This was thanks to Tommy Sweetman who helped Adlington, John Goodall, Jack Millen and Jim Wells with their British League careers. Mike did 36 matches and he gained an average of 4.75. Not bad after just 2 NZ seasons.
Back in Auckland for the 73/74 season, Mike showed his improvement level off nicely by winning 16 of his 58 starts. Sadly, there was no touring Lions Team in NZ that season. Mike would have been a certain selection in the North Island. And he did not travel to Christchurch for the NZ Champs.
Deciding not to return to England, Mike waited for the 74/75 season only for disaster to strike in the opening meeting. 3 wins from 3 starts saw the cobwebs blown away but a crash in the 4th resulted in a broken wrist that put him out for most of the season. And it meant he missed selection for Tests against Poland. Also missing the NZ Champs at Palmerston North. But it wasnt all gloom. The call came from Scotland and Mike found himself back in the UK to ride for 2nd division Paisley. When the newly formed Paisley Lions announced the signing of Fully, there were a few eyebrows raised, as while the Love St side didn't have a side packed with well known, out and out heat leaders anyway, his relatively modest average from his Bradford days did not, shall we say, earmark the signing as being in the sensational category. However, it proved to be a masterstroke on the part of promoter Neil McFarlane as Fullerton upped his season end average to a highly creditable 7.41, a jump of more than 2.5, earning him a heat leader spot.
While some suggested Fully didn't regularly come from the back to get his points, perhaps he was emulating another Kiwi around that time who was also pretty rapid out the start, and didn't do too badly for himself at the highest level in the 60's and 70's!. As Fullerton said himself more than once, "if you get out of the start in front, you don't need to pass anyone!" Fully's rock solid scoring often made the difference between the Lions winning and losing in that first season. A couple of highlights from that year actually came in competition outside the bread and butter of league racing:
On July 19 1975, Australasia rode against Scotland at his home track. The Tartan brigade won 58-50 and Mike top scored with 13 along with Mitch Shirra, also 13 and Roger Wright 12. Then on August 9, a West German side took on Paisley. The home team won easily 55-22 and again Mike equal top scored with 10 points
All work and no play would have made Mike a dull boy, which he certainly wasn't-as the club statistician, I (Bill) knew I had to have Mike's stats ready for the weekly "What's me average?" cry that he greeted me with. I also got to know him, with another Kiwi in the shape of larger than life team/track manager John Wells, through our infrequent (?) visits to a certain hostelry equidistant from Mike's flat and the Love St track (about 100 metres' stagger, from my hazy recollection), and as the genial Scottish host of these lost souls so far from home, it was inevitable that he accepted my offer of an occasional shandy with a Drambuie flavour to it, or one of the many other local liquid delicacies, all in the name of fostering Anglo Antipodean relations, which by the end of the 1975 season must have been on an all time high!
Mike had some golden opportunities to shine back in NZ for 75/76 season. At the NZ Champs in Napier on January 4th, he scored 9 points for 6th place behind Larry Ross, Colin Farquharson, Paul Church, Graeme Stapleton and Noel Suckling. It was also the first season that NZ and Australia held their own World Championship qualifying rounds. Mike was unbeaten to head the Auckland riders round and he safely got to the NZ Final in Christchurch, if only just! 8 points from the North Island Final at Palmerston North saw him squeeze in. But before that, there was the Test series against The British Lions. Peter Collins, Chris Pusey, Gordon Kennett, John Davis, Doug Wyer, Dave and Chris Morton had demolished Australia 6-1 and were now in Kiwi land on their Weslakes. NZ was without the services of Ivan Mauger and Barry Briggs. Well, it was another massacre! Mike got to ride in all 3 Tests and scored just 3 points in each one. Nothing to write home about. The scores, even less; 85-23, 84-24, 83-25!
Well, there was the NZ Final to look forward to and Mike made the trip to Christchurch, hoping to finish in the top 8 to get to the Australasian Final being held at Western Springs. It was to be a trip he'd wish he never made! Mechanical trouble from the start saw the night end with just 1 point. A crippling disappointment indeed. Was there any sunshine ahead? Well, hopefully, a return to Scotland was in the mix but...
