Bruce Penhall

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Bruce Penhall
Bruce Penhall (left) in 1981
Personal information
Nationality United States American
Date of birth (1957-05-10) May 10, 1957 (age 57)
Place of birth    Balboa Island, U.S.A.
Current club information
Career status Retired
Career history
Cradley Heath Heathens 1978-1982
Individual honours
World Champion
USA National Champion
1981, 1982
1980, 1981
Team honours
World Pairs Champion
World Team Cup winner
British League Champion
British League KO Cup winner
British League Pairs Champion
1979, 1980, 1982

Bruce Lee Penhall (born May 10, 1957 in Balboa, California, U.S.)[1] is a retired American motorcycle speedway racer who also starred in television and in film. He was the World Speedway Champion in 1981 and 1982 and rode for the successful Cradley Heath Heathens speedway team in the United Kingdom. He retired from speedway racing the night he won his second World Championship in 1982 in front of his home crowd at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Speedway career[edit]

Bruce first rode Speedway when he was 16 at Irwindale Raceway on the American west-coast. From novice status, he quickly established himself in the US National Championships, twice finishing in the top three positions. In 1976 he toured Israel and in 1977 Australia and New Zealand, before being lured to Cradley Heath Heathens in 1978 by Dan McCormick and Derek Pugh.

On his Dudley Wood debut against Sheffield in a challenge match, he notched just a single point. Never again in his British career would he score less than four for the Heathens. In his second match - his league debut - he scored nine; within a month he clocked double figures and topped the scorechart for the first time with 13; in July he took over as club captain following the departure of Bruce Cribb and hit his first Heathens maximum; and by the end of the year he had achieved a season average of over 9.00 points per match.

In 1979 he won the Master of Speedway competition around Europe, as well as becoming the first American holder of the Golden Helmet match race championship. He was runner-up to John Louis in the British League Riders' Championship and led Cradley to Inter-League Cup success and their highest ever league position. By 1980 there were more cup victories, along with SWAPA Overseas Rider of the Year, American National Champion, a first World Final appearance (scoring nine points).

The 1981 season was Penhall's all conquering year. At the World Final at London's Wembley Stadium, 92,500 people witnessed Penhall come from behind to pip both former World Champion Ole Olsen of Denmark and later another Dane Tommy Knudsen on the finish line. His only loss of the night was finishing second to England's Kenny Carter when he only needed to finish third to clinch the title. Also in 1981 Penhall partnered fellow American Bobby Schwartz to win the World Pairs Championship in Poland and alongside fellow 1981 World Finalist Erik Gundersen of Denmark led Cradley all the way to their first ever league title victory, topping the individual league averages on the way. On top of a clean sweep of all the SWAPA personality awards was a special citation from US President Ronald Reagan.[citation needed]

However, he had less than one year left in speedway before moving on, firstly to the world of Hollywood movies and later to powerboat racing (where he would become a world champion again). In 1982 he won the World Team Cup with the USA at the White City Stadium in London.

Penhall caused a stir at the 1982 Overseas Final, also at White City. Heat 19 of the event involved 4 riders from the USA (Kelly and Shawn Moran, Dennis Sigalos, and Penhall). Penhall, having already scored enough points to qualify for the World Final, deliberately finished last in the heat (ending his chance of winning the meeting) to allow Kelly Moran and Sigalos to also qualify for the World Final in Los Angeles. English commentator Dave Lanning called it a circus but also noted that it wasn't an unprecedented happening.[2] Penhall then went on to achieve his one last speedway ambition which was to win the Individual World Final on his home soil in America. He did this by winning his last 4 rides (after finishing 2nd in his first) and finishing with 14 points for the night. He then did what many expected and effectively retired from international speedway on the podium as reigning World Champion.


Penhall was well known for his role as Cadet/Officer Bruce Nelson in the final season of the NBC television series CHiPs and in the role of Bruce Christian in the 1989 film Savage Beach and five of the movie's sequels. Penhall reprised his role as Officer Bruce Nelson in the 1998 TNT television movie CHiPs '99 and has made guest appearances on shows such as Just Men!, The Facts of Life and Renegade.

Bruce Penhall's debut in CHiPs came in the season 6 episode "Speedway Fever", which mainly concentrated on his character Nelson winning the 1982 World Final at the LA Coliseum. Scenes were shot in the pits in between races and actual footage of the final was shown in the episode. Although not shown on television, footage taken from one of the 23 camera's CHiPs producers had at the Coliseum vindicated the referee's decision to exclude Kenny Carter from their infamous heat 14 clash, showing that despite his claims to the contrary the Englishman had fallen from his bike without help from Penhall.

In 1999, Penhall was inducted into the A.M.A. Motorcycle Hall of Fame. In 2008, Bruce took over as joint promoter, along with Jeffrey Immediato, of speedway racing events at 'The Grand at Industry Hills' race track in City of Industry, California.


In 1985, Penhall read the lesson at the funeral of rider Billy Sanders after the Australian champion committed suicide at his home in Ipswich (England). The two riders were close friends and Bruce is the godfather of Sanders' daughter Belinda.

Penhall's son Connor (born 1990) was killed by a drunk driver in 2012 while working on a freeway. Bruce later got himself a tattoo in memory of his late son.[3]

World Final appearances[edit]

Speedway World Pairs Championship[edit]

Speedway World Team Cup[edit]


External links[edit]


  1. ^ "Bruce Penhall". Internet Movie Database. 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-28. 
  2. ^ 1982 Overseas Final - Heat 19
  3. ^ Bruce Penhall tattoo
  4. ^ Bamford, R. & Shailes, G. (2002). A History of the World Speedway Championship. Stroud: Tempus Publishing. ISBN 0-7524-2402-5