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Book Extract: Simmo - The Whole Truth

FORMER World No.2 and British Champion Malcolm Simmons sent shock waves through the sport with his unprecedented revelations of race-fixing and all kinds of other shenanigans in his recent and much-acclaimed book.

We've teamed up with publishers Retro Speedway to bring you this extract from SIMMO: THE WHOLE TRUTH which covers some of Simmo's international experiences during the 70s. If you want the full, explosive story, you can order this highly recommended and groundbreaking book for £15.99 (post-free in the UK) by clicking here.


The 1978 season saw me set a record for winning the World Pairs title for the third consecutive season and with a third different partner. After John Louis and Peter Collins, this time I had White City's Gordon Kennett alongside me in Katowice. We thought we went there well prepared - well I know I was - and this was the first year we weren't allowed to use cut tyres in international meetings. It was the FIM's latest way of trying to slow us down but, like a lot of the things they brought in, it didn't. Whether it was tyres, silencers or smaller carburettors, riders just tuned their engines around the new rules. In fact, with the small carbs, within a few meetings we were actually going faster, because we were getting more grip.

Anyway, Gordon, myself and team manager John Berry got to Poland and discovered that every tyre Gordon had with him was cut - it didn't matter in the British League but this was against FIM international rules and I don't think John was too impressed at Gordon's lack of professionalism. We all knew the rules - Gordon and I had even won the semi-final at Debrecen, Hungary earlier in the season - but obviously Gordon had either forgotten them or didn't take any notice of the regulations. I had five tyres with me - enough for me to do five rides and then there was the option to turn them round, although I didn't plan on doing that anyway. I just had five wheels with a new, uncut tyre on each, ready to race. Good job I did! The way around Gordon's problem was for us to us to share my tyres, but turn them around after each race and use the second edge.

We hit another snag in practice when it was obvious that Gordon's Weslake bikes weren't quick enough, so he had to use my second bike in the meeting itself. Bob Dugard, whose Eastbourne track was closest to the Weslake factory at Rye in Sussex, always ensured that his riders - either for Eastbourne or White City - had more Wessie engines than anyone else. It was supposed to be a pairs meeting in Poland but the English duo weren't exactly sharing the burden this time. The only thing that wasn't mine about this England pairing was Gordon himself! He was sharing my tyres and now my bike too.

Anyway, I ended up scoring 15 points and Gordon weighed in with nine (Ole Olsen was the top individual scorer with 16). We tied on 24 points with the New Zealand pairing of Ivan Mauger and Larry Ross, who scored 12 points apiece. It came down to a run-off between Ivan and myself to decide the championship.

Ivan pratted about so much before the run-off, it was untrue. I was a bit nervous and I didn't have a new rear tyre, so I borrowed one from Ole Olsen, who obviously didn't want the Kiwis to win! We went to the start, where Ivan then turned round and then went back to do something to his bike. I was a bit surprised that Ole should lend me a tyre to beat Ivan . . . .and I was even more confused when Olsen then appeared to lend his bike to Ivan!

We went back to the start, only for Ivan to turn round again and go back to the pits for a second time, where someone produced a different bike for him to ride. Maybe Olsen's bike wasn't good enough for him, or it had only been brought out as another delaying tactic, while the mechanics were rushing to fix Ivan's own bike.

We were on two minutes to get back to the start and then, to delay things a few seconds longer, they took the front wheel out of Ivan's bike on the track. The original two minute time allowance went completely out of the window - the referee just forgot about it, or he chose to. But Ivan's psychological warfare went on far too long for it to have an adverse effect on my preparations or nerves. He did get to me for a little while but his messing about just continued for what seemed like an age, so I just switched off from it in the end and my concentration held. John had absolute faith in me and told me before the race that I could beat Ivan.

And then came the last attempt by Ivan to put me out of my stride. Just as we were about to be pushed off from the pits, his good friend and business manager, Peter Oakes, walked very close by me, turned round and whispered in my ear: "You know Ivan's never been beaten in a run-off, don't you?" It was ever such a clever move by Peter, another part of the Mauger psychological strategy and typical of the mind games that he played on a lot of riders through the years. Obviously, given the pressure of the situation, it didn't dawn on me until later that Ivan had previously lost a run-off for the 1973 world title to Poland's Jerzy Szczakiel. Ivan tried every trick in the book to win races and most times it worked for him.

