Newly-crowned triple world champion Greg Hancock is determined to continue writing history after cementing his spot as American speedway’s undisputed all-time great.
The Californian ripped up the record books once again as he lifted his third FIM Speedway World Championship at the Borygo Torun FIM Speedway Grand Prix of Poland on Saturday.
The 1997 and 2011 champion broke his own record by becoming the sport’s oldest world champion at 44 years and 130 days old, as well as the first American to win speedway’s biggest prize three times.
The Swedish-based hero joined silver-medallist and Borygo Torun SGP winner Krzysztof Kasprzak of Poland on the World Championship rostrum, as well as fellow triple world champ Nicki Pedersen, who beat Great Britain’s Tai Woffinden in a run-off for the bronze medal.
And despite Hancock’s younger rivals giving their all to chase him down, the Whittier-born racer already has ambitions to chase No.4. He said: “If I wasn’t confident, I wouldn’t say I’m going to ride next year.
“Being world champ feels sweet every time. It still feels like it’s sinking in. The adrenaline is dropping now, but the actual sensation of being the champ is finding its place. It’s an incredible feeling. It really is.
“Every year I ride, the biggest carrot at the end is to win the World Championship. The first one was fantastic; the second one was amazing and this is unreal.”
Hancock, who was only denied a chance to win the Borygo Torun SGP by a puncture in his semi-final, learnt his trade from some of the sport’s all-time greats.
He inherited his iconic No.45 from fellow countryman and double world champ Bruce Penhall, before moving to Europe, where mentor and fellow triple world champ Erik Gundersen helped set him on the road to stardom.
While Hancock has joined them as a speedway legend in his own right, he admits they remain a huge inspiration to him.
He said: “Guys like Bruce Penhall and Mike Bast were my heroes growing up. They were national champions. Lance King showed me the ropes when I first came to Europe.
“These guys gave me the inspiration and Bruce inspires me to this day. I get messages from him before and after each Grand Prix still today. They’re there to push you as much as celebrate with you. It’s awesome. They continue to be heroes.
“For me, the biggest European idol I had when I started out was Erik Gundersen. I wanted to be Erik Gundersen.
“I had the chance to live with him and follow in his footsteps as best I could. I wanted to show what I’d learnt from guys like that.
“I got a great message from Erik a couple of days ago. He just told me to ‘go out and do what I do.’ He was watching on TV and he’s like my Danish father!”
Hancock admits the huge turning point in his season came just three races in at the season-opening New Zealand SGP in Auckland in April. After three last places, he revived his night with two heat wins.
The Tarnow and Piraterna racer admits his shocking start to the series was the ideal wake-up call.
He said: “I never thought I would have been happy to get six points. I started with three zeros, but came back with two wins and six points.
“I worked really hard last winter. I felt we had found the right everything to win. I felt so sure I was going to win in Auckland, so that was the best slap in the face I ever had. I went back to the drawing board and I’m pretty happy I got that slap right now.
“After New Zealand, I knew I had to play to my ability. I knew I couldn’t be somebody I wasn’t. I just went back to basics and we started building from that point on.
“The momentum grew, the bikes got better. The bikes were already good, but I think I started to work better with my equipment at that stage.
“The bikes were great. It was just me; it was the man who was over-confident at that stage. I had to back myself down and realise you’re only as good as your last race.”
Hancock’s third title win also saw him become the first rider to win the SGP series, despite having missed a round. He sat out the Nordic SGP at Vojens, Denmark on September 13 after suffering multiple fractures to his left index finger at the Gorzow SGP of Poland on August 30.
Some riders of Hancock’s age may have been knocked off their stride by a painful injury, which required two operations to insert and then remove two metal pins. But it hasn’t hampered Hancock’s hunger to stay at the top of his game.
He said: “These things are challenges and the injuries are hurdles. The way I look at it is as long as it’s not some kind of threatening-type injury, I’ll carry on. You know you’re going to have the knocks, the bumps and the bruises. You have to fight on and get over those things.