The 1976 season at Paisley opened with a shock omission-for reasons that were never ever clear, Mike was not named in the starting 7 for the Lions, even more surprising given his end of season (1975) heat leader status. If ever there was a suggestion of not being "Fully" appreciated (no apologies at all for the pun, I spent hours thinking it up!) until he was no longer there, it was now, the Lions having a dreadful campaign without him in the early months of their second season, and crowds started to fall away as home defeat followed home defeat. By this time, it appeared that reduced finances (possibly resulting from the run of home losses and deteriorating crowds) made it impossible for the promotion to foot the cost of bringing Mike over in mid season. Cue the theme music from "Superman"-the local supporters offered to meet a large chunk of the air fare, a deal was struck, and the ever popular Kiwi was over within a week!
Considering he was arriving mid season (i.e. straight off a plane and several months behind everyone else in track time), Fullerton played a pivotal role in steadying a rocky ship, as while his point scoring was down on his previous year (hardly surprising, in the circumstances), his mere presence as "one of our own" did much to lift morale. He did, however, manage another feat in breaking the Paisley track record in the second half of one meeting, a virtually unknown occurrence, in that track conditions at any circuit usually deteriorated as the meeting progressed. While he didn't know it at the time, as he boarded the plane for his return flight to New Zealand at the end of the 1976, was that he wouldn't be returning to Paisley (but more about that in a minute����).
The 76/77 NZ season was one of the most hectic in Mike's career. Historian Alan Clark recorded that he rode 73 times for 23 firsts, 23 seconds and 14 third placings. I dont know if that was just his Auckland races. The NZ Champs were at Stratford seeing Mike finish 5th with 10 points. Larry Ross beat Graeme Stapleton in the run-off for 1st, 14 points each. Robin Adlington was 3rd with 13 and Bruce Cribb 4th on 11. Sadly, the era of the Test series was over, but there were the World Championship rounds. John Goodall was unbeaten in the North Island Final, Mike 2nd on 14 with Jack Millen 3rd, 12 points. Then came the NZ Final at Western Springs on Febuary 12. After winning his first heat, it was a nervous performance but 9 points was enough for the 8th and last place in the Australasian Final. Seven days later, Mike was on the Grand Parade at the Sydney Showground, Australia. At the end of the night, he was 14th and his 3 points came at the expense of kiwi team-mates Robin Adlington, Roger Wright and John Goodall. That gave him a great sense of satisfaction.
However, this good feeling was tempered with the news that the Paisley Lions had announced their closure in early 1977, only weeks before the new season was due to start. The fight for survival had taken up almost the entire close season in the UK, and with its ultimate failure (in spite of the most heroic of attempts by the local supporters to pay off the remaining debts from 1976), any hopes that Mike maybe had of returning to the West of Scotland for a third season disappeared, leaving him without a club to ride for in the National League, most clubs by this time having signed their quota of riders, and thus Mike enjoyed a perhaps unexpected holiday prior to the start of the New Zealand season towards the end of that year.
After the UK break, Mike wasted no time making his mark in the 77/78 NZ season. On November 12, World Champion Ivan Mauger starred at Western Springs, winning all 4 starts but Mike, Jack Millen and John Goodall made sure he didn't get paid just to practice. Also that year, The Grand National Chevette series was run. The winner's prize was a GM Vauxhall Chevette 2 door hatch worth 5.5k. John Goodall won the Auckland round but pulled out of the Northern Zone meeting. Jack Millen won that with Mike second and so those two joined Kris Berrigan/Ewan Emerson from Napier; Robin Adlington/David Bargh from Wellington; Larry Ross/Roger Wright from Christchurch. The series was over 5 rounds in Christchurch, Wellington, Napier, Hamilton and Auckland.
As expected, Larry Ross won every round but Mike was three times second and twice 3rd. The overall scores were Ross 52, Mike 42, Wright 37, Millen 34, Bargh 14, Adlington 13, Emerson 13 and Berrigan 10. So again, Mike could hold his head very high and set his sights on the World Championship rounds.
