Belle Vue Ace 1971 - 1986


PETER THE GREAT 
 
Quite simply one of the most talented riders of his generation, Peter Collins was acclaimed the golden boy of speedway’s boom years in the
early 1970s.
  The eldest of five racing brothers, Collins learned the basics of his craft while riding motorcycles around his father's farm in Partington before the family moved to Lymm in Cheshire.  Peter was a regular participant at the famed Hyde Road training school in the winter of 1970-71, whereupon he was spotted by the Belle Vue management and loaned out to the Aces nursery track - Rochdale Hornets.

The impact made by the former British Grass track 350cc champion was neigh on incredible as he averaged 9.83 from 23 meetings in the British League Second Division, 14 points on his international debut for Young England against Young Czechoslovakia at Crewe, and 11 appearances for parent club Belle Vue as the Aces retained the British League championship led Collins to be hailed in the speedway press as an ‘overnight sensation.’

After his sensational debut season, PC gave up his apprenticeship as a fitter at Shell Chemicals to concentrate on his racing full time, though he has always readily accepted that much of his early success was down to the encouragement and sponsorship offered by Jim Rowlinson.
If 1971 was good, then ‘72 was better. Peter took his place as a fully fledged Belle Vue Ace in a side skippered by mercurial Kiwi Ivan Mauger and managed by the legendary Dent Oliver.


A record breaking league and cup double triumph for the Manchester club was augmented by Peter’s 8.44 average from 38 official fixtures.
Collins also took his first steps along the World Championship trail reaching his maiden British Final.

Senior England honours were forthcoming as another successful year was brought to a close with his first trip to Australia with the British Lions squad.

The legend that now stands as testament to the racing exploits of Collins can be traced unaccountably to those events encompassing the next six seasons of Peter’s track career.

Never in the history of two wheeled motor sport have two races against the same opponent done so much to enhance the reputation of any one man. The year of 1973 and Anders Michanek will be forever entwined for those who witnessed the titanic struggles of two masters of their art.
PC had never seen the imposing ‘Twin Towers’ of Wembley in the flesh before as he stood beneath the bright lights of the Empire Stadium the night the English lion roared.
England had battled through gamely to the final stage of the month long Daily Mirror sponsored international tournament to face the Scandinavian challenge posed by the then mighty Swedes - Sweden.
If controversy clouded the run off victory over mighty Mitch on that humid July evening then there could not be the slightest question who was the master two short months later as a Collins full house engineered an English World Team Cup victory.

There was still more drama to come though. The Speedway Star Cup Final was to be raced, as always over two legs at the back end of October.
Reading were the Aces opponents and again PC and Mitch were destined to be involved in a titanic race to decide the destiny of the trophy. The teams had finished level at 78-78 over two legs and following the closure of Reading’s Tilehurst home, a run-off was called to decide the victors.

Collins had raced all evening under the handicap of a broken bone in his left hand, which in order to compete he had been forced to switch his clutch lever to the right hand side of his handlebars. Michanek too had been hindered by machine trouble and started the race off on team mate Bernie Leigh’s bike.

There followed four laps of sensational speedway as both riders passed and re-passed each other on every corner before the Manchester man took the verdict off the last corner.

It was truly another momentous year for Peter as he reached his first World Final and gained top spot in the British Junior Championship to boot.
Could 1974 be any better? In the case of Peter Collins, the answer was obviously yes! Four World Finals despite being a mere 20 years of age and another World Team Cup maximum, this time at Katowice, Poland.  Just how much of an omen would that turn out to be just two years later wasn’t known at the time.

A World Pairs debut with Dave Jessup on his own Belle Vue race strip and his inaugural appearance in the Longtrack Final in West Germany.
Despite winning the European championship, again at Wembley, the individual title chase was a major disappointment  for Collins as he could muster a joint fourth place finish on a heavy Swedish track in Gothenburg.

There was an end of season consolation just round the corner though for Collins as he took the Northern Riders’ title at Sheffield from a quality field and added his name to the illustrious list of British League Riders’ Champions for the first time at his home track at Belle Vue.

His league form for the Aces was outstanding and his 10.99 match average, including 13 full maximums established him as the clubs out and out number one rider for the first time.

No one can ever call a Peter Collins/Anders Michanek duel anything less than electric. In 1973 these two big names of speedway came head to head at Wembley and later in the season at Belle Vue.