Not this time, though. As luck would have it, I made the perfect start and never put a foot wrong for four laps. England were World Pairs champions for a fourth time and, despite all Gordon's previous problems, we'd got through it all. As I came back to the pits gate afterwards, Peter Oakes was the first person I saw, so I just looked at him and, with a big smile on my face said: 'He has now!'. As parting shots go, they don't get any more satisfying than that, but Ivan and Peter were good about it and offered us their congratulations. I think Larry Ross was the sickest man in Poland that day - he was in tears and so upset at losing out on what he hoped would be his first FIM gold medal.

To win my third pairs title by beating Ivan (who was also going for a third pairs win) in a run-off, gave me more satisfaction than any of the two previous pairs successes I'd shared with Louis and Collins.

The big Vojens con trick I thought I had a good chance of breaking the record I shared with Anders Michanek by winning the World Pairs for a fourth time in 1979 - but Michael Lee and I were cheated out of a run-off for the title at Vojens, where Ole Olsen controlled everything.

I think I was about fourth in line to be Mike's partner - I even withdrew from the semi-final in Landshut, where I was due to partner Gordon Kennett - but there must have been injuries to a couple of the other contenders because I suddenly got a phone call from John Berry to say I was needed in Denmark. For some reason, John had so much faith in me and I don't know why because I never rode for him at Ipswich. He asked me if I could do a job and, having just changed from Weslake to the new Godden engines, I thought I could. But I can remember saying to him: 'There's got to be someone better than me', but he reckoned there wasn't.

I rode pretty well in the first half of the meeting - I even did Olsen from the back - but I went from second to last in the first race after the interval and couldn't work out why. I thought that perhaps the track had got slicker and I was no better than mediocre in the second half of the meeting. It was not until I got home, and was cleaning the bike, that I found out that the back end of the frame was broken, down by the footrest. That accounted for why the bike didn't grip in the latter part of the meeting like it did in the first half, but it was wet and mucky that day and no matter how much we cleaned the bike between races we didn't notice the crack. Michael was good to ride with and he came really came into his own in the second half of the meeting, when we almost did enough to win the title.

We needed the Poles to do us a big favour in their last ride, against our biggest rivals Denmark. We had a word with Edward Jancarz before the race, urging him to beat the home favourites, Olsen and Hans Nielsen.

Jancarz, who was on the outside, right up against the fence, actually snatched second place from Nielsen by six inches - it was clear to everyone who saw it. But Olsen was very clever. A few yards short of the line, he looked back, thought Nielsen had second spot in the bag and just stuck his arm up in the air, claiming victory before he'd even crossed the line. Norwegian referee Tore Kittilsen had been conned by Olsen but because Ole was his mate, he gave him the benefit of the doubt and awarded the race 5-1 in the Danes' favour. ITV covered the meeting and even their studio presenter, Dickie Davies, couldn't believe that Jancarz had been robbed.

It was the biggest con in speedway that I've ever been involved in.

The World Cup win at Landshut, followed by their World Pairs victory in 1979, was the making of Denmark as a world speedway force. It was the first time they had even reached the World Team Cup Final but all the FIM gold medals - for team, pairs and individual - would become almost their sole property throughout the 80s. After England's grand slam under Booey and Thomas in 1980, Denmark's toughest competition came from Bruce Penhall, who won the individual crown in 1981 and '82, and his fellow Americans.

The Californian influence There is no doubt that the Americans were good for British speedway in the 70s and 80s. Scott Autrey was the forerunner in 1973 and every one of them who followed him here was a character in his own right. They did their own thing - we all know most of them took drugs - and that was their choice. The drugs thing was a culture shock for a lot of us in this country but to the Yanks, it was a way of life since childhood.

We didn't need drugs in speedway, though, it was already dangerous enough. If you're riding under the influence - of whatever - I assume it gives you a manufactured sense of courage, or why else would you take it? You don't want to be riding against that as well as the rider himself, wondering just how far they are prepared to push the limits. The way I looked at it, a rider who was using drugs wouldn't be worrying about himself - or others around him - as much as he would if he wasn't taking them.

