Speedway Riding Was My Life
I WAS chosen to race against Ivan Mauger, the speedway motorbike world champion, in exhibition test matches at Ipswich, Queensland, in Australia. That night the stands were packed. Throughout the whole stadium you could feel the excitement in the air. This was a big night for a lot of people—I, their hometown hero, was racing against the world’s top favourite!
As Ivan and I lined up at the tapes, our engines roaring, the fans were on the edge of their seats with expectation. Up went the tapes and we were off! Racing wheel to wheel, we showered the crowd with dirt as we took the bends. Only inches separated us as we pushed our machines to the limit.
After two races we were even, one each. Excitement reached a peak in our third and final race. As we entered the final back straight, engines screaming, dirt flying, the spectators rose to their feet, their cheers drowning out the roar of the engines. The crowd went wild as we came round the last bend . . .
But how had I reached that peak in speedway riding? From my childhood on, it was part of my life. That is understandable, for my father had been keenly interested in racing for most of his life. Among my earliest recollections are scenes of our whole family at speedway meetings each week at the Exhibition Grounds in Brisbane, Australia.
Thus, as a lad, I developed a love of motorbikes and was riding one as soon as I could. At 15 years of age, I was riding my father’s old bike around any open area that was not a public highway, since I was too young to hold a rider’s license. The more I rode, the more my love for motorbikes deepened.
Making It to the Mecca of Speedway Racing
As soon as I finished my formal education, I decided to follow my father in the field of mechanics. I had nearly finished my apprenticeship when a close friend joined me in trying speedway riding. From then on, my whole life began to center around bikes.
It was a proud day when I was able to buy my first speedway bike. Now, with the aid of my father, I set out to adapt my bike for racing. In 1965 I started my racing career at the Brisbane Exhibition Grounds. Of course, I had to start at the bottom, but I soon became recognized, and before long I was challenging the top riders and winning many events.
I did well in my first season, and the highlight was winning the Warana Festival Trophy. By the end of the season, I was invited to go overseas and ride for Halifax Speedway in Yorkshire, England. I accepted the offer with delight, for England was the mecca of speedway racing. All the world’s top riders competed in England and on the continent.
Success in the British League
Along with a few other Australian riders, I left for England at the end of 1966 for the English 1967 season. At this stage, I had achieved two of my most sought-after goals—I was a professional rider, and I was racing against the top European and world champions.
Now I competed in British League matches and had the chance to ride in the Apollo Cup against a mixed field of world-class riders. In my first ride of this event, I was plagued with mechanical troubles, which caused my bike to blow up on me. So I borrowed a fellow Australian’s bike. In my haste, and in trying to get the feel of a strange machine, I rode right off the track and across the center field on one wheel, with the front wheel up in the air! This amused the crowd but earned me no points. However, even with that borrowed machine, I soon got back on track and made a good score.
Back in Australia, while making arrangements with other riders at the start of the 1968 season, I met Suzette, a young woman who was to affect my life greatly in many ways. She was different from the usual type of girl who hangs around bike shops—different in her speech and in her dress. It was not long before I found out why—her parents were Jehovah’s Witnesses, though she herself had not yet embraced their faith. This was my first contact with anyone who knew anything about the Witnesses.
Up until this time, I had no interest in any religion at all. I believed they were all interested only in making money, and I would quickly say “Rubbish!” to anyone who claimed to be religious. My parents, although good people, were not religious, so I never attended any church while growing up. When I was 21 my mother offered to buy me a Bible as a present, but I told her not to—I was too busy with my speedway career to think about religion!
I continued my intensive training, and it soon paid off with many big wins. I was in an excellent position for future programs. Then I had the big race described in the introduction to this story. Who won? The hometown hero defeated the world champion! No wonder the crowd was ecstatic.
After that, I was chosen to represent Queensland in a test match against the British Lions. They had dominated other test matches throughout Australia. I won every race I started. The English were no longer on top. Here I felt the first pull of nationalism. Then I was selected to ride for Australia in a coming match between England and Australia.
It was at this time that I married Suzette. She was there for the big test against England. When we arrived at the track, we could feel the tension. Nationalism ran high. It was the Aussies against the Pommies. We all meant business and were out to win. I was paired off with a very close friend against two English riders.
