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Images from the 2019 British Speedway Grand Prix
NEWS

End of an era – Greg Hancock Retires

Mar 022020

Nothing lasts forever. That’s how the saying goes but sometimes, you think some things are just never meant to end.

There will be a generation, and not a young one, who have never known top level speedway racing without Greg Hancock. He has been in the Grand Prix line up for every single one of the 25 years since its inception, and raced in two one-off world final races before that too.

He has been a stalwart of the shale, a leading light for over 30 years and an ambassador most sports could only dream of having. He has won titles, charmed fans and been the flag-bearer for a sport that often needed him more than he needed it.

Now, though, the speedway legend – and there is nobody more befitting of that term - recently did the unthinkable and brought the curtain down on what was an incredible racing career.

GH called time on his on-track exploits in what is his 50th year, deciding to spend more time with his family and divert his focus towards several different interests off the track.

However, this is a man who, in his last four full seasons in the World Championship, has finished first twice, second once and fifth the other time.

Crucially, though, this is also a man who knew the time was right. All good things come to an end, and Greg knew that this thing, this really good thing, had to come to an end.

 

“Do you know what, I just woke up and realised it was time. For me now, the risks outweigh the reward and I think it’s right. I am never going to want to stop racing, never ever, but the more I started to really think about it I realised my mindset was different,” he said.

 

“I was questioning myself and I have never done that. I had a conversation with someone I really respect and we were talking about sports and he mentioned a guy who was towards the end of his career, and he wondered why he’s still competing, and I realised I didn’t want to be that guy.

 

“Normally my first instinct in that situation would be to say ‘I’ll never be that guy, I will show you’ but it just changed. I get it, I realised I just don’t have the passion inside to do it anymore.”

After being out of the sport for a year, and losing a long-time, trusted mechanic to retirement, Greg was left with the prospect of building an entirely new team for 2020. At 49 years old, and having had the same tight-knit group for over a decade, that wasn’t something he was relishing.

 

He said: “I didn’t have a team anymore, I just had my head mechanic Rafal, who is totally awesome. He is the best in the business, and he could probably do it all on his own but that’s not the way we work and I had to go and get at least two more guys to join the team.

 

“That’s two new guys to train, to learn to trust, to believe in, and when you have had the same team for so long that’s hard. I didn’t know whether I had it in me to start over again, and in the end I was thinking ‘this is a sign’. All of these little things just added up and I knew that I was making the right call.”

 

Just like a heavyweight boxer who retires as undisputed champion, the temptation will always be there for racers to give it ‘one more go’ if they feel capable of competing.

 

Just days after Greg announced his retirement, former world championship rival and three-time champ Jason Crump confirmed that he was coming back to competitive league racing after bowing out of the sport eight years ago.

 

Does Hancock envisage himself back in the saddle before long? Can he really stay away, knowing that he’s calling it quits with so much left in the tank?

“I don’t have any doubt in my mind that I can still compete at the top of the sport. I look at the other guys and they’re awesome, but I definitely know that I can compete and beat them. That’s not me being arrogant or anything like that, but I just know I can.

 

“I have never been one of these guys who can just twist the throttle and go super fast, I have always had to be a bit smarter and work a bit harder to win and that would be no different if I was to race this season. I would have to work harder than anybody else but I don’t want to do that anymore and I’m comfortable knowing I can walk away and not want to come back.

 

“I still have so much to give and I have a lot of ideas of how I can stay involved with sport, I have a couple of young guys that I want to help, people who I want to help go to the next level in their careers.

 

“I’ve had a few offers from different companies too, and I will be working with a bunch of different people over in Europe on developing equipment so I will be on the bike a lot, just not racing against anyone!

 

“Last year, when I couldn’t race, I was so frustrated and I wouldn’t watch any of the races because it hurt not being there. Now, I want to watch them and pass on what I see, give people some of the knowledge that I have learned over the years and I won’t be frustrated, I’ll be channelling my efforts into helping other people.”