PC came out on top on both occasions but even he will admit it was never easy against the Swedish superstar. Both riders went on to become World Champion following their epic confrontations of ‘73, Michanek in Gothenburg, Sweden  in 1974 and Collins in Katowice, Poland in 1976.

  It was much the same when the new season rolled around in March 1975 - four world finals including his third successive World Team Cup full house and strong anti-post favourite for the individual title, which was to be staged at PCs spiritual home - Wembley.
Having won his first two races, Peter was in with a splendid chance of victory before his hopes were dashed by the gross stupidity of his fellow
countrymen who had come to give their support.
 

The Wembley track had been heavily criticised during the meeting following clouds  of dust that swirled around the Empire Stadium during each race.

It seems that no official would take the responsibility for the watering of the track which, ultimately was Peter’s downfall, when disgruntled fans on the first turn somehow acquired the use of one of the track hoses and drenched the entrance to the first turn. The result was a devastating defeat for PC as he went from almost first, from the unflavoured outside gate, to a shale obliterated last in his hardest race of the night.

Fifth place overall would have pleased most on view that evening, but Collins would later call the meeting: “The biggest disappointment of my career to date.”

There was again consolation at the season’s end with the retention of the Northern Riders’ and BLRC trophy’s, while other notable titles found their way to Lymm too including Swindon’s Silver Plume, the Players No 6 Classic, the Yorkshire Bank Trophy and the Bass Yorkshire Open.

 Peter upped his official  green sheet CMA to a remarkable 11.33 and in the process logged 21 full maximums to his name to help the Aces to the Speedway Star KO Cup and the newly introduced Inter-League Challenge Cup.

Privately the Collins family were rocked by the death of Peter’s father Bill. The 1976 season dawned with Peter desperate to fulfil his lifetime ambition and bring the world title back to Britain.   It was indeed a remarkable year for the curly haired Cheshire kid, who achieved many high spots in his sporting and private life.

On track Peter was simply awesome. He again averaged more than 11 points per meeting for the Aces and he was victorious in many of the major meetings around the various tracks during the summer.

Wembley played host to a magical night of racing and PC was once again to the forefront despite finishing last in his opening race of the Intercontinental Final.  

Collins rode unbeaten thereafter to finish on 12 points and earn himself a run off for the title with his mentor Ivan Mauger. Peter duly won the race from the gate and took the title forward with him to the final.

The huge Katowice bowl in the heartland of Poland was the setting for Peter to ignite the speedway world.  As ever Collins went into the meeting as a strong favourite to top the pile. Riding his Nourish tuned British Weslake machine, Collins came from behind for victory in his opening two races and went into his last programmed race needing just two points for overall victory.

Though wily old fox Ivan Mauger, his own title chances destroyed by machine failure, won the race, Collins took the gold medal and top spot on the podium with 14 magical points.

Interviewed on camera after the meeting, Peter confirmed that he would marry fiancé Angela Hilton in November. The couple sprung something of a surprise before the ceremony when they had the wrong church printed on the invitations to avoid the possibility of their big day being besieged by the media and fans.

Those invited to attend were only told of the switch in the days leading up to the ceremony, November 20 at De La Salle College, Middleton, Manchester. Though the Aces missed out on team silverware Peter celebrated ‘My greatest Year.”

With the burden of expectancy removed from his slender shoulders, Collins went into the 1977 season in a relaxed frame of mind. Seeded through the British world championship qualifiers direct to the Intercontinental Final at London’s White City, a title he won for the second successive season, he also emerged victorious on the Pairs front too alongside Malcolm Simmons.

Everything seemed to be going well as the defence of his world crown moved onto the Gothenburg staged final in Sweden. However, just seven days prior to that meeting Peter all but destroyed his chances in a meaningless second-half ride in Manchester.

The Aces had secured sponsorship from manufacturer Sportac to wear team leathers for the first time, a unique set of silver suits were made for each member of the side to wear.

During his scratch race, Collins rode the inside line going into the third turn at Hyde Road whereupon his front wheel flicked up one of the steel covers which covered the open drains. He was taken to hospital where initial examinations diagnosed a fractured fibula, several lacerations with considerable damage to the surrounding muscles and tendons.