It was in that season that the NZ Champs and the NZ Final became one and the same. He safely got to the NZ Final at Wellington on February 11 where at last, he showed his true ability at this level. 3rd behind Mitch Shirra and Barry Briggs in round 1, he dropped just 1 point after that to the unbeaten Larry Ross. His 12 points were equal with Briggo and gave him 3rd place overall. A week later, the Australasian Final was held at Western Springs, Febuary 18. Ivan Mauger had been seeded beyond these rounds-Great for him, but sad for the paying public. And Barry Briggs pulled out following an alleged strop with the Auckland promoters. Still, it was a huge night and the atmosphere was electric! As expected, Mike was 3rd behind Billy Sanders and John Titman in heat 4. Then straight out in heat 5, he won beating the highly fancied Phil Herne. Heat 12 was his next race and another 3 points was the result. Heat 14 saw John Boulger break the tapes, Mike got 1 point behind Mike Farrell and Mick McKeon. Then in heat 19, he followed home Mitch Shirra for a total score of 10. Shirra had won the meeting on 13. McKeon was 2nd with 11.5, having dead-heated with Roger Wright. Titman was 3rd with 11 and Farrell 4th also with 11. Mike was equal with Phil Herne so a run-off for the reserve spot at the Intercontinental Final was required. And when Herne broke the tapes, Mike's joy knew no bounds! What a night for the local hero, on a night where Billy Sanders, John Boulger and Larry Ross had all been knocked out of the World Title chase. This really set Mike up for his return to the UK, riding for the Berwick Bandits in a team full of Kiwis with Roger Wright, Jack Millen, Dave Gifford and Wayne Brown.
The missed UK season in 1977 probably gave Mike a welcome break from the constant diet of racing at home and abroad, and maybe did his career no harm at all, as his season at home in New Zealand in 77/78 was certainly a good one for him. With the always friendly club at Berwick his base for 1978 (as close to being another Scottish base for him as was possible, save for a minor geographical consideration of a couple of miles), the Kiwi could hardly have been more at home in amongst possibly the biggest contingent of fellow countrymen ever assembled at one club, in fact on home match nights the pits must have seemed like an extension of their homeland! This home from home atmosphere certainly did no harm to Fully's scoring, his 33 matches in the Bandits' colours netting him a 6.01 average by the end of the season One of his few non Scottish team mates, the legendary Willie Templeton, had a Testimonial that year and Mike clocked up 5 points in the event for the Kiwi team. With a satisfactory, rather than blazing, season under his belt, he resumed the familiar pattern of jumping on a plane back home for the UK winter/NZ summer months to come.
The biggest prize for the 78/79 NZ season would be a place at the Australasian Final in Adelaide late in February. But to get there meant a top 8 place from the NZ Final at Christchurch, not Fully's most happy of hunting grounds. But he enjoyed his Auckland season and safely got to the Christchurch round, held on January 27. The track was excellent as was the weather and Mike flew to 3 points from his first heat, beating Graeme Stapleton for a huge psychological boost. Another point came from round 2 was behind Larry Ross and the hugely impressive youngster, Tony Briggs. At the back was Roger Wright so it was another reason to be happy. Then victory over Robin Adlington in the third round saw Mike at half time with 7 points equal with John Goodall. Larry Ross was unbeaten with 9 and Mitch Shirra had 8. It all looked so good, then disaster! A fourth round duck behind David Bargh, James Moore and John Goodall had Mike eye to eye with elimination. It was a massive blow. 3 points from the last round would see him through, but it wasn't to be. Ivan Mauger won from Shirra with the very disappointed Mike in third. It meant he had failed to qualify. Larry Ross won the meeting with the 15 point maximum. Shirra second on 12. Ivan Mauger and Roger Wright were 3rd equal on 11, with Goodall 10, Bargh, Briggs and Stapleton all on 9. Fully's 8 points were so near yet bloody miles away! A second season at Berwick couldn't come soon enough.
