By Henry Chard
Ipswich Witches legend John Louis has officially retired from his role as co-promoter after serving the club as a rider, team manager and promoter over the last half a century.
John has been an official co-promoter alongside son Chris Louis since 2008 when Chris hung his kevlars up but with Buster Chapman taking over the club this winter, he will now become a co-promoter alongside Chris.
John enjoyed a fine career in the sport as he led Ipswich to league and cup titles in the 70’s as well as becoming British champion in 1975 and the former rider says he can have no complaints about his career.
“When Chris needed a co-promoter I was there for him, with Buster Chapman now taking over Chris is the main promoter,” said John.
“It was absolutely brilliant, I had a fantastic time, we won the league a few times when I was leading the team as skipper. My innings in speedway has been absolutely brilliant and I can’t look back at anything wrong with it. It would have been lovely to win a World Championships but the best I could do was third. I thoroughly enjoyed all my racing, I was British champion, the same as Chris and we have that together.”
Nicknamed ‘Tiger’ for his iconic leathers, John competed in four World Championship Finals, with his best finish achieved in front of a home crowd at Wembley Stadium in 1975 as he claimed third place on the night.
“The world finals were brilliant especially the ones at Wembley, the crowds were enormous, you had about 100,000 people there, it was tremendous. You had people there like Ivan Mauger, Ole Olsen and riders of that calibre, I can’t remember all of them. The first two were the best ones I think having battles with them, I can’t brag about what I achieved as I am not very good at it!”
John’s son Chris followed him into the sport and the two enjoyed very similar careers, both becoming British champions, both winning league titles with Ipswich and then moving into the promoting side of the sport after retiring. The former world number three says it has been nice to have the career he has had and then have the opportunity to live it again through his son.
“Riding was the best, I had a hell of a good innings in the sport, winning things and riding in World Finals. We both did very well in British Finals and both won that. I am proud of Chris and what he has done because he followed me into speedway, all the achievements I got, he followed me but did well to his own name.
“I have had a wonderful time in speedway, both on the bike and promoting. I ran the speedway whilst Chris was racing just after I finished racing myself. We had a proper team manager as it wouldn’t have been right if I was his manager because of the relationship.
“Then I quit that, and he took over as promoter having retired from racing and we were joint promoters for a while and after that he took over and ran the club, so we followed in each other’s footsteps we couldn’t be any closer. We both have had fantastic innings, very similar, achieved the same sort of things.
“I don’t think there has been another father and son partnership that has done what we have done in speedway ever. We both did scrambles and motocross in our young days to get fit and strong. I took up speedway and Chris did a similar thing. I captained the Ipswich team and then he did, we followed each other along and along. There wasn’t much between us and we thoroughly enjoyed what we did. It was nice being able to do it first and then watch it happen all over again in Chris.”
The three-time World Cup winner was the first rider to test a Weslake speedway bike and has seen the bikes develop further over the years but believes the fundamental aspects of the sport have not changed.
“Speedway hasn’t changed, it is still four riders in a race, it is still three points for a win and there are four laps so in that sense it hasn’t changed. The bikes have changed a lot and what started that off was the Weslakes and when the four-valve engine came in and things started to get faster. Things got better and now everyone has been on a four-valve engine for years.
“I had the first Weslake actually, I was the test rider for them when they made their first speedway engine and I took my bike to Hackney and put my engine in and rode the first laps. It has moved on from there naturally and everyone was buying them and then they took over and four-valve engines are being made by everyone but that was a big thing back in those days.”
John looks back fondly on his World Final appearances and can remember the thousands of Witches fans making their way to Wembley.
“I preferred the old World Final format, you qualified and then it was a one-off thing. I can remember riding at Wembley when I qualified for that in 1975 I came third overall but the people on the roads from Ipswich going to the speedway was unbelievable. You used to get in your car and get on the roads and you don’t think you are going to see somebody but the cars that we passed on the way down there with all the Witches signs and logos hanging out of the windows of cars, it was unbelievable.”
Despite his retirement, you are still likely to see John and his famous blue Witches blazer in the pits at Foxhall on race nights and the former World Pairs champion believes the club is in for a good season in 2019.
“I think it is a really solid team, if all of those riders can ride to their potential then we will be in for a good time I think.”