BLACKA, IVAN: Born 24/4/55, Southampton. Over the years there have been very few Edinburgh riders who have leapt from unknown to high scorer in such a short time as Ivan Blacka, who can justifiably be called an Anglo-American as he was brought up in Pennsylvania from the age of three.
Ivan first raced on an old Jawa on waste ground in Philadelphia, then went to California for some track experience (finishing fourth in the 1975 Division 2 State Championship). He returned to the east coast to race at less well known venues near his home.
He was pretty successful and regarded as something of a daredevil, inevitably nicknamed ‘Ivan the Terrible’ by the press. He rode at Champion Speedway, Owego and showed up well even against the likes of Bobby Schwartz when such men came east.
By 1978 Ivan was ready to come to the land of his birth to advance his career. He rode once for Leicester in a junior league match, twice for Stoke in the National League and was spotted by Ted Flanaghan of the Mike Parker organisation, who were looking for someone to improve Edinburgh’s fortunes. In fact it was the absence of Brian Collins through injury on a trip to Milton Keynes which allowed Ivan to make his debut for Monarchs.
He didn’t score that night but his style was impressive. His American experience had taught him to turn on hard, slick surfaces, something which not many Edinburgh riders of the time were adept at. In spite of a couple of falls he scored 2 on his home debut three nights later, also against Milton Keynes in a disastrous defeat for Edinburgh.
His personality was also impressive, enthusiastic and eager to learn. His first race win came in his sixth home match v Scunthorpe, as he provided some interest for the hard-pressed Edinburgh fans in what was one of our most disappointing seasons.
At the time Wolverhampton were Edinburgh’s parent club and Wolves gave Ivan a guest booking at Coventry. He didn’t let them down, actually beating Bees’ guest Dave Jessup. This was perhaps the clearest indication yet of Ivan’s ability on a slick circuit; he never did so well when the tracks were heavy.
He suffered his first injury in the home match with Stoke, and it was his own fault. Going too fast into a bend, he took himself and Potters’ Aussie Tim Nunan into the fence. While he was still on the ground Nunan attacked him, and did so again later in the car park. Fun and games!
One of the few bright spots of a poor season was a win at Boston, and Ivan contributed 10 paid 11; the next day he broke down en route to Newcastle as we crashed 61-17. From that he bounced back with 12 paid 14 in a 4-point win over Glasgow at home, and by this time he was easily the fans’ no. 1 favourite. His riding was hair-raising but never boring and Monarchs had rarely tracked anyone like him.
Naturally he was in the side for 1979 and big things were forecast for him. With shorter hair and no moustache he was scarcely recognisableon Press Day at Powderhall, but he was soon noticed on the track, scoring paid 9 in our win at Middlesbrough in the opening match. Typically he fell on a warm-up lap then went out and won heat one!
As the year developed though it became a disappointing one for him. His form and confidence fell away, and his home form was especially poor (he only scored double figures in one home league match). Powderhall was often fairly deep and Ivan found this difficult. He retained his popularity but his average of 5.5 was below expectations.
For 1980 he was surprisingly whipped away to join Wolves in the British League, the reasoning perhaps that he would cope better with the track conditions found in the higher league. He slotted in as a good second string at Monmore Green, but eventually finances persuaded him to drop back to National League. Sadly for Edinburgh it was at Nottingham (Long Eaton) for whom he turned in some excellent displays.
The Monarchs put together an excellent side for 1981, and although he missed the start Ivan was back in blue and gold in early May and quickly into his stride. Although still unpredictable he was now a capable performer at NL level, and it says much for his ability that he played a large part in a fine season even though he had constant problems with his engine. He was a member of our National Fours winning squad and contributed 70 points to our cup run. In the League he averaged 7.25, his best for the club.
For much of the year his machinery misfired, and even after buying a new engine this continued. This seemed to confirm that something other than his engine was at fault, until right at the end of the season Ivan said one night "Perhaps I should try the new engine!" Everyone had assumed he had already done this, but he hadn't, and on fitting the new motor he went like a bomb!
Goodness knows how many points he lost unnecessarily. He rode well in the KO Cup Final first leg at Newcastle against Berwick, scoring paid 10 in spite of an exclusion for knocking off Rob Grant, a warning from the ref for waving to the crowd ("I was just adjusting my glove!") and one daft fall after a race win. A typical Blacka night!
He almost missed the second leg, breaking down on the way to the rained off match. In the restaging he scored 11 and joined in the celebrations.
1982 was an anti-climax even though he gained an excellent sponsorship from the Tynecastle Arms. He seemed to lose enthusiasm under the Cook organisation, and his natural ability was often scarcely visible as he struggled to turn his machine. His average fell by almost a point and it was no surprise when he decided to return to the States at the end of the season with his wife and son. His British career was short but never dull, and even though he didn't go as far as he might have, he has no regrets.