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Almost 30 years ago, Jan O. Pedersen was the world's most successful speedway driver. He was an individual, couple and team world champion in 1991 before his career stopped abruptly in 1992. Since that day, Jan O. Pedersen's life has faced many challenges, with ups and downs. However, the 57-year-old Fynbo still follows the sport closely, but misses renewal and rethinking in the Danish club speedway.

By Ib Søby

The middle name is Osvald.

Jan does not know his biological father, but grew up with his grandmother and grandfather, Irene and Osvald Pedersen in West Funen Harndrup. It was Osvald who took Jan to the speedway race to see the idol Ole Olsen. It was also Osvald who brought the young Jan into contact with the speedway club in Fjelsted, where the dream of a great speedway career was born.

And Jan had one clear goal.

To become world champion in speedway.

After two Danish 50cc championships, the small but looming runner landed at Cradley Heath, where he - in 1983 - made his debut in the British league at the age of 20. The club, based in Dudley Wood, close to Birmingham, needed new powers because US World Champion Bruce Penhall had left the sport and embarked on a film career in Hollywood.

Except for a rental agreement in 1984 with Sheffield, Jan O. Pedersen remained Cradley driver throughout his career.

Jan O. Pedersen - far right - in Cradley Heath, including Erik Gundersen, sitting on the bike (photo: Cradley Heath)

The famous eight laps

With the nickname "Jano" Pedersen quickly became a very popular speedway driver. Many times he was not the best starter, but he often delivered streaks of spectacular overhauls. Something that speedway fans in all countries love to see and which eventually became a trademark of Jan O. Pedersen.

He got a place on the Danish national team in 1986, where it became gold after three rounds in Gothenburg, Vojens and Bradford. Already the year before, Jan had qualified for the individual World Cup finals, also in Bradford, where it became an honorable 9th place. In 1986, this ranking was changed to an impressive silver medal after Hans Nielsen.

No one in the international speedway environment was in any doubt that Jan O. Pedersen had the potential to become a world champion, despite the fact that this year was dominated by compatriots Erik Gundersen and Hans Nielsen.

Jan O. Pedersen with red helmet - Cradley Heath

The historic and rainy World Cup final in 1988 in Vojens tells a lot about that game. Erik, Hans and Jan were probably colleagues on the Danish national team, but when they ran for the individual World Cup, they were enemies so it burst. Jan O. won the Intercontinental Final in Swedish Vetlanda ahead of Hans and Erik, but still ended up in Vojens on the bronze court. From the equestrian yard he had to watch the arch rivals decide the title in a detour that Erik Gundersen won.

The legendary day in Vojens thus ended with three compatriots on the podium, at home. It was speedway history and only happened twice before. In 1949 in England and 1961 in Sweden.

Jan O. Pedersen was among the favorites in advance for the subsequent World Cup finals in 1989 and 1990, but both years were slowed by crashes and injuries, shortly before the decisions in respectively. Munich and Bradford.

On May 4, 1990, Jan O. Pedersen ran a heat that has passed into history and will forever be associated with his life and career. It was the final of the Danish spring classic TOMS Gold bar race. A total of eight riders participated in two starts, with Jan O. Pedersen at the back row. If a rider from the back row won the heat, he would collect $ 100,000 on the spot.

The heat was on eight laps.

Jan O. made a bad start but got himself worked up and overcame all seven opponents, one by one. In the final turn, leading Brian Karger - disappointed - had to note that Jan had picked them all up.

The smallest runs, but with the biggest fighter heart.

The audience and TV viewers were elated.

There is a link to the heat at the bottom.

Superb season

I'm surprised that so many, both in Denmark and abroad, still talk about the heat. It's just before they forget my World Cup title, the year after, Jan O. Pedersen smiles in the Ole Olsen Lounge at Vojens Speedway Center. He has met with Jacob Olsen and gives himself - this Monday in April 2020 - time to reflect on his speedway life.

He had an excellent collaboration with the German tuner Otto Weiss, and in 1991 he was again ready for the individual World Cup final. This time at New Ullevi in Gothenburg, where both Ole Olsen and Erik Gundersen had triumphed. Jan O. had already had an absolutely superb season for he was Danish champion, Par and Team world champion, plus bronze winner at 1000 meters long track, in one and the same season.

Now just the individual title was missing.

This time he was injury free and mentally on top. At the same time, the starters were right in the cupboard, winning all five of his heats with no major problems, and on this beautiful Swedish August evening was crowned as the world's best speedway driver.

However, the Swedish audience was delighted that a young World Cup debutant named Tony Rickardsson won silver, while Hans Nielsen had to settle for bronze after overtaking Tommy Knudsen.

You could say that I stood in the shadow of Erik Gundersen and Hans Nielsen, and fair enough, because they had won so much, but I also felt that now was my time. I was convinced that I could bring more gold to Denmark in the coming years, remembers Jan O. Pedersen.