It did concern me now and again, although I can honestly say that I never knew of either Bruce Penhall or Dennis Sigalos taking drugs . . . but I knew full well that many of the others did. Whether Penhall and Sigalos dabbled in substances away from speedway, I don't know. But Shawn and Kelly Moran, Cookie (John Cook) and Bobby Schwartz . . . it was a known fact that they were involved with drugs.

The thing is, they were bloody good riders and you could never knock their riding skill. And actually, I did think they were safe riders 99 per cent of the time. They had their own ways of riding and different styles but double World Champion Penhall and Sigalos were the most outstanding two.

I liked some of them as people, but not all of them. I thought Penhall was really cocky. I didn't know him well, we never really hit it off as acquaintances. We'd pass the time of day but then I'd sit back and watch him putting himself around so much, thinking to himself, 'look at me, I'm Bruce Penhall'. That's just my personal impression of him and no doubt there will be many who saw him differently to me. I know that he and Peter Collins had a really good relationship, so maybe I'm wrong about Penhall.

While I could appreciate his technical skill on a bike, I thought he always bought everything he possibly could to make his bikes the best - he wasn't like the rest of us, money was never an object to him. Even if the rest of us, who were trying to keep pace with him in the early 80s, couldn't really afford to buy the best gear, we still bought it because we knew we had to. But with Penhall, he never even had to think about the money he spent on his stuff. He just got the best available.

In my opinion, Dennis Sigalos was a nicer person than Penhall but he didn't have the 'front' that Penhall had and he appeared more shy and retiring. On the other hand, Schwartz had the front but didn't have the same ability as the other two. Whereas Kelly and Shawn Moran gave the impression that they were just in it for a joke.

The American team certainly knew how to psyche out the English boys a lot of the time when we met in a Test series. They knew all their happy-slappy behaviour in the pits wound us up and that's why they did it all the more. I should think that all the camaraderie was typical of them anyway but they seemed to make a point of doing it even more when they came together on English tracks to race against us. We'd sit on our toolboxes thinking, 'look at those bleedin' prats', but, all credit to them, their antics worked to their benefit.

I never found it easy to make friends and if I didn't like someone in the beginning, that would be the end of it. But, of the Americans who raced here, I always got on all right with Schwartz and Kelly Moran in particular.

Kelly was, of course, a notoriously big drinker. I rode for Wimbledon at Eastbourne one Sunday afternoon and he turned up for the meeting pissed, having just flown in from the States. He came up to me in the pits before the first race and his breath stunk of whisky. He started three races but never got further than the first corner before falling off each time. All the Wimbledon riders were concerned about Kelly's condition - it was clear to us that he was pissed out of his head - and, as captain, I reported him to the referee. The ref called for the track doctor to give Kelly a breathalyser test but the doc - obviously employed by Eastbourne boss Bob Dugard and too frightened to do anything to upset him - declared that there was nothing wrong with him. Funny, but Kelly was too far gone to take his last two rides.

That was Eastbourne for you - you'd never get the better of Bob, no matter what. I was riding for Wimbledon and had passed my 36th birthday when John Berry and his new co-manager, Eric Boocock, recalled me to the England team for the 1982 Test series against the USA and Denmark. I was honoured to be asked back and I don't think I let anyone down by scoring more points than my younger team-mates and top-scoring with 13 against the fast-emerging, full-strength Danes at Hackney. I was still around for England when Wally Mawdsley took charge in 1983, although Carl Glover turned more to youth the following year.

My final senior appearance for my country was in the sixth, and final, Test against the USA at Swindon in September 1985. The Yanks had already clinched the series and I was 39-years-old, way past my sell-by date, and the oldest rider still competing in the senior league at the time. It was good of John Berry to recall me, especially as just a couple of weeks earlier I'd actually applied for his job!

The job I always wanted I always fancied a crack at the England manager myself and officially applied for the job near the end of the 1985 season, when I was winding down my riding career at Swindon and the national team was going through a poor spell before Berry - who had three different spells in charge - finally turned it in and emigrated to Perth. I had been publicly critical of my old manager, who had clearly lost his enthusiasm for the job as well as the sport in general.

Having done a good job as captain for a long and relatively successful period, and served an apprenticeship as team manager with Crayford and Hackney in the National League for a few years, I thought I had a lot to offer as manager of England, I could have been quite good at it, and I would have relished the challenge of taking us back to the top again.

