Six-time Swedish world champion Tony Rickardsson is unquestionably one of the greatest profiles of speedway history. It was with some awe when I, as a journalist, had to do an interview with him. He was a thorough and serious sportsman, and basically a good guy. But for a number of years he definitely didn't care about me because I was stupid the first time I met him.
By Ib Søby
Vojens, September 25, 1999
Tony Rickardsson had just become world champion for the third time. He had won tonight's Danish Grand Prix - which was the last of the year - ahead of Greg Hancock and Mark Loram. Thus, the Swede had scored enough points to pass Polish Tomasz Gollob in the standings and take the title.
Gollob was part of Vojens, but sustained an injury following a traffic accident. Frustrated, the pole had to see the gold chance evaporate into the Danish wilderness sky over Vojens.
I was in Vojens to do a TV program about Hans Nielsen, who stopped his career the same evening, with the World Cup bronze.
That is why I participated in the press conference after the World Cup decision. As always, it took place in a large tent behind the track, where a podium had been set up, as well as tables and chairs. The meeting was chaired by British editor of Speedway Star, Phil Rising, and after a few brief statements from the riders, questions were opened up by the tightly packed assembly of press people.
I reached up and got the word a little unexpected. I looked up at the podium and asked - in English - Tony if he had become a world champion without Gollob's traffic accident? Tony looked at me in wonder and quickly took over the microphone, rebuking me by explaining that it was an unworthy and hypothetical question that the world champion could not answer. Basically, the World Cup decision could have fallen in many other ways.
Oops ... I was just too smart as a journalist. Rising was right. Gollob had been four points ahead of the car accident, and that has nothing to do with Tony. A grand prix season is a long and dangerous journey where drivers have to take care of themselves. And Tony would have won here in Vojens, even if Gollob had been number two here, Tony would still have taken the title.
I could see that my sensation of desire was misplaced. And I clearly felt that I was smoked on Tony's list of journalists he couldn't talk to in the future.
Sydney, October 25, 2002
It was the Friday before the last grand prix of the year. The training day before the end of the season, which in 2002 was devastatingly placed at the Olympic Stadium in Sydney. Everything was perfect, except for the fact that Tony Rockardsson had already secured the title, by winning the penultimate section of Vojens. The man in second place in the position, Australian Jason Crump, could not benefit from winning in Sydney, because he could not catch Tony.
In recent years, Tony Rickardsson had only been available at the official press meetings. From time to time, Swedish television could be allowed to do something with him, which was fair enough. When Tony was in the stadium, he stayed either in his giant mobile home, in the pit and on the field. He did not walk around, like other speedway riders, and chatted with mechanics, officials and journalists.
Tony was the King.
Occasionally you could see him in a restaurant in the grand prix town, or in an airport, but he was always surrounded by people close to him.
I had tried several times to get a brief interview with him, but each time his manager Carl Blomfeldt turned his thumb down. So eventually I had to acknowledge that Tony was in a class of his own and out of my modest reach.
For some reason, Swedish television was not included in Sydney. Tony had won the title, so Johan Ejeborg and Erik Stenlund would comment on the race at home from Stockholm. That's why Johan rings, and asked and I could do a little interview with Tony, after the training, which was sent to Stockholm via satellite. It was agreed with Blomfeldt, so everything should be fine.
When the training was over, I was nervous in the TV area, waiting for Blomfeldt and Tony. When they got to the floodlights and camera, Tony looked inquiringly at Blomfeldt, who quickly explained that I was hired for SVT, and Tony just had to answer Swedish and my question would be cut out.
It didn't suit Tony very well, which is why it was a very short interview:
- Tony Rickardsson, What do you think of the track conditions here in Sydney.
- That's great.
- So you are happy with your workouts.
- Yes, yes.
- Now that you have only two motorcycles in Australia, that's a problem.
- No problem if.
- Now you are the world champion for the fifth time, you can also win tomorrow
- Yes, yes.
However, Tony did not win the grand prize the following day. American Greg Hancock did, and I certainly didn't get any closer to the king. It was a bad interview in every way, both my questions and Tony's answers. There was no chemistry.
