With 22 individual and team FIM Speedway World Championships, no-one has tasted global speedway gold more than Danish great Hans Nielsen.

With four individual world titles, seven World Pairs gold medals and an astonishing 11 FIM Speedway World Team Cup wins to his name, the rider who won the first-ever FIM Speedway Grand Prix series in 1995 truly has done it all on the shale.

On top of his trophy triumphs, Nielsen was also part of one of the greatest rivalries the sport has ever seen as he battled triple world champion Erik Gundersen to be speedway’s No.1 in the 1980s.

As celebrates the sport’s 100th anniversary this year, PAUL BURBIDGE caught up with Nielsen – a man known to his fans simply as The Professor.


Let’s go back to the beginning, Hans. How and where did your journey in speedway start?

“When I was about seven years old, I started riding on old mopeds with my brothers Henry and Keld.

“We raced on an old gravel pit near where we lived. We lived a couple of miles outside of Brovst. Locally, there was a big forest where we could ride our bikes and a gravel yard where there were jumps and a lot of sand.

“We just raced on old bikes for a few years and it wasn’t until I was 13 that they built the Brovst speedway track – only a couple of miles from where we lived.

“It just so happened that I worked for the guy who started the club, Age Knudsen. I worked for him after school. He had a motorbike and bicycle shop. He asked me up to the track to have a go.”


Ole Olsen became Denmark’s first FIM Speedway world champion in Gothenburg back in 1971. It put the sport on the map in Denmark. How much did that moment inspire you?

“I had already watched a bit of speedway because Keld started in Aalborg. But on TV, Ole’s title win was probably the first racing we watched. That was obviously a great experience, seeing him winning it. We didn’t actually see it live. I think they showed it the following day on Danish TV, so we watched it then. It was quite a big thing. It was on national TV and at that time, you only had one channel.

“Everybody was watching it. It was a big part of the reason a lot of clubs got interested in speedway.”


You went on to become Denmark’s most successful speedway rider with an incredible 22 individual world and team titles. When you started racing in the Brovst gravel pit, could you have dreamed of such success?

“When you first start out, you start out for a bit of fun. We were racing bikes for a bit of fun in the gravel pit. But luckily they built a speedway track and then we rode that for a bit of fun.

“I saw Ole win the world title, but it never entered my mind that I would end up being a professional speedway rider back then. I never had those thoughts at all.

“My career went very quickly. I rode the 50cc bikes for three years and when I turned 16, I rode a 500cc. I only rode that for one year and won the Danish Under-21 Championship in 1976.

“Then I was offered a deal with Wolverhampton in the UK for 1977, so it all went very quickly. I never had much time to think about where I was going and why. I was just having a good time and racing a bike, and I never really thought too much about where it was going to take me.”


The rivalry between you and Erik Gundersen was legendary in the 1980s. What are your memories about how it all started?

“Erik started out pretty much at the same time as me on the 50cc bikes. I came to England a couple of years before him, so I was a little bit further ahead of him at the beginning. I came over in 1977 and he came over with Cradley in 1979. I was the better one for a time, but he improved as well.

“Certainly, when we got into the eighties, we were competitors and rivals, especially when we got to 1983. We started to realise we were becoming the best two Danes and taking over from Ole as he retired that year.”


You raced with and against Ole Olsen towards the end of his career, winning your first FIM Speedway World Team Cup with him at Landshut, Germany in 1978 and then the World Pairs in front of your home fans at Vojens in 1979.  How did you feel about him becoming your team manager?

“I was actually very pleased when they first announced it – even though Ole and I had a little rivalry. Just before he retired, I was the guy that pushed him the most and beat him the most I suppose.

“I remember some newspaper reporter asking me how I felt about my rival becoming my team manager? I remember saying ‘it’s fine.’ We were rivals, but I was sure it a good idea with all Ole’s experience. I thought he would do a great job, teach us a lot of things, and I looked forward to it.

“But when he did start the job, I remember the very first qualifying round in Sweden. He was just in Erik’s corner, looking after Erik. I was thinking ‘what is happening here?!’ That was very disappointing.

“The fact he supported Erik and wanted him to win went against me. That’s what I thought was very unfair. He was appointed by the DMU to be a team manager for Denmark.”


How did this impact on your rivalry with Erik?

“Even if Ole hadn’t been there, we still would have been rivals, Erik and I, but it stirred things up a bit with Ole taking sides, which was tough for me at the time.

“The better Erik and I did and the bigger rivals we became, the less friendly we were. We never had any bust-ups or any real arguments or anything like that. We just really wanted to beat each other – that was all. That rivalry does sometimes make it difficult to be friends as well.

“Then 1984 was the big clash in Ullevi at the World Final, with Ole also becoming the team manager at the same time after he retired.”


Erik won that World Final in Gothenburg in 1984 and retained the title in Bradford in 1985. How frustrated were you as you battled for your first world title? 

“I was getting rather frustrated – also with the fact Erik was working with our team manager. After that, I felt I needed an equivalent, so that’s when I asked Ivan Mauger to help me in Chorzow in 1986, when I eventually won it.”


In what ways did having New Zealand’s six-time world champion Ivan Mauger in your team as a manager help you?

“With the relationship Ole and Erik had, they had something going and I maybe felt I needed to do something to gain some respect for my camp.

“Ole and Erik were in one corner and me and Ivan in the other, and we were parked next to each other in Chorzow for that 1986 World Final. We could look at each other throughout the meeting and it created a little respect from Ole’s side. I had his old rival Ivan there and he had to fight him as well.

