In 1967, the Danish speedway driver Poul Wissing was on the threshold of his great international breakthrough. That same year, his season was to end with two prestigious races in the GDR, the former East Germany.
By Ib Søby
When the East German border guards spotted a white Mercedes 190 with Danish number plates, they smiled politely and waved the car past the waiting queue of cars to be checked. They knew that the man behind the wheel of the white Mercedes was the excellent Danish speedway driver Poul Wissing, who together with his brother and mechanic Niels was on his way to big races in the GDR.
A frame was established on the towbar of the car, where Wissing's JAWA speedway bike was fixed and covered with tarpaulin.
The authorities in the GDR were very open to foreign athletes. They came and competed against the GDR's own idols, and thus the communist regime could compete with the West and write in their newspapers that their speedway drivers could defeat the Westerners.
And Poul Wissing was a big and popular name. He was fast, had style and charisma, wrote many autographs and was one of the best in Denmark, where speedway was then considered a small niche sport.
After the border, Niels took over the wheel and Poul got a little afternoon nap as they rolled the last 100 kilometers towards Rostock.
It was Friday, September 29, 1967, and a gentle breeze blew the leaves of the trees against the windshield of the car. The clouds seemed heavy and dark, and before the border they had talked about what the weather would be like this coming weekend. The weather is important for any speedway driver, and Poul Wissing was to drive on Saturday night in Güstrow and again on Sunday afternoon in the port city of Rostock.
Poul Wissing was born on February 26, 1941. Already as a boy he was strongly attracted to motorcycles and mechanics, so after school he was apprenticed to a car mechanic in his hometown Vejle.
In the 1950s, the Danish speedway was primarily concentrated around a handful of drivers such as Kiehn Berthelsen, Leif Bech and Arne Pander, who were the leaders in the "expert class". Many competitions were run, where cars, motocross and speedways competed. There were thousands of spectators, but in the newspapers, the speedway did not get much attention.
Well enough, Denmark had had Morian Hansen in the very first World Cup final in 1936, but in the post-war period, Danish participation in a World Cup final was unthinkable, and Danish drivers never reached further than the Nordic final in the qualifying races, and there they got rear wheels. of the far stronger Swedes.
Poul Wissing had been with his brother to several motorsport events and had fallen in love with speedway. But he had to wait until he turned 18, because only from that day on could Danish drivers take a track test and get a license from the Danish Motor Union.
In 1959, Wissing made his debut at Riis Banen near Vejle, and quickly won in the junior class. The following week he was promoted as a senior, and again showed his great natural talent. In his next start, he was therefore placed in the expert class, and later in the year he became Jutland champion, which was a sensation of an 18-year-old beginner.
As early as the beginning of the 1960s, Poul Wissing belonged to the Danish elite.
Led by 1000 meter specialist Kurt W. Petersen, he was invited to join a Danish team that drove for four months in the Argentine capital Buenos Aires on the track in Ferrocarril Oeste. They were accommodated in a scary hotel in the old town of Caballito, but it was also a landmark experience for the now 20-year-old young man from the Danish province. He was fascinated by city life, the temperamental women and the tango music that flowed out of bars, hair salons and shops.
Shortly before the trip to Argentina, Poul Wissing had won bronze at the Danish championship, but since then the annual DM final was a bit of a "curse" for him.
– I ardently want to become Danish champion, but always have bad luck in the finals, Wissing told a local newspaper in 1965.
In 1963, Vejle Motor Klub dropped speedway to focus on motorsport, and Poul Wissing joined Esbjerg Motorsport. With this, he came under the wings of the enterprising entrepreneur Jørgen Holm, who was in full swing to make Esbjerg and the Korskro track Denmark's leading speedway mecca.
– Wissing was from day one a distinctive and great personality in our club. He was a dazzling driver and a warm-hearted teammate who quickly became a role model for many of our young members, remembers Jørgen Holm, who himself became a legendary organizer and speaker on the Korskro course.
The Danish elite now consisted of drivers such as Wissing, HP Boisen, Gotfred Andreasen, Bent Nørregaard-Jensen and Kurt Bøgh and more. Their role model was the charismatic Arne Pander, who from 1959 had become a professional in British Oxford, and the young Danes knew that if you really wanted to become something in speedway, you had to go to England.