Perhaps the disappointment of just failing to qualify for the Australasian Final acted as a spur for Mike during the 1979 UK season, as over the 41 matches he rode for the Bandits in that year he achieved his best scoring to date, adding over a point and a half to his 1978 figure to return a 7.71 average, easily guaranteeing him heat leader status (as well as recording his best ever year in terms of point scoring), and he certainly helped the Bandits enjoy an excellent season as they only lost to the Rye House Rockets in the final of the KO Cup, while the Rockets, Mildenhall and Oxford finished above the 4th placed Borders side in the league. In the big individual events of the year at Shielfield, it was again a case of so near, yet so far. He finished second behind Steve McDermott in the Danny Taylor Memorial Trophy, while in the Bordernapolis he again finished runner up behind ���.Steve McDermott (cue a couple of quaint NZ phrases roughly translating to "oh, bother!").
For the 79/80 NZ season, Fully was determined to qualify for the Australasian Final, but he would have to finish in the top 7 at the NZ Final, pleasingly staged at Western Springs. This was held on February 2nd and a second place behind Larry Ross was a good start. However, two nervous 3rd placings would mean a massive effort in the second half. Was he up for it? Oh yes! Another 5 points saw him smash & grab that vital 7th place. So it was off to Christchurch for the February 16 staging of the Australasian Final.
With defending World Champion, Ivan Mauger, missing from the Templeton track, seeded direct to the Commowealth Final, 9 Australian riders completed the programme. Mike faced two of these in round one along with Tony Briggs. And he made the gate, blocking Mike Farrell. Glen McDonald was right behind them but lost control and sent all 3 careering into the fence, with a huge thump! There were bikes and blokes everywhere. Thankfully there were no serious injuries but Mike's South Island angst was pumping full steam. With McDonald excluded, he followed home Farrell and Briggs for the one point. And from his next 4 races, he would get just one more point. Overall, his 2 points put him 13th ahead of Keith Wright, Australia, David Bargh and his 'Berwick Buddy', Wayne Brown. Fellow 'Bandit' Roger Wright was reserve and not called on to ride.
A week later at Western Springs, Australia took on the Kiwis in a one-off Test. Remember that NZ were World Team Champions so this would be no 'friendly' evening. And such was the talent that Mike was named as reserve behind Ivan Mauger, Larry Ross, Mitch Shirra, David Bargh, John Goodall and Wayne Brown. The home team beat Billy Sanders Kangaroos 68-40, on a very tricky surface that called for more skill than horsepower. Not called on to ride, Mike was ever busy of course helping wherever called upon. Soon after, it was off again to Scotland.
Mike's last season in the UK, and his third in a row with the Borders Bandits in 1980, could hardly have gone much better. His 38 matches in the Black and Gold rendered a 7.62 average, only a fraction below his record season in the last year of the Seventies, and his prolific scoring helped enable his team to another fourth place at the end of the campaign, (this time behind Rye House, Newcastle, and Middlesbrough) in a year which saw a real strength within the teams in the North East of England. In the KO Cup, the Bandits went one better than their runners up spot the year before. In two highly charged and exceptionally close home and away ties, Middlesorough won the first leg 42-36, Fully scoring an absolutely critical 11 points to keep the tie in the balance, while in the return leg his 9 points in a 43-34 victory helped ensure a night of celebration which is still remembered in Borders country, the Bandits triumphing 79-76, a mere three points separating the teams, with Fully contributing a massive 20 (a quarter of the Bandits' total points) to the cause. The Berwick fans maybe didn't realise it at the time, but when Fully made his now regular return to New Zealand at the end of a memorable season, this time he wasn't coming back, his flirtation with UK speedway having come to a (premature) close����
Mike knuckled down to the 80/81 NZ season and his fine efforts paid off when he qualified 6th from the NZ Final at Napier with 10 points. The Australasian Final was on February 28 at the Liverpool City track, Sydney, Australia. His 1 point gave him 15th place. And though his British League career was over, his riding days in Kiwiland were anything but. He rode in another 4 NZ Finals, 82,84,86 and 87, keeping well away from the Christchurch ones! The 86 Final was in Gisborne and the crowd went home believing Mitch Shirra had won unbeaten. Not so! There was a protest and Mitch had 3 points taken from him. So after midnight, in an empty arena, David Bargh beat Larry Ross in the 1st place run-off! Bizarre? Well that left Mitch equal with Fully on 12 points. Mike conceded 3rd place, "I had 3 beers so wasn't at all interested in any run-off!"
