An innovator is defined as "a person who introduces new methods, ideas or products."
You might be wondering what this has to do with speedway but despite what some folks will tell you, there have been plenty of innovators in the sport of speedway since it's inception in the late 1920s.
But who are they?
Well in truth there have been far too many to mention, but if you want to break it down we can take a look at just some of these great men who have made such a difference to our sport and in many ways made it what it was, and still is today. It is also worth noting, that whilst I am fully aware that speedway isn't just about the riders, this particular set of ramblings will be focusing solely upon riders who changed the game as it were.
Now to be an innovator, you don't necessarily have to be a world champion or reach the very top of the sport to leave a lasting impact upon it. If we look back to the late 1940s and very early 50s a rider by the name of Ken Le Breton was wowing the Newcastle and Ashfield crowds and catching the eye with his white leathers, earning him the nickname of "The White Ghost." Sadly a track crash in his native Australia claimed his life and robbed him of the chance to improve on his one and only World Final appearance in 1949 where he finished 14th. While Ken may have had a very short career, he was years ahead of his time and he was the first rider to really stand out from the rest. These days every rider now has his own unique colour scheme and identity but Ken Le Breton is widely heralded as being the first which makes him a precursor to almost all of todays modern riders.
Peter Craven may have been small in stature but he was a huge star during his short career. World champion in 1955 and 1962, Craven entertained the masses with his gravity defying style earning him the moniker the "Wizard of Balance." By all accounts Peter Craven was ahead of his time, and his technique of distributing his weight to maximise drive and his ability to be at one with the bike is something we see many of todays riders do. Peter Craven would tragically lose his life in a track crash at Meadowbank in 1963 and there is little doubt that he would have added to his world title tally had things been different. His impact on the sport of speedway should never be disregarded as it is still being seen today. If you look at old photos of Peter Craven, I guarantee you he will remind you of a few modern day riders and he could easily be aboard one of todays bikes, he was that good.
Kelly Moran was part of a golden era of American riders who made waves in the sport during the 1980s. Nicknamed "The Jellyman" due to the seemingly impossible contortion of his body whilst aboard his bike, Kelly was smooth as silk and could turn a bike on a sixpence if he had to. A natural showman with talent in droves that frankly deserved more accolades than he would go on to eventually achieve. His riding style is really what made him stand out and in truth there aren't many of today's riders who do it with quite as much flair and polished panache as the late great Mr Moran.
But perhaps the most famous rider to don the Stars and Stripes was Bruce Penhall, who was undoubtedly the poster boy of Speedway at the time. Much like the Hollywood star he became, Penhall played both the hero and the villain during his relatively short speedway career which saw him collect back to back world titles in 1981 and 1982, after which saw he retire at the very top while still only in his mid 20s. While a controversial character at times, Penhall was a genuine box office draw, and the sort of character speedway is in real need of today.
I had originally wanted to keep this simply to non active riders, but found it impossible not to include Greg Hancock, a man who has continued to evolve with the sport as it has evolved around him. Ironically Bruce Penhall would act as something of a mentor to a young Hancock during the early part of his career. Now it's fair to say there isn't a lot to be said about Greg Hancock that hasn't already been said, but there certainly isn't any denying that he is one of the greatest riders ever. You simply don't have the best part of three decades at the highest level in this game without being an innovator, and throughout his illustrious career, Greg has constantly looked for new ways to find an edge over his opponents and try new things to garner results. He may be the last of the golden era of American riders, but he's still a leader among his peers even as he approaches his 49th birthday he isn't showing any signs of slowing down.
With the very nature of this subject being so vast, I've decided to split it into separate parts, tune in next week when we will take a look at more riders who I believe to have changed the sport of speedway and brought their own unique nuances to the table in order to do things a little differently, plus it keeps the blog wolf away from the door for another week or so!
Of course if you wish to agree, or disagree with the Mythman, have an idea for a feature, or you simply want to chew the fat over all things speedway, you can email me Mythman666@hotmail.com. If your compliments, or indeed gripes can be contained to limited characters, you can send me a tweet @Mythman666.
Until next time...and there will be a next time.
Right I'll hae'tae gan