On the other hand, the Danes got many contracts for big races in Sweden, West and East Germany and the Netherlands, where there was good prize money at stake.
On the private front, things also went well for Poul Wissing.
In his sister's hairdressing salon in Vejle, he met Elsemarie, who was a secretary in a bank. They fell in love and got married on April 2, 1964. The couple settled in a fine one-storey house of yellow bricks in Mølholm on the outskirts of Vejle, and their home quickly became a meeting place for many Danish speedway drivers, who often came by and spent the night when they were on their way to and from races.
In the fall of 1964, Wissing had a crash and broke a leg, costing most of the 1965 season. In the meantime, Elsemarie gave birth to a daughter, and now Wissing could train herself by going for long walks with the pram and working at the car workshop Haargaard in Vejle.
The long break was also used to find money to buy a new speedway bike, a JAWA which was fast and a little easier to maintain than his previous JAP. Wissing's friend and competitor, HP Boisen, also acquired the new model, which eventually became a must for the Danish elite.
For the next few years, there was not much time for family or car repair. Poul Wissing was flying, both with the Esbjerg team Vikingerne, but also in individual races, where he rarely scored less than 10 points. At the Danish championship in 1966 at Esbjerg Stadium, it was again bronze after Godtfred Andreasen and Kurt Bøgh.
On July 14, 1966, Wissing appeared for the first time in the speedway's leading nation of England. Together with a young comet from Haderslev named Ole Olsen, Wissing had qualified for the British-Nordic Final at Owlerton Stadium in Sheffield.
It was a huge experience for the two Danes, but they were nowhere near being able to threaten big world names like Ivan Mauger, Barry Briggs, Nigel Boocock or Norwegian Sverre Harfeldt. The only 19-year-old Ole Olsen won his first heat, but finished with five points, while Wissing scored only one point.
The same Ole Olsen won the Danish championship in 1967 - the first of 12 - while Wissing was again hit by his usual DM accident. At the same time, Olsen had obtained a contract in Newcastle, and it was quite a sensation for the Danes. This created certain hopes for Wissing, because Olsen wanted to help establish contacts in the British environment so that Wissing might be able to cross the North Sea in 1968.
And Wissing showed he had international potential. In the Nordic team final at Fredericia Stadium in 1967, he became the Danish top scorer with 10 points, and drove excellently against Swedish stars such as Ove Fundin, Göte Nordin and Bengt Jansson.
The dream of a career in England lived very much with Poul Wissing when he and his brother Niels checked into a hotel in Rostock on Friday 29 September 1967. Here they met Gotfred Andreasen, who was also to drive in Güstrow on Saturday, but not in Rostock on Sundays.
Speedway var hot in the GDR era with many major international races such as Baltic Sea Cup Series. The nation's leading drivers such as Jochen Dinse, Gerhard Uhlenbrock and Jürgen Hehlert raced right up against competitors from Poland, the Soviet Union, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.
But it always gave an extra spice when there were drivers from Scandinavia or England to start.
Saturday's race on the small round track in Güstrow was hampered by heavy rain, but Poul Wissing became second best foreigner. Local hero Bruno Bülau won by 14 points ahead of Swedish Conny Samuelson, Dinse, Hehlert, Uhlenbrock and Wissing.
On Sunday afternoon, October 1, 1967, the weather had cleared up and one could see a large beautiful rainbow over Rostock and the beach in Warnemünde.
There were over 5000 spectators in place at the speedway stadium in the southern part of town, where the organizing club, MC Neptun, had created a bang of a season-ending.
Wissing finished second in his first heat, but won his next start. In his 3rd heat it was a new 2nd place after Hehlert, and the overall victory had thus evaporated. But the podium was still an option, and in heat 15 Wissing won again - this time ahead of the strong Swede Conny Samuelsson.
Before heat 18, Wissing had 10 points, and had to face Schelenz and Uhlenbrock from the GDR plus Swedish Åke Andersson.
