Riders to Remember....Tom Black
One of New Zealand's most unsung heroes, Tom never went in search of the spotlight. Even today, to get him to talk of his racing days is extremely hard work, "no-one wants to know about me!"
He is wrong of course and this little piece will only scratch the surface but it's better than nothing.
Tom bought a bike from Syd Harrison and went practicing in the sand at New Brighton. That's what Syd told me anyway, "I was very angry with Tom because I told him not to get salt or sand anywhere near it!"
Templeton saw Tom's debut and by the 64/65 season, he was mixing it with the stars like Trevor Mauger, Tony Nesbitt, George Ray, Bill Moulin, Ronder McKinlay, Allan Brown and he showed just how good he was going to be by lining up in the 65 NZ Champs, scoring 8 points for 8th place. Murray Burt was unbeaten for the National Title, Allan Brown was 2nd on 14, Jackie Hart 3rd with 13 then Bruce Cribb 10, Freddie Timmo 10 and A.Wilson 9. So an excellent result for Tom on his home track.
A year later, Tom travelled to New Plymouth for the Nationals and improved by a point and a place. Bob Andrews won unbeaten, Murray Burt was 2nd on 13, Bryce Subritsky 3rd with 12 then Dave Gifford 11, Bob Duckworth 11, Bernie LaGrosse 10 then Tom on 9. "I beat Gary Peterson in my 4th race, Timmo was 3rd and Graeme Smith last. After the race, Gary rode straight into me and I was flat on my back! Gary was crazy!"
The Nationals were held at Templeton for the following 2 seasons, 67 and 68. Tom was unable to get higher than midfield in each. In 68, he was 4th in the South Island Champs behind Frank Shuter, Bill Moulin and Roger Wright. One of his career highlights came on March 15, 1969, winning the South Island Champs from George Ray and Tony Nesbitt. The following year, he was 3rd behind Allan Brown and Roger Wright.
Tom started to get serious recognition in the 71/72 season. The NZ team for the 3rd Test against Sweden at Christchurch in Febuary 72 was Ivan Mauger, Ronnie Moore, Barry Briggs, Gary Peterson, Bruce Cribb, Roger Wright with reserves Graeme Stapleton and Tom. While not called on to ride, it was indeed an honor! For the record, the score was NZ 74, Sweden 33. Then in March, Tom was selected for the NZ team to face the USA at Templeton in the 2nd Test. Sadly, this was rained-off. Well, that's the official version for this cancellation!!
Tom was 5th in the 72 South Island Champs behind Roger Wright, Ronnie Moore, Graeme Stapleton and Ronder McKinlay. A week later, the NZ Champs were at Templeton. And at half time, Tom was unbeaten. Then, it all went sour. Just 1 more point saw him finish 4th behind Bruce Cribb 15, Roger Wright 14 and Graeme Stapleton 13.
The 73 South Island Champs saw Frank Shuter winning from Graeme Stapleton, Stephen Foster and Tom. After watching friends go to the UK for years, Tom decided it was time to have a go himself. He picks up the story, "I was in my early 30's, I should have gone years before! But I paid my own return fare to Teeside and lived on a farm with Roger Wright. It belonged to Speedway fans and we didn't have to pay much rent. We helped out driving tractors and hay baling. I was going alright and enjoying life until one night at Sunderland. It was a crash I can't remember. I came to on a stretcher and felt really bad. The First Aid bloke said, 'I thought you were dead!' Anyway, I said I was OK and didn't have to go to hospital. But really, I was in shock with concussion! I got changed and was having a beer, watching the rest of the meeting. My arm felt really bad, I pulled up the sleeve to see a sharp piece of bone sticking into my skin! So I was taken to hospital where they discovered my collarbone was also broken! I was kept in until the next day but felt really bad for weeks. If the injuries had have healed OK, I could have ridden again but the head injuries kept me away. I stayed on the farm and helped Roger but I couldn't ride again until the NZ season."
Tom had rode 7 matches for the Tigers returning a 4.9 average. And he enjoyed some impressive 2nd half races. Before his return to NZ it was written in the programme, 'Tom's likable nature meant that he made such an impression on the supporters over here that after he had been out for a couple of months the fans decided they wanted to pay him back in some small way and wrote to Ron Wilson asking him to organise a collection for the Kiwi. Such a request has hardly been heard of before, but Ron didn't have the slightest hesitation in granting it. The money raised was enough to ferry Tom's bike back to NZ.'
The 73/74 season in Christchurch saw Tom getting his fitness and confidence back. But he wasn't happy with scoring just 5 points at the 74 NZ Champs on his home track. And a return to the UK wasn't considered until, "Ron Wilson paid my return fare so I was with Leicester but really wasn't happy there."
Tom rode 8 matches for the Lions and the 3.4 average reflected his lack of self-confidence.
"I wanted to ride for Teeside and when it finally happened, first bloody meeting, after winning my first bloody ride, I hit a piece of fence that jutted out and broke my ankle! I really felt bad. That I had let everyone down and still feel that way today!"
Tom's British League career was over. He returned to NZ to prepare for a track return and in December, lined up for a NZ side with Ronnie Moore, Graeme Stapleton and a youngster named Larry Ross. They met a British League side; John Davis, Dave Morton, Mike Hiftle and Ian Cartwright. The visitors won 31 to 29. For NZ, Ronnie scored 14, Stape 8, Ross 4 and Tom 3.
Later that month, Tom travelled to Invercargill for the Southern Zone Round of the 76 World Championship, where he scored 6 points for 10th place.
Over the next few seasons, Tom continued to enjoy his racing at Templeton and on June 3, 1979, he Captained 'Radio Avon' against 'Ronnie's Rebels'. The Rebels won 61-36 but Tom scored 10 points and was joint 'Rider of the Day' alongside Alan Crosbie and Craig Blackett.
Today at Moore Park, Tom is regularly seen enjoying the races with his friends including Roger Wright. He is as friendly and approachable as he was all those years ago. He has lots of shocking white hair and wears a big friendly grin. When I get his autograph for collectors around the world, he still says the same old thing,"Nobody wants my bloody autograph, I never did anything!"
Once again, how wrong he is. Wish I could have done half of his 'nothing' !!
This article was first published on 15th July 2010
"I'm sorry that I missed a line in the Tom Black story. Tom won back to back South Island Titles. After his win in 1969, he won again in 1970 from Roger Wright and Merv Salt. Then in 1971, he was 3rd... Sorry Tom!!!"
"Sat here in Baku Azerbaijan and decided to look at some speedway stuff on the web, to be honest I never thought I would have been reading about Tom Black, I remember him well at Cleveland Park one of many from down under who represented the Tigers in the 70s. There are still plenty of speedway fans at the current Redcar Bears meetings that remember Tom also, a 100% trier. Good luck Tom."
"I remember Tom Black riding for the Teesside Tigers. He was brilliant! Always 100% effort. That's what counted for Tigers fans. If Tom had had a little more of the GOOD luck, he would have been up amongst the big names. His luck, sadly, was of the opposite kind, but any serious speedway fan could see the talent! If only.... God bless yer Tom! You'll always be remembered AND welcomed on Teesside!"
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