This issue we feature our tribute to the late Jack Ahearn, a man who lived a rich and full life doing what pleased him most – racing motorcycles. It was also very gratifying that Fairfax Media elected to publish an obituary for Jack that I supplied, appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age in Melbourne. I say gratifying because I believe our own heroes merit the recognition, even in death, so often afforded only to political figures, rock stars, and many less-than-deserving others. You don’t need to be a successful business-person, media personality or glitterati figure to leave your mark upon the annals of mankind.
The first obituary I contributed to Fairfax was for Eric McPherson, back in 1997. Here was a bloke who almost unknowingly, blazed a trail that opened the door for future generations of Australian GP and TT riders, and remained connected to the sport as an official for decades after his own retirement. Virtually every weekend, Eric would be at a race meeting somewhere, usually in the role of starter and judge. At Eric’s funeral, his brother said to me, “Eric never had a real job, he just lived for motorcycles.”
Much the same could be said for Jack Ahearn, who harboured an almost pathological dread of having to work for a living in any kind of ‘normal’ occupation. Reputedly, when asked why he opted for a career as a motorcycle racer as opposed to his training as a carpenter, he replied, “It was the quickest way out of Lithgow.” For Jack, the prospect of spending his life in a country town in a workaday job did not sit well at all, even if the alternative was a hand-to-mouth existence for much of his life. It’s also true that Jack was irascible and short of patience at the best of times, and having to do countless ‘deals’ in order to keep the show on the road, he inevitably ended up in some prickly relationships, even with sponsors such as Jack Walters.
But Jack, for all his rough exterior, had a soft and generous side, and he was genuinely devoted to helping numerous young riders up the ladder; Robert Madden and Ron Boulden to name just two. Since his obituary was published I have been contacted by many people; all united in their admiration for a really down to earth bloke. Many anecdotes have been related to me, but one that really resonates comes from Marty Atlee; like his father Len, a top rider and Australian TT winner.
Marty said, “When my father was just beginning to get noticed in road racing, he, like everyone else, had only the basic equipment and clothing, like old flying boots. At one meeting, Jack Ahearn, who was back from one of his stints in Europe, complimented him on his riding. Jack had a pair of the latest English racing boots and he said to dad, “If you win your last two races today, I’ll give you these (boots).” Well, dad won the Lightweight, which was the first one, and Jack brought over one of the boots and said, ‘Here you are, now win the last one.’ Dad won that too, and then Jack gave him the other boot.”
OUR COVER Gaven Dall’Osto’s 1955 AJS Model 20. See feature story on P58.