Speedway Legends: Dennis Sigalos

He shared a common destiny with Bruce Penhall, without quite achieving the same success. However, when Dennis "Siggy" Sigalos stopped his career as a mere 25-year-old, he had won more than many speedway drivers can dream of.

By Ib Søby

Photos: Dennis Siggy Sigalos Museum, Facebook.

On Saturday, August 28, 1982, the biggest moment in American speedway occurred. Late on this beautiful summer evening, 40,000 spectators were able to pay tribute to two American riders on the individual World Cup podium. The ultra-popular Bruce Penhall had repeated the World Cup triumph from the year before, but in the bronze place stood his friend Dennis Sigalos, while British Les Collins had wedged himself in between the two California heroes and taken silver.

To complete the American success, the stage was even the Los Angeles Memorial Colliseum, about 40 kilometers north of the small Costa Mesa speedway track, where both Penhall, Sigalos, and many other American speedway profiles had begun their international careers.

As you know, Bruce Penhall stopped that night, and went to Hollywood and among others. a. a role as a motorcycle officer in the TV series CHiPS, while Dennis Sigalos continued with speedway, reaching the top of another World Cup podium later that year.

...

Dennis Arthur Sigalos was born in 1959 in Garden Grove, south of Los Angeles. Already as a child, he became closely associated with the two-year-old Bruce Penhall because their fathers, Tony and Leroy, ran both business and powerboat racing together. The two kids grew up surfing, sunbathing and beaching, on Balboa Island near Newport - and not too far from the Costa Mesa where Bruce - in addition to baseball - also flirted with junior speedway.

While Bruce started showing beats at 500cc, Dennis drove like a promising junior, but it was an event outside the oval on the Costa Mesa that bound the two friends together forever.

New Year's Day 1975, 18-year-old Bruce was waiting for his parents to return home from a New Year's trip in the Mammoth Mountains. Leroy and Barbara Penhall had flown up to a New Year's Eve in a private jet with three friends, one of whom was Joyce Sigalos, Dennis' mother. Because both Bruce and Dennis had to play a baseball match, they were not on the trip, just as Tony Sigalos had also stayed home.

Late that evening, Tony came over and knocked on Bruce's door, and had to tell the gruesome news that the plane had gotten into trouble shortly after takeoff, allegedly due to icing by the carburetor, and all five occupants had died in a crash.

In an instant, life changed abruptly for Bruce and Dennis.

Encouraged by Tony, the two boys went on a long journey to Australia and New Zealand to sniff at the original mecca of speedway sports such as the Sydney Showground and Christchurch. They would experience, and drive where Ronnie Moore, Ivan Mauger and Barry Briggs had begun their road to the top of the world.

Back in California, Bruce and Dennis eventually won everything they lined up in. But at the same time, they both knew the next step was to get to England, where the sport was really taken seriously.

The United States had not won a World Cup since Jack Milne in 1937, but by the 1970s, American drivers such as Scott Autry, John Cook, the Moran brothers, Lance King, and Bobby Schwartz had begun to make inroads in England and the European continent. They were colorful in their variegated suits, modern helmets and boots. They smelled of glitter and glamor, bringing some of the sunny California to the gray and desolate coal mining towns, where football, rugby and speedway were the weekly highlights.

But a bit of envy, British and European drivers had to see that the Americans, now also Sigalos and Penhall, gave the dilapidated speedway stadiums a whiff of razzamataz, which particularly impressed the female fans. 

In connection with a USA against the "Rest of the World" competition in Costa Mesa, Dennis Sigalo got in touch with Ivan Mauger himself, who offered him an agreement with the Hull Vikings, where Kelly Moran had already been included in the squad. And precisely because Mauger was a great role model, and because Moran was in the club, the 19-year-old Dennis said yes, and traveled across the Atlantic.

- I will never forget when I landed at Heathrow, and was picked up for the long trip up to Hull in the north west of England. It was cold and rainy, while the picnic areas only offered fish and chips. I had my girlfriend and later wife Debbie with me, but we both felt like we had arrived on another planet.

This is how Dennis Sigalos describes his arrival in March 1979 for a podcast which was recorded in 2020 by the British commentators Nigel Pearson and Kelvin Tatum.

- We were accommodated in a large house, owned by Veronica Chapman and her husband, and where Kelly Moran also lived. But quickly we got started with the season and I got a place on the team so there was plenty to learn and concentrate on. But I must also say that the fact that we eventually became a number of drivers from California who met weekly across the tracks made my years in Europe a good experience, just as I gained enormous respect for drivers from countries like England, Denmark and Sweden, says Dennis Sigalos in his interview with Pearson and Tatum.