The answer to that question is blowing in the wind, because before the 1992 season really got underway, Jan O. Pedersen's career ended in a split second.

A life of pain

On Friday, May 15, 1992, the classic st. Daytime running on Løvelbanen near Viborg. It was a race that was marred by several violent crashes.

An evil Friday in the speedway world.

Ambulances traveled seven times between the track and the hospitals in Viborg and Aarhus.

In his 3rd heat, Peter Ravn crashed ahead of Jan O. Pedersen, and Jan responded promptly by lying down to avoid hitting Ravn. He smoked into the barrier and was subsequently severely hit in the back by his own bicycle.

Everyone could see it was completely crazy, and four officials needed to lift the injured Jan O. into the ambulance.

The race in Viborg continued after a long interruption, but it went wrong again. Peter Ravn clashed with Norwegian Lars Gunnestad, and both were hit by Hans Nielsen, who after a large bulb bucket broke a collarbone.

All three smoked in the emergency room.

But reigning world champion Jan O. Pedersen paid the highest price of all the riders on this day.

With three serious back fractures, his career was finally over.

He was 29 years old and at the top of the speedway world.

Archive, Fyens.dk

Then followed a long rehabilitation phase and a perpetual struggle for a tolerable daily life. After regaining mobility and accepting a life of pain, he returned to the speedway sport as a manager in both England and Denmark. He took numerous initiatives and established company projects where some worked while others littered. For a number of years he imported Dunlop tires to Danish four-wheeled motor sports DTC.

But it was all along with the pain as a life companion, which also required some major mental downturns for long periods of time. He then met a woman he knew from childhood, Julia, who had meanwhile worked as the only female cement cast on the Great Belt.

They got married in 2010.

Jan O. Pedersen has now been a chronic pain patient for 28 years, and has to plan his daily life with care.

I take as little medicine as possible at all, because I think it saddens me. Everything I do takes significantly longer, so I have to teach my energy. It's kind of like a car where I don't have as much gasoline in the tank up a steep hill, while other cars can just spin up the hill without thinking about consumption, explains Jan O. Pedersen.

Danish speedway misses renewal

In the spring of 2020, Jan O. Pedersen quit his job as chairman of the North Funen Speedway Club in Munkebo. Here, for several years they have struggled to establish a noise violence.

- I hope they succeed, but I have also chosen to prioritize my time with lectures and my company with food and sausages for company events and parties, says Jan O. Pedersen, who is also a deputy member for three months for the Left in Kerteminde City Council.

The former world champion wanted the Danish speedway to use the current corona-forced break to reflect on the development of the sport.

In my eyes, Danish speedway does not develop. It is almost a slow settlement. Sometimes it's like getting to a speedway match like traveling back to 1970. There is no IT connection, bad speaker conditions and completely outdated toilet and dressing facilities. There are lengthy tow breaks, in the flimsy hope of selling more sausages and draft beers.

- In between, you see clubs preparing the pitch to create an advantage for the home team. People have been locked in, and tractors are now starting to move around the track, while drivers and team leaders are arguing in the equestrian yard.

Jan O. Pedersen also feels that drivers of his own generation should be taken into consideration.

We experienced a time when the sport was booming, and in England it was huge because the wrapping was fine. The basic product we have always had, namely four riders on four motorcycles for four laps, but Danish speedway has rested on the laurels for far too many years, and did not follow with time. I know most of it is based on voluntary and unpaid labor. I also know the money is small and the big stars are now Poland's priority, but this downward circle must be broken somehow, soiger Jan O. Pedersen, who also questions the speedway's many controlling rules.

You can discuss the heat charts in the best league, just as I think it is wrong with cut rules (CMA) when talking about kids of 50cc and 85cc, but it is first and foremost the sport's wrapping to the audience, press and maybe TV that I seems limping too far afterwards.

- Danish speedway needs professional and dynamic management. Have you ever heard of anyone thinking of working out a five or ten year plan for the sport's product development, asks Jan O. Pedersen, and empties the coffee cup.

You can agree with him or not.

But he reached his goal and afterwards paid at box one.

No one can take it from Jan Osvald Pedersen


Watch the final of the TOMS Gold bar race 1990.

Commentators: Nick Horup (TV2) and Erik Gundersen


Jan O. Pedersen

Born November 9, 1962 in Middelfart.

Married to Julia Felin Pedersen in 2010.

World Champion 1991, New Ullevi Gothenburg.

World Cup silver 1986 and bronze 1988.

World Cup bronze, 1000 meters long track, 1991.

Couple World Champion 1990 and 1991 - both with Hans Nielsen.

Team World Champion 1986, 1987, 1988 and 1991.

Danish Master 1988 and 1991.

Winner of TOMS Gold bar races 1990 and 1992.   

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