Old Hat


Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - JIM SCAYSBROOK Ed­i­tor

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.

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