Ignoring medical advice Collins discharged himself from hospital and flew by private jet, courtesy of Trust House Forte, to Gothenburg to defend his title.  Torrential rain ruined the meeting as a racing spectacle but Collins was magnificent as he battled gamely to finish runner up behind Mauger.
Despite his horrendous injury, Collins rode in the victorious England squad that secured the World Team Cup victory just two weeks later - their fourth win in five years. Earlier in the year Peter had represented his sport in BBC television’s Superstars programme where he finished a more than creditable second overall ahead of shot putter Geoff Capes.

In December he was awarded the Seagrave Trophy by the Royal Automobile association, the first speedway rider to be afforded such an honour and following in the footsteps of such notables as Sir Malcolm and Donald Campbell, Stirling Moss and Jackie Stewart.  

Peter's major success in the 1978 season was the claiming of the sports richest ever prize - the World Masters a fore runner of today's Grand Prix series - with a four round total of 5 points.  

Having been labelled a flop by some following his shock individual championship exit at the British Final stage the former champion later found that sugar had been added to his fuel at Brandon giving light to 'Sabotage' headlines throughout the sport as his bid to reach Empire Stadium staged Golden Jubilee World Final disappeared.  

Peter's maiden National title was the highlight of a somewhat low key '79 season, it proved to be the only oasis in a desert of mechanical problems that dogged Collins all year though there was some light as he was crowned 'King of Kuwait' for a second time.  

The new decade began with plans being made to celebrate his testimonial with the Aces, it ended rather sourly with Collins announcing his retirement from British racing following a serious arm injury sustained during the Aces rain lashed Speedway Star KO Cup final first leg at Cradley's Dudley Wood stadium.  

A smashed and dislocated left shoulder prompted Collins to say: "I'm getting out before it all turns sour. Ten years of none stop riding in the British League has taken it's toll. It's affected both my health and my enthusiasm."   The injury had obviously left a lasting impression on PC though the year could hardly have been closed disappointing, with victory in the both the World Pairs and Team Cup to his name.  

On the domestic front his 31 official matches in Aces colours yielded a healthy 10.67 race average, by no means a record of failure by anybody's standards.  

The decision to opt out of domestic speedway meant that Peter was denied access to all World Championship events, baring the Longtrack, and without his presence the Lions surrendered both the pairs and team championships they had won 12 months previously.  

Still troubled by his damaged shoulder Peter appeared in a number of Continental meetings before making a surprise return to his beloved Aces in October. Three late season meetings produced a hat trick of victories for Belle Vue and a modest 7.33 CMA for the returning prodigal son.  

Dealt back into the Aces pack for 1982, in what turned out to be a magnificent revival season under the leadership of new promoter Stuart Bamforth, Peter's upwardly mobile 8.78 match average from 48 fixtures helped his team to league championship glory on a murky night at Reading in October.  

On the international front Collins and the late Kenny Carter helped England claim the runners up spot behind the immaculate Americans at Australia's Liverpool raceway, he also reached the milestone of 100 caps for his country.  

The Highlight of the '83 campaign was undoubtedly another pair victory alongside Carter while domestically he pushed his average back above nine points as the Aces walked away with the Premiership and League Cup titles.  

Lifelong pal Chris Morton helped Peter walk away with one of the most rewarding victories of his career when the two stood atop the rostrum in Lonigo, venue for another Pairs title in 1984 - Collins fourth victory in the competition.

The remarkable duo from the Manchester suburb of Partington also snatched the first British Open Pairs title for good measure.  

Being named one of five sponsored riders by the massive Jawa corporation seemed to do little for Peter's enthusiasm when the tapes went up on the 1985 season. Indeed there was little of any substance for Collins to reflect upon as the year came to a close.
 

Elimination from the Individual speedway championship chase came at Brandon where he suffered a leg injury but Collins produced vintage form to finish runner-up to Denmark's Erik Gundersen in the BLRC.

His 39 appearances for the Aces producing an average of 8.91 points per meeting.  

Peter was awarded the SWAPA Order of Merit in recognition of his 16 magnificent seasons service to speedway but 1986 will always be remembered as the swansong of a great career. An opening night crash with Halifax's Kenny Carter left Collins with knee ligament damage and a season long fight to regain both form and fitness.   The only highlight being a vintage performance that saw Collins annex the silver medal behind Erik Gundersen in the World Longtrack championship at Pfarrkirchen, it would prove to be Peter's finale.  

His farewell meeting was held at the much lamented Hyde Road stadium as the sport paid a fitting tribute to one of the greatest English riders to straddle
a speedway machine.
 

by Edward Garvey.