Cardiff, Wales, 12 June 2005
A Sunday morning with lighter hangovers.
The night before, Tony Rickardsson had enthralled 45,000 audiences and millions of TV viewers across the globe. He had won the prestigious British Grand Prix at Millennium Stadium in the coal mining town of Cardiff. In an insane heat he had run up the barrier in a wild overhaul, a bit like a death dream driver.
He was the main character of the evening, also at the annual night party, and with the victory he was close to equaling the legendary New Zealander Ivan Mauger's six World Cup titles. On the whole, 2005 was just Tony's year in the World Cup series. He was absolutely sovereign.
I greeted him briefly at Cardiff Airport and quickly found out that he was going on the same flight to Amsterdam as Holger Rasmussen from DR and I. We had measured and politely nodded to each other, over the past few years, without any more coming out of it.
Well, but already during check-in we could sense that something was wrong. There was no seat number on the boarding card and Dutch KLM is world famous for their cynical overbooking. We were sent up the street to the plane, when suddenly we were approx. 20 people who were detained. We were angry and tired of our heads, including the king, who had - deservedly - celebrated the victory the night before.
- Damn it, Tony said to us when it became clear that we were not coming with the plane. He was writing sports history, had won in Cardiff, but could not make his flight.
The poor girl behind the counter, after some tumult, had to rebook several of us to come via Heathrow at London to Copenhagen. That meant a taxi ride of approx. 250 kilometers, and guess who should share the taxi. Holger Rasmussen, Tony Rickardsson and little me.
However, Tony would only go to Bristol, where he would hop in another taxi and fly directly from Bristol to Stockholm.
In the first few miles we said nothing and were just tired. I thought that now I had the chance to give Tony a proper apology for the voyage in Vojens, six years earlier. I escaped and turned to face Tony and then we started talking. To quote Peter Sommer - don't talk just talk ..
For the subsequent Grand Prix races, Tony and I now had a common experience - a common reference. When we met, we asked each other:
– Have you been to KLM
- No fuck!
Caught, January 2006
I sat at home watching Swedish TV that night, where Tony - after several attempts - finally won Sweden's biggest sporting prize, the Jerring Prize. As a child Tony had told his father that he wanted to win this big prize, named after Svenn Jerring - the Swedish answer to Gunnar Nu Hansen. Tony's father had always said that the price a speedway driver would never win. It was for people like Ingemar Stenmark, Bjørn Borg or Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
But Tony finally got it - a viewer poll on SMS - and I knew with myself that it didn't take long before he announced his career break.
Målilla, 12 August 2006
Tony had stopped a few months before, but held his official farewell reception in a huge luxury tent, behind the GB Arena, where the Scandinavian grand prix was to be run that evening. The rain was pouring down in the afternoon while Tony was driving from home in Avesta in his fiery Ferrari to the tribute in the large party tent in Smaland.
After a couple of hours before the race started, I went over to the tent. I wanted to say goodbye to the king. At the entrance I was stopped by a guard, but I politely explained my errand, and was shut in. Fortunately, the speedway is down to earth.
Tony stood as the centerpiece of a large cluster of sponsors and fans. He wrote autographs and pictures were taken, like in a rain of flashlights. I kept myself in the background and saw his immense popularity that I could only earn him, thinking of how great a master who now retired.
Suddenly he caught sight of me and shouted:
– Get a. The Danish bastard.
- Hey Tony. I just wish you luck in the future.
- Thank you very much.
We talked a bit and he promised to get past the comment box, for a small interview - during the race - a promise he kept, to the great delight of the Danish viewers.
As I left the tent, I turned and cried:
Tony Rickardsson spent some years in the Swedish Porsche Cup, and was also a participant in the Swedish version of "Wild with Dance" and married his dance partner Christina Samuelsson. Today he is a businessman and area manager of the Swedish industrial group Swedish Match.
Ib Søby was a speedway commentator on dk4 and DR from 1998 to 2014.