16 Apr 2018

Speedway champion Ivan Mauger dies

12:10 pm on 16 April 2018

The New Zealander described as the best motorcycle speedway rider ever, Ivan Mauger, has died aged 78.

Mauger was a speedway legend, and was the holder of six individual world championship titles between 1968 and 1979.

Born in Christchurch, he was 14-years-old when he saved up enough money to buy his first speedway bike for 64 pounds. He then took to the Aranui Speedway where he told "a few fibs" about his age because at the time, riders needed to be 16-years-old to have a licence.

Listen back:

With Barry Briggs and Ronnie Moore, Mauger formed the speedway champions triumvirate of New Zealanders and, like them, had to go overseas for a career.

He was 17 when he left for Britain in 1958, but his first attempts to make a breakthrough in the sport failed and he returned home to race locally and in Australia.

In 1963 he returned to Britain. His fortunes changed and he became a dominant figure first in British speedway, then on the international stage. He won his first individual World Championship in 1968 - the first of what would become three in a row.

New Zealand speedway legend Ivan Mauger won more than 1000 international events.

New Zealand speedway legend Ivan Mauger won more than 1000 international events. Photo: Keith Lawson

After than he won in 1972, 1977 and the last in 1979.

His lowest-ever finish in the individual World Championships between his debut in 1966 and final appearance in 1979 was eighth at Wembley in 1978.

Mauger also claimed world longtrack crowns in 1971, 1972 and 1976.

In 1979 he captained and coached New Zealand to a world team title, riding injured to secure crucial points.

In his 30 years as a speedway rider he won more than 1000 events in 26 countries.

In 1970, a pair of Americans - George Wenn and Ray Bokelman - vowed they would gold plate Mauger's winning Jawa 500cc bike if he won his third World Championship in a row in Wroclaw, Poland.

Mauger duly won the World Final, and true to their promise, the motorcycle was taken to America and gold-plated becoming known as the "Triple Crown Special". It is on display at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch.

Ivan Mauger broke the world long-track speed record on this gold-plated speedway bike in 1986.

Ivan Mauger's gold-plated Jawa 500cc "Triple Crown Special" Photo: Wikicommons

While Mauger spent most of his racing career in Britain, he never forgot his roots. From 1965, until he retired in 1986 to Australia's Gold Coast, he returned to New Zealand every year to promote speedway.

He has continued to visit New Zealand regularly where he holds training clinics for young riders and makes appearances at speedway events. He was also the organiser and co-sponsor of the Rider to Europe scheme to help promising New Zealand riders get more international experience.

Mauger has also remained a leading figure in speedway around the world.

He was recognised with an MBE in 1976 and an OBE in 1989, and was one of the 75 inaugural members inducted into the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.

In 2013 he withdrew from public life due to ill health.

In May 2015 it was revealed he was being treated for cognitive aphasia, a communication disorder and was receiving daily treatment at a Gold Coast nursing home.

He is survived by his wife Raye and their three children.