FIM are saddened to hear of the passing of former FIM Speedway World Champion Jerzy Szczakiel who died at the age of 71 in his home town of Opole, Poland on Tuesday, 47 years almost to the day since he sensationally won his title on 2nd September 1973 in front of over 90,000 spectators in the vast Slaski Stadium in Katowice. It would be 37 years before another Polish World Champion would be crowned.
Born in Grudize, Poland in 1949 he started speedway in the late 1960s with the Opole club where he was to remain throughout his racing career. By 1971 he had progressed enough to qualify for the World individual Final in Gothenburg but also collected an FIM gold medal in the World Pairs Championship. He was still relatively unknown outside his native Poland and his qualification for the 1973 Final was something of a surprise to Western observers. With four other Poles in the field he was not expected to be on the podium but, to the delight of his supporters, he took the mighty Ivan Mauger to a run off for the title leading him from the start and leaving him lying on the track after a vain attempt to pass.
That was undoubtedly the high point of Jerzy’s speedway story He had failed to qualify for the 1974 Individual Final so was not present to defend his title and his only other international success was as part of the Polish team that took the bronze medal in the Team World Championship in 1974. He continued his domestic career until a serious back injury in 1979 forced his retirement from racing although he continued as trainer to the Opole team until the mid 1980s.
He was not treated generously by the Polish authorities during the communist regime and was repeatedly refused permission to race outside Europe. Had he done so his achievements might have been considerably greater. Only in more recent times was his success given greater recognition, but he showed no regrets about his missed opportunities and continued to take an active interest in the sport he loved. A likeable man, he was often to be seen at major meetings in Poland and was always ready to greet friends and racing colleagues.
Married with three children he spent his retirement running a shoe import business and died after a long illness on 1st September. He will be greatly missed and FIM offers sincere condolences to his many friends and family.