AHEAD OF THE CURVE
By Scott Courtney
In every walk of life there are outliers. By definition it means ‘a person whose abilities, achievements, etc, lie outside the range of statistical probability.....
We’ve had a few outliers in Speedway. Some fascinating characters with almost incomprehensible levels of talent on two wheels. When you really start to look back over the timeline of the sport which depending on who’s research is most accurate, we’re arguably 100 years in or at least somewhere pretty close to that.
You can’t do your studies and not notice how big the crowds were pre and post war and why Speedway racing was one of the biggest spectator sports in Great Britain, Europe and the World for that matter.
I can’t help but feel no matter how many people paid their hard earned money to follow their favourite teams or individual riders, that the sport never quite got the mainstream media attention it deserved.
So there is a little bit of tongue in cheek humour involved here but....
If you were a Promoter in the 1970’s and you needed a prototype, you had a blank canvas and your main task was to build a perfect Speedway riding outlier to really capture the imagination of the people. A rider that the mainstream media could not ignore if they tried. Someone who you could say this guy is Speedway Racing!
You would probably list the following qualities:
God like talent on a bike
Style on and off the track
Great media skills
Movie star good looks....the list goes on and on....
There was no need to build a prototype, a Speedway racing Frankenstein's monster if you will because Bruce Penhall actually exists!
Now, I don’t know Bruce personally so this isn’t me trying hard to make a friend sound larger than life, this is just my take on a man that broke the mould, a man that I still say to younger riders, get on YouTube and watch everything Bruce Penhall done on and off the track and I guarantee you will find some very positive influence.
I don’t think I need to list individual achievements and Bruce’s fascinating life story because Framey and Graham will no doubt get into the finer details on that stuff on the podcast but there is a few things that really make Bruce the ultimate outlier within the sport of Speedway in my opinion.
Back to back World Championships in 81 and 82. Winning the ‘one off World Final’ once was an outstanding achievement but back to back arguably holds more credibility in my opinion than winning a Grand Prix series (and I love the GP’s).
Retiring as the World Champion after Los Angeles in hindsight was a stroke of genius!
Speedway is dangerous and very taxing even when it’s going great and let’s face it, the lure of Hollywood after years of working towards those back to back World titles (as well as dominance at league and international level with team USA) would’ve been a more than exciting prospect.
Maybe not so obvious to everyone else but a few things stood out to me over the years of studying Bruce’s on-track style and technique. Yes he looked a million dollars on the bike (let’s face it, most Americans do) but if you look a little closer, especially at the Wembley world final, Bruce’s ability to get his wheels in-line coming off the corners was a bit different....
His weight distribution was unique. There was glimpses of him taking the weight off the right footrest to reposition himself and generate more straight line speed, not drastic movements but fine adjustments to reign Olsen in especially, which in today’s era is a technique the likes of Bartosz Zmarzlik and co have really adapted to become advantageous and not just a hope that the camera catches you trying to look like Bobby Ott or Shawn McConell!
In hindsight Bruce Penhall was so far ahead of the curve in so many ways. His legacy is cemented forever and there is no doubt that some of today’s top stars use techniques that Bruce pioneered and perfected including none other than his original protege Greg Hancock.
His influence was huge back then and still is today, A career and life story perfectly scripted to become a Hollywood blockbuster (about Bruce probably starring Bruce).
Its been a lot of fun jotting my thoughts down on someone I consider as probably the greatest of all time or at least my favourite rider of all time.......and he retired before I was even born!
'My Life in Speedway' with Bruce Penhall will be available from Tuesday, 3 November from all good podcast providers.