By Tracy Holmes, Christchurch. 2008 Return HOME Return to Personalities.
Gary Peterson June 9 1946-October 17 1975.
Gary’s introduction to speedway was as a 16 year old at the Waiwakaiho track in
his home town of New Plymouth, New Zealand. Midget cars were his first love but
too expensive to go for. He was the passenger on a sidecar but soon caught the
solo bug. His first full season was 66/67 riding a JAP he bought from his boss,
Ash King. Gary was an apprentice motorcycle mechanic. Every time he rode, he had
the spectators glued because of his full-throttle, fence-scraping antics. The
injuries started rolling in but so did his impressive performances and Gary got
his first Test Cap on January 20, ‘68. This was the British Lions V NZ at
Western Springs, Auckland. He scored 4 points and at the 2nd Test in Napier 4
days later, got another 2. In May, Gary made his way to the UK and shared digs
with Murray Burt, Paul O'Neil, Terry Shearer and Ole Olsen. Speedway Star
reported his debut for Newcastle,' he went flat out for 3 laps before going
straight through the fence, breaking his wrist and ending up in hospital.' Gary
became good friends with Ivan Mauger, travelling and working for his fellow
Kiwi. But it was on the track Gary wanted to be and by seasons end had done 10
matches for Newcastle for a 3.5 average. At Nelson, 14 matches returned an
average of 8.1, and he was a "Star".
While he copied Ivan’s style, he was still reckless and proved a danger to himself and others. Ivan once said, "If a rider is constantly being injured, he is either very unlucky or he is doing something wrong." The latter applied to Gary because every rider I spoke to said the same thing, "he just couldn’t be told!" Gary wintered in the North and got himself fit for the ‘69 season. Rearing to go, literally, he did 4 matches for Nelson, continuing his excellent form and 8 for Newcastle. Entering the World Championship rounds, his first was at Newcastle on May 19 scoring 4 points. Sheffield was next on the 22nd and he got 8. Then came Wolverhampton the following night. His first heat was a disaster, going through the fence and being rushed to hospital with severe head injuries. Dave Gifford and Bernie LaGrosse visited him the next day. They both said what a horrific mess he was in. In fact, one of them told me straight, "he should never have been given his license back!" Gary returned to NZ and made his comeback in his hometown. Interestingly, he was not selected to ride in the 3 Tests against the Lions. So his only real opportunity to shine was at the 1970 NZ Champs, Western Springs. Well, a first heat engine failure put him out for the rest of the night. Back to Britain for Nelson / Bradford. Missing a berth in the World Championship rounds, on July 15 he won the Northern Riders Trophy at Bradford unbeaten from Alan Knapkin and Eric Broadbelt.
Then came the 2nd Division Tests, Australasia V Britain in August and September. He starred with the results of 14 at Middlesbrough, 16 Crewe, 18 Berwick and 11 Canterbury. Back at Bradford on September 9, Gary won The Odsal Trophy after thrilling scraps against Malcolm McKay and Maury Robinson. While he was keeping serious injuries at bay, despite some alarming spills at Crewe, Oxford and Wolverhampton, he was still receiving ongoing treatment for his previous years facial injuries. On September 30, at Bradford, he won the International Club Trophy, unbeaten from Maury Robinson and Doug Wyer. By seasons end, Gary had done 5 matches for Wolverhampton with his best mate Ole Olsen and had topped the 2nd Division averages. He'd done 22 matches for 10.7. Hot favourite for the 2nd Division Riders Championship at Hackney, Gay faltered and finished 3rd with 12 points behind Dave Jessup 14 and Barry Crowson also on 12. Gary was not a happy camper. It’s been suggested to me that the physiological scars of the head injuries the year before were really kicking in.
Then another horrific crash at Doncaster saw concussion and right arm injuries. He was tired, nearly broke and announced his retirement saying that 2nd Division Speedway was financially unworkable. Returning to NZ, he hoped the fresh air and sunshine would be the right tonic to help his decision making. Well, it seemed to work and Gary scored 12 points against the Lions at Western Springs in the 1st Test on February 6. Not so hot in the 2nd Test, just 2! Four nights later in a 'friendly match' at Gisborne, he thrilled the locals with 17 points. Then it was down to Christchurch where he got 8 points in the 3rd and final Test. The following week in Christchurch was the 1971 NZ Champs. Gary wanted this one badly but he couldn’t match the locals dropping 3 points to finish 4th behind Frank Shuter 15, Alan Brown 14 and Roger Wright 13. After getting his head together, Gary returned to Britain, signing for 1st Division Wolverhampton. And what a start, his 1st two matches paid 20 points out of 21! His best mate Ole Olsen, the captain did his best to advice and help but Gary’s injury train just kept on rolling. Despite this Gary did 23 matches for a 6.8 average, but missing the World Championship rounds. The 71/72 NZ season was pretty good. No Lions tour this time but Gary saw Test action against Sweden and the USA. In the 3 Swedish matches, he scored 16 at Western Springs, 14 also at Auckland and 15 in Christchurch. Against theYanks, 14 points at Western Springs, not riding in the other 2 matches. He also missed the 1972 NZ Champs in Christchurch. Gary was all set to return to Wolverhampton and was driven to Auckland airport by his sister and brother-in-law. As Gary flew out, his family was involved in an accident. Gary’s sister was killed. Getting this news at the Australian stop-over, Gary immediately returned home. He did not return to Britain that year.