The audience held their breath, because if Uhlenbrock could beat Wissing, the race would end in a triple GDR triumph, because Hehlert and Dinse were also in a good position.
Among officials stood the young Bernd Weldner, crossing fingers for Uhlenbrock.
– Danske Wissing took the start, and came in first in the first turn. But in the end, he collided with Uhlenbrock. They both crashed, but Wissing was in the middle of the field, and was hit by Andersson, who could not manage to avoid the Dane, remembers Bernd Weldner.
There was complete silence in the stadium.
Everyone could see that it was a very bad crash.
Niels Wissing ran out on the track together with Gotfred Andreasen, who had helped in the equestrian yard. They reached Poul Wissing at the same time as the competition doctor, and could immediately see that Wissing was badly included. His suit was torn to pieces, his chest was hit directly by the Swedish motorcycle, and there were serious internal injuries.
An ambulance arrived on the scene, and in shock, Niels Wissing followed his brother to the nearby Südstadt Krankenhaus, where a team of doctors immediately took care of the 26-year-old Danish driver. The Swedish driver was also taken to the emergency room, but could be discharged again fairly quickly.
People from MC Neptun helped Gotfred Andereasen pack Wissing's equipment and smashed a motorcycle together in the white Mercedes before he also drove to the hospital.
The last heats of the race were run without much enthusiasm. Hehlert won in front of Dinse and Uhlenbrock, but all the audience's thoughts revolved around Danish Wissing, who was now fighting for his life.
While Poul Wissing was on the operating table, Niels tried to call Elsemarie home in Vejle. When she was not home, Niels instead got hold of HP Boisen, who was not out running races that Sunday afternoon. Boisen found out that Elsemarie was visiting her parents. He found their phone number, and was able to convey the harsh news of Wissing's crash.
Shortly after, HP Boisen gathered Elsemarie up in Vejle to immediately drive south. But it turned out that she did not have her passport on her. It happened to be in Poul's car in Rostock. Quickly, they drove to the local police station and explained the case. Some friendly police officers would immediately contact the GDR authorities so they could drive the 6-7 hours to Rostock immediately.
In the middle of the evening, the doctors at Südstadt Krankenhaus came out into the hallway, where Niels and Gotfred were restlessly waiting with people from MC Neptun. One of the doctors took a deep breath and had to tell that Poul Wissing's life could not be saved.
Only several hours later, around 01.30, did Elsemarie and HP Boisen arrive.
– When I saw him he was wrapped in bandages. It was completely as if he was sleeping. I could not believe he was dead. He was just lying there and it looked like he was lying still and sleeping. But he was dead. The first human I had seen dead, told Elsemarie six years later in a newspaper interview.
She received a sedative injection at the hospital, and after a few hours she and HP Boisen drove back to Denmark.
In Rostock, Niels and Gotfred took care of the practical challenges, and followed a few days after the rust wagon, which with an oak coffin adorned with flowers and a Dannebrog flag, brought Poul Wissing home.
More than 230 people came to Poul Wissing's funeral in the small white Vinding Church, which is located on a windswept hilltop south of Vejle. There were wreaths with ribbons from all over the international speedway community and hundreds of bouquets. The early autumn was already on its way, and therefore this sad day began with the hymn 'Nu Falmer Skoven trindt om land'.
– Poul Wissing had a mind that required of him that today he should do what was better than what he did yesterday. It's good to be like that and it's the right goal, said Pastor Frode Jensen.
Later there were speeches from i.a. the president of the Danish Motor Union, H. Damkjær Petersen, and Niels invited to a memorial service at the nearby Motel Bøgekroen close to Elsemarie and Poul's home in Mølholm.
Neither Elsemarie, HP Boisen, Gotfred and Niels are no longer among us, while Elsemarie and Poul's daughter has wanted to remain anonymous.
Poul Wissing could have turned 80 on Friday, February 26, 2021.
Honor be to his memory.
THANKS TO: John Boisen, Jørgen Holm, Ole Olsen, Jan Holm Nielsen, Kurt W. Petersen, Uffe Lomholdt Madsen, Tommy Rander, Conny Samuelsson, Torsten Jürn, Bernd Weldner, Holger Jurk and Andrew Skeels.