THE world’s top motorcycle riders came to Odsal in 1985 and 1990 for the Speedway World Championships.

Denmark’s Erik Gundersen won the title in 1985 and in 1990 it was Per Jonsson from Sweden.

First Buses are paying tribute to Bradford’s Speedway heritage, with the names of Gundersen, Jonsson and other top riders on the front of its buses. JOHN MURPHY, a driver for First Buses, has worked hard to make this happen.

Here John highlights Bradford Speedway hero Simon Wigg, whose name is now on bus no 35220: “In 1985 Bradford became the centre of the Speedway world. The sport had been ‘evicted’ from Wembley and the FIM was desperate to find another UK venue for the World Final. The Bradford Speedway promoting trio of Eric Boothroyd and Allan and Bobby Ham worked tirelessly to ensure it came to Odsal, with the backing of Bradford Council. Of no less importance was their determination to sustain Speedway in the city (for a further 12 years) and provide supporters with a successful team.

But less than half-way through the following season No.1 rider Kenny Carter took his own life. Amongst such horror was the reality that the Bradford club would struggle then routinely be a side to be beaten rather than one the opposition would fear.

In the early 90s came the signing of Simon Wigg, three-time league winner with Oxford, title winner at Cradley Heath, double British Individual Champion, three times World Long Track Champion. Wigg had spent the early months of 1991 recovering from serious back surgery and doubts were rife if he’d regain race fitness. His ultra-professional attitude was key. Simon was gone from Bradford in 1992, but left a team transformed; three domestic trophies won, with Wigg outstanding over two legs defeating Cradley to win Speedway’s equivalent of the FA Cup! His presence at Odsal sparked a positivity, in 1992 Bradford even had its own World Champion in Gary Havelock.

The weekend Long Track circuits on the continent were important to Simon but the commute to Bradford from his Aylesbury base became increasingly difficult. Bradford supporters were sorry to see him leave.

Things turned out so sad. From the age of 38 Simon began suffering epileptic seizures, originally attributed to head trauma from racing crashes. He was diagnosed with a brain tumour and had surgery in May 1999. After recovering he moved with his wife, Charlie, and two children to Australia. He fell ill again in February 2000 and returned to the UK for surgery after discovering that the tumour had re-grown. Simon died in The Willen Hospice, Milton Keynes, on November 15, 2000. He was just 40-years-old.

Two poignant things to conclude: On October 12, 1997 the last ever Speedway race at Odsal decided that year’s Elite League Riders Champion. Simon was one of four riders in that race and as such the last rider with a Bradford connection to grace the shale there. Thanks to First Bus in Bradford and Operations Director Colin Brushwood, a double-decker bus is now named in memory of Simon Wigg.”