But we'll never know if I'd have been a success at it. The time when I would have been best suited to the role would have been around about the period when I had the big bust up with Bill Barker at King's Lynn. Over that, I was banned by the BSPA for five years from holding any official position in speedway and by the time that ended I was more or less out of the picture anyway.

Still, I can look back on my days as an England rider and captain with a lot of pride and plenty of satisfaction. When I rode for my country it was more about pride rather than money and being able to say that you were one of the best seven riders in the country - because there were a lot of good English riders who didn't win many caps in the 70s. We got close to winning the BBC's Sports Personality of the Year team award on more than one occasion. Looking back, it was brilliant to be part of those teams and the great speedway era in which I rode.

With four consecutive World Team Cup winners' medals, three World Pairs victories (with different partners) and 80 international caps to my name, I have a lot to be happy about.

ENGLAND RIVALS

Simmo said he was fortunate enough - or unfortunate, whichever way you look at it - to ride with and against a few of the all-time England greats in the 70s and 80s. This is what he had to say about the man who pipped him to the individual world title in 1976 . . .

Peter Collins

PC and I got on really great, a relationship best illustrated after I got the new twin-carburettors going very well in 1976.

I obtained them from Bruce Cribb, who was the first to get a set together but he was unable to get them going well enough on his Weslake. He had the idea but couldn't follow it through, so I took a set of twin carbs off him and they went very well for me from day one. I won the British Final using them and didn't need to touch them again. In fact, I used them right through 1977 as well.

Simmo getting the better of England team-mate and rival Peter Collins

At the time, we were limited to a 34mm carburettor, but no-one said we couldn't use two smaller carbs together. I used two 28mm carbs, which worked much better than one measuring 34mm. It had a double effect of giving me more pulling power off the corners and a lot more top speed.

Some riders got the twin-carb set-up to go well for them while others didn't. PC was one who wasn't happy with his - even though he'd used them to win the 1976 World Final, he still reckoned mine were better than his. Dave Nourish tuned Peter's bikes but apart from a bit of work Weslake did for me, I prepared my own machinery.

To give you an example of how friendly PC and I became, I loaned him my carburettors for his use in the 1977 World Final at Gothenburg. That's how well we got on. Funnily enough, it was only last year that Peter said to me that he'd never really thanked me properly for lending him my carburettors for that final, although he added that he never really understood why I did so! The reason I did was that I'd been injured in the British Final, we were mates and he had a good chance of winning the 1977 World Championship. As I was out of the reckoning anyway, it didn't matter to me who won it, so why not Peter again? He did brilliantly to finish runner-up to Ivan in terribly wet track conditions in Sweden and but for the handicap of riding with a serious leg injury, he could have won back-to-back World Finals.

We never fell out, although there was probably a bit of envy on my part at times because no matter how good anyone else went, PC always seemed to get most of the glory. I think one of Peter's mechanics said once in conversation, when asked who was the better rider out of Peter and myself: 'PC is the better speedway rider and Malcolm's the better motorcyclist'. The way I saw it, I was equally as good as him at speedway and probably a better all round motorcyclist! Since his early youth, Peter has only really ever done speedway seriously, whereas I've also ridden a lot of grasstrack and trials. People say that while I always looked so easy on a bike, as if I didn't put myself out to win races, I never looked as spectacular as PC always did at his peak. Other people interpreted this view as me not being all that bothered but, believe me, I wanted to win as much as anyone.

 

This article was first published on 29th December 2006


 

  • Don Maddocks:

    "I bought Simmo's book as a Christmas pressie for myself, and found it absorbing. Simmo was my idol at Poole, and was easily the greatest rider to grace Wimborne Road. If you want to enjoy the inside of Speedway for the period, in which Malcolm was involved, then buy his book, it is an excellent read, and has loads of pictures, and anecdotes. Perhaps he is a bit of an egotist, but that is probably why he was such an accomplished rider. Thank you Malcolm for all those wonderful races, and achievements, you will always be known as the King of Wimborne Road."

  • Roger Howard:

    "Would love to know what happened to his Dad, does any one have any idea> I met Malcolm serval times, his Dad was always there to support him."

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