“Ivan was a help and a boost to the confidence. He also helped me in Amsterdam in 1987 when I won again. It was a good relationship, and he was a good friend at the same time.”


How is your relationship with Erik and Ole now?

“Erik and I get on fine now – and it’s the same with Ole as well. There are no problems there. We get wiser the older we get and forget things. It’s water under the bridge.”


That’s great to hear. Despite your rivalry, it must have been incredibly tough to witness the crash that ended Erik’s career in heat one of the 1989 FIM Speedway World Team Cup Final in Bradford.

The crash left Erik with life-changing injuries and forced him to learn to walk again. What are your memories of that time?

“Ole had stopped helping Erik by then, and Erik and I had got talking okay. We met up the year before during one trip to Germany and had a good talk. That was nice, especially given what then happened.

“He had that crash at Bradford, and it was horrible for everybody. Being on top of the world as a team, we were expected to win at Bradford. But when this happened in the first race, it just spoiled everything in all respects.

“It was a terrible accident, and I was the first one down there as well. I could see he was having problems breathing and had swallowed his tongue.

“We knew this was bad and when they took him to hospital, we didn’t know what condition he was going to be in, or whether he was even going to survive.

“There was a lot of discussion as to whether we should keep going or cancel the meeting. They chose to keep going, and obviously we had to keep going. But we weren’t very motivated, and we obviously didn’t have the points Erik was going to score either.

“We only came second to England, but that was only a small part of the story. We were worried for days and weeks afterwards, whether he was going to make it or not. It was a tough time, having to keep riding in the following weeks. You were on autopilot and just had to go through your league meetings. We certainly weren’t motivated on the night it happened.

“Luckily after weeks and months, it turned out he was going to be okay, and he has done really well since. But it was a tough time.”


You went on to win your third FIM Speedway World Final in Munich in 1989, but there were also a few gold medals that got away – three of them in run-offs for the World Championship.

“It’s a pity they didn’t start the Grand Prix series before 1984. A few of those run-offs really didn’t turn out my way.

“There was the time I got excluded from one of my heats in the last World Final at Vojens in 1994 when I was knocked off twice in the first corner.

“I won the other four races, but then I was in a run-off with Tony Rickardsson and Craig Boyce. Even though I made a great start, I just skidded up a bit on the next corner. I just didn’t have any torque and when I had to shut off a little bit, it just wouldn’t go again. I got to the straight and Tony just came blasting by me.

“I shouldn’t have been in the run-off in the first place. If I hadn’t been excluded, I would have won it easily. But I had the misfortune in the run-off to lose that.

“In the other run-off at Vojens in 1988, Erik won the gate pick, made a great start and was gone. It started raining and when he got off the start, there was nothing I could do.

“Then there was another at Bradford in 1985, where he made a great start. I crashed earlier in the night and hit the tough fence they had there. I had to use my spare bike after that.

“A few things have gone wrong along the way, and when you look back, I think I could have won one or two more without having too much more luck. But on the other hand, I was top of the league averages most of the time over the years and won a lot of open meetings.”


When Speedway GP launched in 1995, you were its first world champion. But do you think you could have won more world titles had Speedway GP been created earlier – offering riders the chance to race for the world title over a series of rounds rather than just in a one-off final?

“Had we had the Grand Prix earlier, I think I would have won two or three more. But others will say the same and if you go back to Mauger’s era, maybe he would have won more if there had been a Grand Prix then. But there is not much point in speculating on that.

“It could have been more; it could have been less. But it has been good. Looking back now, it doesn’t really matter that much whether I won two, three, four or five. I think the main thing is to win it the first time. That’s when you prove you really can be the best in the world.

“Of course, it’s nice to win it more times and you want to win as many as you can. The main thing is I have won it and I proved I could do it again. I won it four times and I am very proud of that.

“I won six silver medals altogether – there have been a few close ones. It’s a bit of a nuisance, but at least I have proved that if I wasn’t on top, I was certainly very close over 10 years.”


Let’s rewind a bit. You won your second world title at the 1987 FIM Speedway World Final – the only one staged over two days. Many see this experiment in Amsterdam as the birth of the Speedway GP series. Did you think a two-day World Final was the right move at the time?

“I think everybody agreed it wasn’t the right thing. The right thing was a proper Grand Prix. It was good in the respect that I was only third after the first day and then I caught up on the second day.

“That was good, and it gave me that little feel of a Grand Prix, when it wasn’t all on one night. It meant could afford to have a tough day or an engine failure and still be in with a chance. It was good in that respect and something to build on towards the Grand Prix.

“When they started talking about Speedway GP after the Amsterdam thing, I was always behind it. I thought it was a very good idea, partly because it would help me, but also because I thought it would help speedway.”


In what ways did you think Speedway GP could elevate the sport?

“It meant we could get more coverage throughout the year and have more big meetings on top of the national meetings. The public had more speedway to talk about and with just two or three weeks in between, it kept the interest going.

“If you could win a Grand Prix world title, it meant you had proved throughout the year that you were the best speedway rider in the world. With the one-off World Final, you could be lucky or unlucky on the night, and that played a factor.

“In all respects, we now have 10 great Speedway GPs on television throughout the year and it is a great advert for the sport. I don’t think many people would like to go back to the one-off World Final years. Obviously when it happened, everybody talked about it, but it was only one meeting. I am pretty convinced this is much better.”


Thanks very much, Hans – one of world speedway’s greatest champions!

Visit for our next legend interview in March and for more content as we celebrate 100 years of speedway throughout 2023.