“There’s nothing wrong with the heart! The heart is running well. I have all the heart there and the ambition to do it. As long as the body holds up, I can do this.
“The mind is still probably too young for the body, but that’s okay. I keep myself in good shape and I have the desire to win.
“The injuries we’ve had in the series this year have been crazy. But we have to take the bad with the good. We all had our fair share of knocks. Let’s hope 2015 is a different story and we let everybody race all the way through.”
Polish champion Kasprzak feared his medal quest had been derailed when he tore his cruciate knee ligament in May. While he could do little to deny Hancock in Torun, he was elated to win the meeting ahead of Andreas Jonsson, Jaroslaw Hampel and Nicki Pedersen and claim World Championship silver.
He said: “After that crash at Landshut, I didn’t know if I would make the top eight. But I’ve made every GP final since Cardiff. That’s six finals in a row and this has scored me a lot of points.
“I know Greg is such a good rider. I knew he would do it today and easily score the points. I just wanted to concentrate, keep the silver and the job is done.
“When I was young, I watched the GP. There was Jason Crump, Tomasz Gollob, Hancock, Tony Rickardsson and I dreamed about making the rostrum. It’s a dream come true. Thanks very much to all the riders. Congratulations to Greg and Nicki.”
Bronze-medallist Pedersen is already determined to put in the hard work needed over the winter to mount his own challenge for title No.4 in 2015.
He said: “I’m going to fight for the championship next year. I’ve worked very hard for the last two weeks to get things working because it has been a very tough season for me. I needed the power of a win here and also the third place.
“I came so close to winning, so of course I am very sad. But I really look forward to this winter now.
“I just haven’t got things working this year. But Greg is a good guy. He’s the man to beat. He’s the most consistent. His equipment is working and he has a good team around him.
“To beat Greg, you need all of these things to go for you. So fair play to him for what he has done this year. He deserves it. He’s in the club with three World Championships.”
WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS: 1 Greg Hancock 140, 2 Krzysztof Kasprzak 132, 3 Nicki Pedersen 121, 4 Tai Woffinden 121, 5 Matej Zagar 114, 6 Andreas Jonsson 103, 7 Chris Holder 100, 8 Jaroslaw Hampel 98, 10 Fredrik Lindgren 90, 11 Niels-Kristian Iversen 87, 12 Martin Smolinski 81, 13 Kenneth Bjerre 79, 14 Darcy Ward 75, 15 Chris Harris 48, 16 Michael Jepsen Jensen 42, 17 Peter Kildemand 33, 18 Bartosz Zmarzlik 17, 19 Adrian Miedzinski 14, 20 Kasts Puodzuks 10, 21 Peter Ljung 7, 22 Mikkel Bech Jensen 7, 23 Tomas H Jonasson 7, 24 Maciej Janowski 7, 25 Joonas Kylmakorpi 5, 26 Pawel Przedpelski 4, 27 Kauko Nieminen 4, 28 Andzejs Lebedevs 3, 29 Kim Nilsson 3, 30 Jason Bunyan 2, 31 Vaclav Milik 2, 32 Craig Cook 2, 33 Adrian Cyfer 2, 34 Lukasz Kaczmarek 2, 35 Lasse Bjerre 1.
BORYGO TORUN SGP SCORES: 1 Krzysztof Kasprzak 17, 2 Andreas Jonsson 17, 3 Jaroslaw Hampel 11, 4 Nicki Pedersen 14, 5 Greg Hancock 13, 6 Tai Woffinden 9, 7 Adrian Miedzinski 9, 8 Kenneth Bjerre 8, 9 Chris Holder 7, 10 Maciej Janowski 7, 11 Troy Batchelor 6, 12 Matej Zagar 5, 13 Pawel Przedpelski 4, 14 Martin Smolinski 4, 15 Chris Harris 4, 16 Fredrik Lindgren 3, 17 Oskar Fajfer 0, 18 Michael Jepsen Jensen 0.