With the Hull Vikings, Sigalos quickly achieved success. The team finished both second in the League and in the Cup Tournament, and Sigalos gained attention with his flamboyant style, which at times was reminiscent of British star Michael Lee. They both had an unusual height, but Dennis Sigalos had a special backward leg position when he started, to better control the motorcycle. It often gave some turbulent starts, but he proved to be a skilled off-road driver and a true racer who delivered spectacular overtaking.

In 1980, he qualified for the individual U21 World Cup in German Pocking, where it was a surprising bronze medal, after overtaking with Erik Gundersen. The race was won by Tommy Knudsen in front of Tony Briggs. That same year, Dennis Sigalos also won the prestigious classic Peter Craven Memorial.

The following year, childhood friend Bruce Penhall stole all the attention by both becoming world champion at Wembley and winning the World Cup with Bobby Schwartz.

Dennis Sigalos, meanwhile, had moved from the Hull Vikings to the more southern Ipswich Witches, where he felt more comfortable, and became partner John Cook who also came from California.

- The narrow track at Foxhall Stadium suited me really well, but it also meant something that in Ipswich there was a large base for US Airforce, where I could hang out in my spare time with people from my own country. We were young and rushed to the beach in Felixstowe whenever we could, Dennis Sigalos remembers in the conversation with Pearson and Tatum.

1982 was the best year - sportingly - for the only 23-year-old Sigalos.

He won the British Open at White City after overtaking with Hans Nielsen, and became American champion in Long Beach. In August came the World Cup final in Los Angeles, where he won bronze after Penhall and Les Collins.

Precisely the World Cup bronze and Penhall's career stop made Dennis Sigalos self-described for this year's Par-World Cup which was to be run in December in the Sydney suburb of Liverpool. Together with Bobby Schwartz, the USA had to face frighteningly strong nations such as Denmark with Ole Olsen and Hans Nielsen, England with Peter Collins and Kenny Carter. Australia with Billy Sanders and Gary Gugliemi and New Zealand with Mitch Shirra and Larry Ross, plus Finland and the Czech Republic.

A completely unpredictable finale.

But that night, Sigalos and Schwartz were absolutely superb. They were top-trimmed, both mentally and equipment-wise - with imported tires from Carlisle - and simply just stinking clear from the first moment. The other nations, which of course combined the World Cup final under southern skies with a little well-deserved vacation, were taken to bed.

Sigalos and Schwartz won double victories in all heats, and thus secured one of the speedway sport's few World Cup triumphs with maximum points. England snatched silver right in front of the nose of Denmark, while Australia and New Zealand flopped totally.

Dennis Sigalos could write his into history as one of the few American world speedway champions.

...

1983 did not offer the same heights.

It went well in Ipswich, but the individual World Cup final in the German Nordics was a disappointment for Dennis Sigalos - and for many other than Egon Müller, who secured German immortality.

The Par VM final in Gothenburg turned into a 4th place, again with Schwartz as partner, while after all it became the WC bronze in the Team WC final in Vojens.

However, a surprise came in October, because Dennis Sigalos won the sport's most meritorious and oldest classic The Golden Helmet in Czech Pardubice. He beat Ole Olsen and home hero Jiri Stancl in the final.

No other American has won the race since 1929.

Up until the 1984 season, Dennis Sigalos switched from Ipswich to Wolverhampton, but that joy was relatively short. In the U.S. World Cup qualifying round in Long Beach, he broke an ankle in a crash with young skyscraper Sam Ermolenko, and lost the rest of the season.

However, he got a new deal with Ipswich in 1985, although the ankle injury still haunted the back of his head. After quite a few matches, Sigalos was subjected to a new crash, where the ankle was hit again, and he knew with himself that the motivation had evaporated.

He was 25 years old and realized that for him there was nothing in life but speedway.

...

With Sigalos and Penhall as speedway retirees, it was especially Shawn Moran and Sam Ermolenko who carried the Stars and Stripes on the international stage before Billy Hamill and Greg Hancock later made their entry.

However, after a number of years of civilian jobs and a focus on family, Dennis Sigalos and Bruce Penhall returned to the adrenaline kick. They participated in a series of Off Road desert races and drove the Paris-Dakar Rally together.

In the mid-90s, the two friends met on the water, winning four world championships in the ultra-dangerous Super V Powerboat speedboat race. It is a sport with top speeds of over 250 km / h over waves at 5-7 meters altitude.

Privately, Dennis Sigalos and Bruce Penhall see each other regularly, and when Penhall's son Connor was killed by a drunk driver in 2012, they established a series of events focusing on drunk driving and speedway rallies in Connor Penhall's memory.

Their community of destiny still forges close ties.

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See Dennis Sigalos in a duel with Hans Nielsen.

It is in a detour for victory in the 1982 edition of the Embassy British Open from White City in London.

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