 

While Greg the racer may be no longer, he is still a father and husband and after a tough 18 months for the Hancock family, there is light at the end of the tunnel for wife Jennie.

“Jennie is doing great, she still has a few months left of treatment but she’s doing really well and things are looking positive at the minute.

 

“Of course her situation made me re-evaluate things, you realise racing isn’t important in the grand scheme of things. I have had to be there for her, there for my kids and to be around to do all the normal family stuff and that is the most important thing to me.

 

“Now I can be there all the time, I can give them the attention and the time that I haven’t been able to give them before and I can’t wait for it. I have loved spending so much time with them this last year, I can go to every soccer game or junior race, do all that stuff I’ve missed.

 

“I actually feel a little bit like I have a weight off my shoulders. For years I’ve carried this weight of always trying to find an advantage, always trying to get ahead and to be the best, but now it’s gone and I feel a little lighter. Now it’s time for the next chapter.”

 

So what of the next chapter? When all you’ve known is racing, stepping into a new career approaching your 50th birthday is surely a little daunting, no?

 

“You know what, I’m nervous but more than that I’m excited. I have so many ideas in my head and just like in my racing, I will work my butt off to make them happen. I have to make a new path for myself now and I need to strike while the iron is hot, so that’s what I’m going to do and I am really excited for it.”

 

 

What They Said

 

You don’t enjoy a career spanning over 30 years without making a few friends along the way and Greg is a hugely popular figure within the sport.

 

Friends, team-mates, officials, even rivals, they all lined up to pay tribute to the Californian…

 

“Greg Hancock is among the most successful competitors in all of motorsports. His four world titles rank him among the greatest riders of all time, a feat amplified by the fact is world championship-calibre performances spanned four decades.” – AMA President Rob Dingman

 

“Greg has been an incredible servant and a wonderful ambassador for the sport of speedway on and off the track over many years. He leaves a massive legacy for speedway globally.” – Senior VP of Motorsports for IMG, Paul Bellamy

 

“To have a career like you would be something I could only dream of. Someone I learned from, I studied your gating more than you’ll ever know. Thankful for what you taught me. All the best champ!” – former team-mate and two-time World U21 Champion Darcy Ward

“All the best Greg, be proud mate, awesome career! Hope our paths cross somewhere soon.” – Downhill mountain bike legend Steve Peat

 

“Congratulations mate on a very great career, you have inspired so many people. Thanks for the great battles we have had over the years!” – GP rival and three-time world champion Nicki Pedersen

 

“Happy retirement Greg, wow what a career to look back on! Deepest respect from here, you have been a great inspiration to many of us and such a great ambassador for the sport. Time to sit back and enjoy your family!” – former GP rider Bjarne Pedersen

 

“Thanks for everything you have unselfishly given to speedway Greg. The record books will never adequately reflect all you have done for the sport and the fans. Proud to have been able to share that journey with you champ!” – Speedway author and journalist Peter Oakes

 

“It has been a great privilege to have raced against and commentated on Greg. A true giant in the sport, always had time for everyone and a real gent. All the best in your future endeavours!” – ex-rider turned commentator Kelvin Tatum

The Numbers

 

No amount of facts and figures could adequately do Greg’s racing life justice, but they’re worth looking at nonetheless. Here are the key numbers behind his incredible racing career…

 

· 25 years in the Speedway world championship

· 218 Grand Prix appearances

· 2,655 points

· 92 finals

· 67 podium finishes

· 21 GP victories

· Four world titles

· Eight American national titles

· Three world cup gold medals

 

The Final Word

 

And so to the last word.

Greg, take it away…

 

“You know, my career was awesome. It was the best thing ever. All I ever wanted to do was to get sideways and to go fast and I managed to turn that into a fairytale career. Every single day I loved going to work because it wasn’t a job, I got paid to try and be really good at my favourite hobby!

“I have no regrets at all, if I could do it all over again I would and a little bit more. I’m happy, I’m healthy and I’m ready for the next chapter.”

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