The 72/73 NZ season saw Gary’s return and on January 29, he won the 1973 NZ Champs, unbeaten at Western Springs from Bob Andrews and Graeme Stapleton. In February, he did 2 Tests against the Lions. The 1st at Western Springs, 6 points. His next was the 3rd Test also at Auckland, 8 points. On February 27 at Palmerston North, there was a NZ International Champs. Ivan Mauger won unbeaten, Gary was 2nd with 14. Chris Pusey 3rd. The field also included Barry Briggs, Bob Andrews, Bill Andrew, Roger Wright, Ronnie Moore, Graeme Smith, Frank Shuter, Freddie Timmo, Graeme Stapleton and Mike Fullerton. All fired-up with renewed confidence, Gary returned to Britain and Wolverhampton. In the World Championship rounds, on May 18 at home, he was 3rd with 11 points. The following night at Belle Vue, 5th with 10 points. Then on the 23rd at Newport, 3rd with 12 points. But at the British Semi-Final at Wimbledon on June 7, 5 points saw his elimination. In July, the now legendary Daily Mirror International Tournament was held all over the UK. The Kiwis 1st match on June 26 against England was rained-off.
Then at Wolverhampton on June 29, they went down 37 to Norway/Denmarks 40, Gary scored a dissapointing 4. July 2nd at Exeter, they smashed the Poles 53 to 25, Gary scored 7. July 5 at Wimbledon, they did it to the Aussies 50 to 28, Gary astounding his critics with 10. Then on July 9 at Reading, they beat the USSR 43 to 34, Gary just 4. In the Semi-Final at Belle Vue, the Kiwis went down to England 49 to 30 and Gary scored a very sad 1 point. In the British League, Gary’s confidence grew despite another crash at Exeter ending with concussion. He got to ride 34 matches for a 5.9 average. 1974 remains something of a mystery concerning Gary. He didn’t ride the 73/74 NZ season and did not return to ride for Wolves. But return to ride he did, in the 74/75 NZ season. Poland toured and Gary was a revelation. He was unbeaten for an 18 point maximum in the 1st Test at Western Springs. Then at Christchurch, 15 points. It was here that local legend Buck Buchanan made a crash helmet frame for Gary’s glasses. After a practice at the Templeton track, Gary came in and said, "I never knew the *** fence came up so fast!!" The 3rd Test was at Te Marua, half an hour north of Wellington. This is where the Poles dealt to the home team, 69 to the Kiwis 39. Gary scored 9. The last Test was back in Auckland and Gary’s second 18 point maximum. Also that season, Gary rode in a one-off Test, NZ V the Rest of the World at Invercargill. That’s right, Burt Munroe’s home town. The Rest, Ole Olsen, John Louis, Tommy Jansson, Scott Autrey, Henny Kroeze and Egon Muller beat the Kiwis, Gary, Ivan Mauger, Briggo, Graeme Stapleton, Graeme Stewart and Larry Ross 60 to 48. Gary eagerly returned to Britain for the 75 season back at Wolverhampton. Renewed confidence, fitness and health.
He rode with Bruce Cribb in the World Pairs Championship. They scored 20 points at the Semi-Final at Frederica, Denmark. Gary 12, Cribby 10. Not enough to Qualify though, 4th behind Denmark 24, Sweden and Australia 22. Also in Denmark at Ole's track Vojens, Gary scored 11 points to finish 5th in an invitation behind Ole 14, Jim McMillan 13, Billy Sanders 13 and Ivan Mauger also 11. He also got to ride for NZ in the World Cup qualifying round at Reading. England won from Australia with the Kiwis 3rd, Gary scoring 4 of their 21 points. Also in the UK, Gary sadly missed the World Championship rounds but his form with Wolves remained steady enough. By October, he had done 30 matches for a 5.8 average. October 17 saw Wolverhampton V Oxford in the 2nd leg of The Midland Cup. Gary was 3rd in his first race, heat 4. Then he won heat 7. His next heat was number 11. Chasing the Oxford pair of Dag Lovaas and Alan Grahame, guesting, Gary went hard underneath Grahame, lost control, reared and went head-first into the track-lighting pylon. Gary Peterson was dead. Riders who knew him well, team mates and flatmates all said the same things. Here’s some samples, "Gary was going to be World Champion or die trying!" "He was so determined to emulate his mates Ole and Ivan, he lost all sense of reason!" "Gary’s death was only a matter of time." "No matter who told him, Gary wouldn’t listen, you can not ride in England as you can in NZ."
Despite all this, Gary could be a hugely popular and hell of a nice guy. In the end, a truly tragic guy. From what I understand, his personal life was interesting to say the least. And from the stories I have heard, will say nothing. I have never gotten over Gary’s death and his autograph is so precious to me. I loved him but never knew him. Gone but never forgotten.
Tracy Holmes, Christchurch. 2008