Kev, my partner, was first out of the gate, with me and an English rider hot on his tail. Then the English rider blocked my mate. I came up to pass him. He saw me, tried to stop me, chopped down too fast—and we crashed. I had had spills before, but never as serious as this one. This accident almost cost me my life. I was rushed to the hospital with a fractured skull, ruptured kidneys, and a cracked spine.
Suzette was told to stay at the hospital, as I was not expected to last through the night. I did not regain consciousness until a few days later. To this day it is not clear what happened to me in that first week in the hospital, except one thing—I prayed to God not to let me die! I had never given much thought to God before, but in extreme need I did then.
Was Speedway Riding All There Was to Life?
My mother-in-law felt that now my forced stay at home would be a good time for us to make a fresh contact with Jehovah’s Witnesses, so she wrote a letter to the presiding overseer of the congregation in our neighbourhood, asking for someone to visit us.
A Witness couple called on us, and I agreed to have a Bible study on one condition—that I could stop the study any time I wanted. One reason I agreed to study was that I was bored. And I also wanted to prove that the Witnesses were like all the other religions—after money. However, after a couple of studies, I began to see that there was something different here. The Bible began to make sense to me, and I could see that what they were saying had a ring of truth. And there was no mention of taking money from us.
As the months passed, I regained strength and was anxious to get back into racing. It was my life, and I wanted to start racing again as soon as possible. I had two main reasons for this: First, the news media and some friends had written me off as finished; second, I needed to prove to myself and to others that I was still as good a rider as I was before my near-fatal accident.
Actually, I recovered so quickly that I was able to get ready for the 1969-70 season. To everyone’s surprise, I made a successful comeback to speedway riding.
I Had to Choose
Later, we moved to a different area, and a young Witness couple continued our Bible study with us. Thus, racing and the Bible were my main interests, with racing still foremost. Then I gradually began to see the contrast between the Witnesses and my associates. Things were starting to stand out now. I always knew about the immorality and the permissiveness of husbands and wives at the race track, but it never worried me before. I believed it was their business, but I would not take my wife to any of their parties or functions.
After seeing Jehovah’s view on immorality and the hurt that it causes to others, I began to hate what I knew went on, even though I was not involved in it. The immorality, cursing, swearing, and blaspheming began to grate on my nerves. The lack of respect for authority and for others became more noticeable as I learned Bible principles.
At about this time, I had an excellent offer to race in America as well as return to England. I knew that I could reach my dream of being one of the top ten riders in the world. But things kept going wrong. And I couldn’t mix with the guys in the pits like before. A troubling phrase kept going round and round inside my head: ‘I will have to make a choice one day!’
I remember my last race meeting because circumstances made me make an important decision. Things went wrong from the moment I entered the racing pits that night. The swearing and cursing put me strangely on edge. The official starter for the night had his son-in-law racing and his obvious favouritism toward him was getting all the riders mad. The last straw was when he disqualified me at the start of a race even though it was obvious that another rider had broken the starting tapes.
I went home that night thoroughly disgusted and realized that I could no longer try to serve two masters—speedway riding and Jehovah. “I will retire from the speedway,” I announced to an incredulous Suzette. And that I did, then and there! In spite of much opposition from my family, I sold my bikes and riding gear. Some of my friends thought I had become a religious fanatic.
The Joy of Serving One Master
Now, for the first time, we went to the Kingdom Hall. My racing commitments had hindered me before. The welcome and warmth we experienced at that first Sunday meeting we will never forget. It was a lovely feeling, and I realized that I was no longer a slave to the speedway. I was no longer trying to serve two masters. I could now accept the invitation to attend all the Christian meetings. And I was anxious to tell others what I had learned, especially the wonderful hope held out in such Bible verses as Revelation 21:4: “And [God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.”
My wife and I were baptized together in Brisbane in 1970. After that, we served in Papua New Guinea for a time, helping to spread the good news where the need is great. Now we are back in Australia, blessed with three fine sons. With the help of God’s Word, the Bible, we are bringing them up, not to be speedway fanatics as I was, but to be followers of Christ, lovers of truth, and worshipers of Jehovah.—As told by Les Bentzen.
[Blurb on page 15]
In my haste, I rode right off the track and across the center field on one wheel!
[Blurb on page 16]
In the pits, nationalism was high