Śląski Stadium in Chorzów is mostly associated with the first in the history of Polish speedway Individual Speedway World Championship title reached by Jerzy Szczakiel back in 1973. One of those people, who watched it live from the stands is Henryk Grzonka, journalist and commentator, endowed with great knowledge, real speedway's hothead and collector of speedway memorabilia. We sat to talk about some details from this meeting, held over four decades ago, his friendship with the world champion and speedway's comeback to the "Cauldron of Witches".
How did the stadium react to Jerzy Szczakiel's gold?
During the final heat of the night, everyone was standing, which to be honest wasn't so natural and obvious back in those days. It sent this large crowd at Śląski into euphoria. Just imagine one hundred thousand people, shouting, supporting and squeaking. Atmosphare was comparable only to the Poland vs England match, after which it was called the "Cauldron of Witches" in English press. Brits heard this roar while singing the Polish anthem and because we were sitting in kind of a niche, they related it with this cauldron. At the final in 1973, it was just the same. I still have this roar in my years. It's really hard not to remember and t I think that nowadays it's just impossible to recreate it. When I was listening to the anthem with everyone on their feet in Wrocław, it just didn't feel the same.
As then 15-year old boy, what did you feel, when witnessed Jerzy Szczakiel reaching for the World Championship?
I was proud and very happy. Pole finally became the World Champion. It was an amazing feeling. Three years later in Wrocław, Paweł Waloszek lost the heat and in fact, the title as well, with Ivan Mauger only by inches. We knew we had Antoni Woryna - first Polish rider with the world championship medal, but it was bronze. After that, Edward Jancarz repeated this success. Then, there was an unforgettable silver for Paweł Waloszek, so we were getting closer and closer with still missing the no.1 spot. Luckily, we made it.
Was it then, when Jerzy Szczakiel became your idol?
I wouldn't call it this way, but I had surely been wondering whether he would able to race do well as he did in Chorzów. Unfortunately, it was not that obvious. Shortly after this final, Szczakiel got injured and his career got slowly running to and end. I think he ended it a bit too early, so he didn't have an actual chance to become a true idol. It's a pity. I regret it tourned out this way. He was such an unpredictable rider that he could have made a lot.
I assume you had a chance to meet Jerzy Szczakiel.
From the day he became the World Champion, I had really wanted this to happen and it finally did. We've known and liked each others for years. Recently, we met during the Grand Prix round in Wrocław. He was using a cane, because of some hip issues. We meet each other a lot, I've been to his home numerous times and recorded him for radio.
When did you meet for the first time?
Hard question. For sure, we met and talked at the Śląski Stadium in 1986, when I was working as a sport journalist, covering speedway. I recorded a talk with him before the World Championship final. It was during the practice. We had a live entrance from our commentator stand and reminisced final from 1973. I'm not sure, though, whether it was our first meeting. I think that we had some other one earlier, but can't remind it exactly.
What is Jerzy Szczakiel like as a private person?
From day one, he's been a very humble man. Always a bit aside, but coming with huge kindness. It's hard for me to say what rider he actually was, because I met him as a private person after he had finished his career. His colleagues from track could tell way more. But me, I have a fantastic contact with him. We're in great relations and are on each one's call. We meet a lot during different kind of events. I would also lift him home a lot. He's a very kind and often a funny guy, telling jokes, but they wouldn't go through to be published (laugh).