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Where are they now? Leigh Adams | Columns | Gassit Garage

Leigh Adams – the Stirling Moss of Speedway

Mentored by speedway legend Phil Crump in their home town of Mildura, Leigh Adams was just 15 years old when he won the Australian Under-16 Solo Championship in 1986 and, two years later, took out the Australian Under-21 Championship.

In 1989, only his third year in the seniors, Adams won his first Victorian Championship by defeating the defending champion – Phil Crump! The apprentice had deposed the master.

Adams then went on to win a further five successive Victorian titles.

Between 1992 and 2009 Adams won 10 national titles while taking Speedway Grand Prix victories in Scandinavia, Slovenia, Sweden and Latvia, in addition to the 2008 European Grand Prix, two World Cups, plus over 20 solo and 11 team titles. Little wonder he is regarded as the best rider never to win a world championship.

Adams retired from speedway in 2010 at the age of 40 and still at the top of his game, as the Australian champion and the British Elite League titleholder.

Once free of his busy speedway schedule, Adams decided to take on the 2011 Finke Desert Race. During practice week, he suffered an almighty crash, sustaining broken ribs, fractured vertebrae, punctured lungs and, worst of all, extensive spinal cord damage. He was flown from Alice Springs to Royal Adelaide Hospital, where he underwent a six-hour operation to stabilise his injuries.

“It wasn’t until a few days later, when I still couldn’t feel my legs, I realised how serious it was,” he recalls.

Though confined to a wheelchair, life became a series of short-term goals for Adams and his wife, Kylie. But he remained philosophical. “I was doing something I enjoyed, so there’s little point in becoming bitter and twisted.”

He’s still in a wheelchair seven years later and, while his left leg is mobile, his right leg hasn’t had the same improvement, though he admits he can be a little slack with the physio. “I should do more, but I need someone to kick my butt!”

While he and his family hope for a miracle, they’re realistic. “We all pray there’ll be something, but with spinal cords it’s a tricky situation,” he says. “I’m able to stand, though after 30 seconds it does get a bit shaky and I have to use the parallel bars to get around my shed.”

With time on his hands and his son Declyn becoming involved in junior speedway, Adams decided to build his own bikes. “I sourced the frames from JHR in the UK and built to my own design. The 125cc four-strokes are a Honda copy, John Titman Racing up in Queensland supply the wheels and ’bars, and the plastics come from Poland.”

With Declyn, now a qualified mechanic, Leigh has built over 30 bikes, many of which remain in competition around Mildura.

“It’s so cool when I go down to Olympic Park on Sundays for the winter series, sit on the banking and watch four or five of my bikes competing in the one race.”

Not as big a kick as he must have got when Declyn finished third in the 2016 Under-16 Australian Championship. But that was before Declyn moved away from speedway into karting.

Leigh has also had a few turns on the tarmac.

“Karting’s not something I would have thought of after riding speedway for 21 years, but my old speedway mate, Mick Holder, had a kart and convinced me to put a hand control in one. It’s a lot different to the hand control in my car, but my left leg’s strong enough for braking. It’s totally different and took a while to get used to, but it was great to go out and have a skid!”

Yet, after a life on the dirt, the tarmac didn’t really suit the Adams family style and Declyn has turned to enduro racing and Leigh has taken the position of crew chief.

Right about now they’ll both be spectating at the Mildura-based Sunraysia Safari. And it’s odds on that, while Declyn is studying cross-country bike set-ups, Leigh will be quizzing Safari champ John Hederics about how hand controls might be fitted to a Jimco Buggy. 

By Peter Whitaker