Motorsport Memories with Nigel Pearson

Motorsport Memories Nigel Pearson Header

Nigel Pearson, the voice of televised speedway in the UK for more than a decade, is the latest sporting name to take a look back at his favourite Motorsport Memories.

You can read the thoughts of the well-known TV and radio commentator – who has worked for BT Sport, Sky Sports and talkSPORT whilst covering football and darts too – or listen to his iconic voice by clicking play on the embedded video below.

Third favourite memory – Chris Harris’ 2007 British Speedway Grand Prix victory in Cardiff

Chris Harris winning the 2007 British Speedway Grand Prix victory in Cardiff

It was just remarkable because the British rider Chris Harris was never a potential world champion, with the greatest respect to Chris who has raced in over 100 GPs. But it was one of the most remarkable grand finals I’ve ever seen because you’ve got 45,000 Brits in that brilliant, brilliant stadium, following this final and Chris Harris was just closing in and closing in, reeling in, the leader Greg Hancock.

He timed his move to perfection and it was the underdog, if you like, getting the chequered flag and that was just the most amazing moment for me in the commentary box. I nearly lost my voice on that occasion, shiver down the spine and all the rest of it. But the way he just dived up the inside and brought the house down in front of 45,000 passionate Brits.

Thousands of flags were flying everywhere to Land of Hope and Glory and it was like The Last Night of the Proms. For Chris Harris to achieve that, very much the underdog who was never going to be world champion, but he was such a loyal servant to the Grand Prix series, he always managed to get in there, and I love him for it.

For him to win that meeting like he did against Greg Hancock, four-time world champion now he’s ended his career, will always go down in my memory as a real standout moment. Dramatic motorsport, great viewing figures on Sky Sports at the time, and great to commentate on for sure.

Second favourite memory – Watching the Yorkshire Television Trophy in 1976 at The Boulevard in Hull

Motorsport Memories Nigel Pearson Young Nigel

I have to go back to the very beginning and how I got into the sport of motorcycle speedway. When we used to live in Yorkshire my father took me to the Boulevard Stadium in Hull, sadly (the stadium is) no longer with us, and we went to the Yorkshire Television Trophy in 1976.

The Yorkshire Television Trophy always had fantastic riders and I didn’t really appreciate it at the time but I do remember, even though I’m in my 50s now, looking back on this six-year-old kid turning up with his dad at the Boulevard Stadium in Hull. I was just grasped by the crowd coming in, the big grandstand on the home straight that we sat in, the smell of the bikes in the pits when the riders started warming the bikes up pre-meeting. And also the parade music, the tannoy system, the announcer giving all the race results out, fans had rattles and everybody was just having a great time.

It was back in the day where the grandstand had cigarette smoke blowing all through it, including my dad doing that. It was just a magical moment for a six-year-old kid. Afterwards we’d take the programme down. The riders at The Boulevard used to have to walk from the pits, across the track and then go down the Rugby League tunnel which was right by where the fans were mingling.

I got by the pit gate and I remember picking up a clear visor tear-off that a rider had ripped off on the track and I got some of the riders to sign my programme as well. That was the Yorkshire Television Trophy from 1976, my first ever meeting, and that has to go down in my top three motorsport moments.

Favourite memory – Erik Gundersen becoming speedway world champion in 1985

Nigel Pearson posing with Erik Gundersen

I’ve got no doubt about my favourite motorsport memory and it was a one-off world final in 1985 at the Odsal Stadium in Bradford. Being a massive Cradley Heath speedway supporter at the time having moved down to the Midlands, Erik Gundersen was my favourite rider. He was such a fantastic racer, classy, well turned out, very quick from the start and he was the man I wanted to win at Odsal that day.

There was probably 35,000 fans. Odsal had been renovated, redeveloped and had modern facilities back then. It was packed all the way around this bowl. Odsal Stadium is this unique bowl. It’s like a hole in the ground as you drive past it up the top by the Richard Dunn Sports Centre. As you enter Odsal you look down and it’s just this massive bowl – had over 100,000 in for a Rugby League Challenge Cup final in the early days.

On that day I was really rooting for Erik Gundersen because for some reason back then your club colours were more important than your country colours. I should have been cheering for my old friend Kelvin Tatum and I didn’t, I wanted Erik to win because he was my favourite rider, a Danish rider. He made a mess of his first race, he went wide, and only got one point in his first race. Back then in a one-off world final something like that can scupper your chances of winning the title.

Anyway, in his final race he went from third to first. He got a hand-full of gas, Odsal had really steep banking, and two American riders were on the inside. Another American rider Sam Ermolenko was in with a chance of winning the world title so for me I suspected the American boys might have been shielding Gundersen to try and help Ermolenko’s chances.

Erik thought: ‘This is now or never’ and going into the third turn he’s got it wound on full blast and he decides to go so high into the banking that he’s almost kissing the wooden fence. But he gets this most amazing drive and coming off the banking down onto the straight he’d blown the two Americans away. So that got him into a run-off for the title and that was with Sam Ermolenko and Hans Nielsen.

‘There were grown adults jumping up and down’

Now Gundersen and Nielsen were great rivals even though they’re fellow countrymen, Danes. Erik, I could tell, was so cool on the start line and I knew he was one of the fastest starters in the world. But at 15 years of age I could hardly watch. I’d got knots in my stomach, I felt sick, so goodness knows how those three riders felt on the start line. But that was just me wanting Erik to win.

In that final Erik was so cool at the start line, he was letting air through his goggles just resting his clutch while the others were digging the track on the inside. Erik was just nice and relaxed. Anyway, the start marshall pulls them to the line, Erik just lets his goggles go, shrugs his shoulders as he did, went to the start line and dropped the clutch.

Hans Nielsen was level with him, Hans could have got the drop on him by going wide but Erik just leaned on him, leaned on him, and then got the drive going down the back straight and pulled clear and he was never going to be caught from there. 

The celebrations, there were grown adults jumping up and down and I’d got beer spilt all over my head, and I’m jumping up and down as though my football team had scored a winning goal. When Erik won that title that was one of my most happiest moments of my childhood. 

What he did there was prove that he could handle pressure, he had bottle and he had true class and that, in motorsport, is absolutely vital. And that’s what Erik Gundersen did and I’ll never ever forget that and that will probably be my favourite motorsport moment for the rest of my life. It’ll never get any better than that for me.

Nigel Pearson and Kelvin Tatum commentating at a motorsport event

Photo credits (in order): Speedway GP/IMG and Submitted by Nigel Pearson

Nigel Pearson joins Jessica Hawkins, Lewis Kerr, Carl Fogarty, Callum Ilott and Niels-Kristian Iversen in sharing their Motorsport Memories with Adrian Flux. Is there anyone you would like to hear from in the future? Email your suggestions to [email protected] 

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