We all know those riders, great future prospects, raw talents. One moment, one accident could break all those dreams. Hospital treatment, lengthy rehabilitation, surgeries and fear that speedway could only remain a sweet dream of the past. The story of Todd Wiltshire is proving that everything is possible if we are desperate enough for it to happen.
Todd began his speedway adventure at the end of 1986. His first taste of success was in 1987 winning the ACT Championships (Australian Capital Territory – Canberra). He has won it back to back, next year. Those early wins back in Australia got Wimbledon Dons club management’s attention. They have decided to offer the Aussie a chance in the years 1988-1989. In those times, the club was racing at the second division level in Britain. Wiltshire helped the team to finish second in the league in 1989 and won the Scottish Open the same year. Riding in Britain in those times was like a promise land. It was a gateway to success and open door to riding in the best league at the time. Todd carried the good form onto his Australian season he came 4th in the 1989 National Junior Championships.
The year 1990 turned out to be a real breakthrough for Todd Wiltshire. The New South Wales Championship win was just a beginning in a very successful trophy haul for that year. The rider moved up a division and joined Reading Racers with whom he stayed with until his long lay off from the sport. The team won the British League in that year and also British League Knockout Cup. The team was lead by Per Jonsson for whom that year was also pretty special as he lifted the World Individual Championship trophy at Bradford.
The Sydney born Aussie has great memories of that year himself. It did not look likely to be a happy end at all as for personal reasons he could not ride in the Australian Final at Brisbane. He did get to ride in the Commonwealth Final at Belle Vue, replacing Stephen Davis, finishing 6th with 10 points which made him through to the Overseas Final at Coventry. Wiltshire came runner-up to Jeremy Doncaster and again progressed to the next round, which was in Denmark, Fjelsted. The Intercontinental promoted 11 riders to the World Final, unheard of in today’s speedway. Todd scraped through on 6 points, taking the last place to qualify, Jeremy Doncaster had a disastrous meeting and shockingly went out. The World Final at the Odsal Stadium in Bradford was a one-day event, but riders had to go through 4 elimination rounds to reach which only shows how difficult and often brutal the competition was.
The young Aussie was a real revelation on the final day. After winning three of his five rides he finished third, behind his teammate, Per Jonsson and Shawn Moran who were tied on 13 points. Jonsson won the run-off and Moran later also lost his dignity by losing the silver medal due to a failed doping test earlier in the season at Coventry in the Overseas Final. FIM did not change the positions, only stripped the American of the second place. This is how only a 22-year-old rider achieved his biggest success in his career. He defeated some of the best riders in the world, including Hans Nielsen, Jimmy Nilsen, Henrik Gustafsson, Kelvin Tatum and Armando Castagna.
The youngster added later to it, a World Best Pairs medal. Riding with, also very young, Leigh Adams, they qualified from the third place in Austria, Wiener–Neustadt. The Grand Final took place in Germany in Landshut and the Australian pair came second, again. Only beaten by the favourites, Denmark. Wiltshire scored 25 points, while Adams only added 14. Interesting format of the pairs competition meant that 6 riders met on track in one race and teams had no reserve riders. Wiltshire-Adams paring beat some strong teams from Sweden (Per Jonsson and Jimmy Nilsen), England (Tatum and Cross who had to withdraw from the meeting after just one ride and Kelvin had to ride on his own) and the USA (Correy and Moran). Year after the pairs competition had a total revamp and the final was staged in Poland at Poznan.
The season ’91 wasn’t as fruitful as the previous year. The bronze medalist did not feature in the World Final. He qualified through from the Commonwealth Final at King’s Lynn scoring 7 points but it wasn’t to be in the next round, the Overseas Final. He only managed 6 points which was only enough for a run-off with Glenn Doyle for 10th place, which he won, but that only gave him a reserve spot. It was a similar story at the pairs, the Aussies did not make the final at Poznan. On the domestic front, Reading did not defend the title and to add to that, Todd had a few nasty collisions, but those were only signs for the things to come in January 1992.
At the start of season 1992 at the, now defunct, North Arm Speedway in Adelaide, he had a career stopping accident. In heat 3 of the Australian Championships Todd had collided with Jason Lyons and sustained horrific injuries. He broke his back and pelvis. Incredibly the spinal cord was not damaged which gave the young Aussie hope to lead a normal life and a distant possibility of trying to get back to racing. The 23-year-old spent long days at the Royal Adelaide Hospital. That promising short career was dramatically put on hold. He didn’t give up speedway altogether. He was commentating for a TV station and writing about speedway. He was also helping out Marvyn Cox, who will later repay the favour by getting Wiltshire to Poland where most of the best riders started to earn big money in the league that was quickly gaining popularity.
The next chapter starts in 1997 when Todd makes a comeback to racing. The next part is coming soon. You will find out why Jason Lyons is not only remembered by being caught up in that bad crash but also had his hand in Todd’s success.