Also that season, a 'World' side took on the Kiwis at Rosebank Road in Auckland, a club run track where he was President for 3 years. The opposition won 56-52 with Mike helping Shirra, Ross, Bargh, Kym Mauger and Chris Martin with 8 points. The following year, 1987, he was 5th in his last NZ Final at Western Springs, scoring 10 points behind Bargh 14, Shirra 13, Ross 12 and Alan Mason also 10. And back at Rosebank Road, an International field was assembled for a 20 heat programme. In a 3 man run-off, Mitch Shirra beat legendary Pom Chris Morton and British Champion Neil Evitts all on 14. As the prize money went to 4th place, there was another run-off. All on 11 points, Fully won it from Paul Evitts and American, Scott Brown.
Skip to March 1990, also at Rosebank Road, Chris Martin won the NZ Speedway Flat-track Champs, who was 2nd? Mike Fullerton! One of Mike's proudest moments was winning the inaugural NZ Solo GP. His club riding continued well into the 90's. Today, he still helps out at Rosebank Road and is helping to coach Bradley Andrews. That's Bob's grandson! Being a motorcycle mechanic all his life, he still owns Fullerton Motorcycles in Auckland and has been with 'The Red Baron Motorcycles' as floor manager for the last 14 years.
One of his former Berwick team-mates, Dave Gifford remembers him well, "He rode with Mike Hiftle and I think that was a pairing made in heaven, at least I didn't have to ride with either of them! Good guy to have around though and we had fun." Mike Fullerton is a kiwi speedway legend who rode for well over 20 years. And he is fondly remembered by many.
Perhaps this long lasting memory of Mike can be best illustrated by a little story from only a few months ago. My mate Stuart McMillan was going to Australia and New Zealand at the tail end of 2009. A feature on the Paisley Lions had appeared in the local newspaper recently, following the closure of Love St, the home of the Lions, and reminded people of the exploits of the club, and recalling certain instances in particular, such as Mike holding an unbeatable track record, and who was thus the fastest man around the place in any sport over THREE centuries! The bold Stuart read the story and somehow got a hold of Mike by telephone.
When he flew to NZ, Mike not only drove the 60 miles or so round trip to the airport to pick him up and take him back, he also extended his very own hospitality to a guy who had maybe only been around 13 years old when he'd raced at Paisley, for no other reason than my mate had been a supporter of one of his former clubs. Oh, and it pains me to say this, but maybe also because he's still a nice guy with loads of class! It's fair to say that of all the people spoken to in the research for this article, not one had anything other than the greatest respect for "Fully", and the smiles on the faces of those who related their stories says it all. They say nice guys never win, but there are at least two people who would beg to differ!
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"A great bloke as the article says and one of my favourite team racing mates. He also was a great help to us on our winter NZ tour in 80-81. Thanks Fully."
"Great article! And as Mike's sister, just want to say that we as a family are very proud of his racing career and enjoyed many exciting and enjoyable nights at western springs and following him around New Zealand and abroad! Great memories! P.S Our Mum's name is Inez, not Eunice. "
"As Bill Elliot rightly says, Mike went out of his way to make me feel welcome in 2009 especially since I had been flying for a day and a half. I a m glad to say I was able to make a return trip in 2010 when Mike and I spent a most enjoyable day at Rosebank Speedway in Auckland. He is rightly held in high esteem for his contribution to the sport and simply due to how well known he is, NO ONE questioned who I was as I was allowed to wander around the pits talking to the riders and getting photos taken. Mike Fullerton was and still is a sporting hero of mine and I am delighted to be able also to call him a friend. Till the next time Mike !!"
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