Jolly Jack Ahearn – competitor and friend
I first met Jack in May 1962 at an international event at St Wendell in West Germany. The organisers decided to have a short qualifying race for each class late on Saturday afternoon, in my experience this was the first occasion when qualifying was a requirement at an International event. Jack was furious, “The bastards pay you bugger all start money and want you to do two races in each class and you silly young buggers don’t protest.” As a positive display of his displeasure, after having qualified in the first four in each class, Jack loaded his van and after telling the organisers what he thought of them, though how the interpreter coped I have no idea, he returned to England. During the early ’50s most riders used large vans as transport with built in home comforts. Jack being a carpenter had done this. By the late ’50s the top riders had moved onto smaller faster vans and stayed in hotels and in my time, when start money had shrunk even more, we used similar smaller vans, Bedford and Ford Thames, for transport and rather basic sleeping quarters. Some weeks later at the East German and Czechoslovakian Grand Prix I spent more time with Jack. I had cobbered up with a group of Austrians during my first year, they were good blokes, riding well prepared Nortons, the first to have six speed gear boxes, and with a similar outlook as my own. Jack fitted in well, feeding us young innocents his descriptions of the good old days back in the ’50s. We stopped off in Vienna and I stayed at Bertie Schneider’s mother’s home with Jack and his selfcontained van outside Bertie’s workshop. On the following Tuesday evening, we all went to the ‘Playboy Club’ for a meal and a few drinks. After a great evening, we returned late. Wednesday morning was not the most pleasant of occasions but well worth the great evening we had enjoyed. Wondering how Jack was doing, we drove down to Bertie’s garage and after banging on the sides of his van, we finally heard verbal abuse emanating from it. “You young bastards have got no respect for age, take a poor old bugger out and get him totally pissed and think it’s a joke. Well it isn’t and you can all f – off.” For me 1963 was a year of total commitment. Not only to the Suzuki race team, but my lovely wife Janny. The reward was winning the 50cc and 125cc World Championships. For the last round of the series at Suzuka in October, Suzuki wheeled out a 250cc square four. The first test session was a disaster. On the fourth lap, Bertie Schneider’s gearbox seized and Frank Perris following close behind hit his bike and fell heavily. Two bikes wrecked and one rider out with a broken collarbone after just four laps. Like so many others, I am able to resist all things except temptation and took over Bertie’s entry and joined Frank Perris and Ernst Degner in the 250cc team. After the start when Ernst accelerated out of the first corner he fell
heavily and the Suzuki burst into flames. Ernst lay unconscious in the flames and before the marshals could get to him, suffered facial burns. Frank saw the accident and retired at the pits, something the Japanese were not very pleased about. For the 1964 season I was entered in the 250cc class, though the 50cc and 125cc were my specialty. Riding three classes on truly troublesome machines was not wise, so vastly experienced Jolly Jack was approached to take over the bike for the rest of the season. Jack’s first ride was in the Isle of Man TT. Machine speed was not a problem as the 250cc Suzuki was timed at 141 mph and Hailwood’s 500 MV at 144mph. Jack fitted into the team straight off, he enjoyed the fairly laid-back attitude and the relatively easy money compared to that of a private owner. He still rode his Nortons of course. Power was produced over 5 to 600 revs and just six gears were hardly sufficient to keep it in the power band. Understandably, when leaving corners you had to be well aware of when that lethal power would come in. My answer was to keep the throttle open and use the rear brake to control the power being transmitted at the rear tyre. A rotary valve two stroke engine is quite different to any other. Once in the power band, even at half throttle it produces almost as much power as at full throttle, making it difficult to control. I won many races, when my carbs were set a little rich, never having the throttle more than three quarter open.
Jack was fast gaining the skills required to manage the temperamental machine when that sudden, vicious even, power band cut in at a shaded damp patch on an uphill right hander when leaving the Glen Helen section. Jack escaped major injury but hit his helmet hard enough to smash it. He courageously walked out of Nobel’s Hospital and rode in the Senior TT. A few weeks later when on his way to the Ulster GP in Ireland he felt very ill and was rushed to hospital where a brain bleed was discovered. Jack made a full recovery and following that prang, being a man of descriptive phrases, named the four cylinder Suzuki “Whispering Death”.
Whilst riding it, it was unusually quiet. As it approached you as a spectator, wind and road noise was all you heard, until it passed then the blast from the exhaust came suddenly and painfully loud. After finishing 2nd at the 1999 Australian 500cc Classic Championship, Barry Sheene was 3rd, when visiting the commentary box for a post-race interview, I met Jack who I believe was a guest of the organisation. “Gidday you silly bugger, what the hell are you doing going so quick, you should have given the game up years ago and be at home looking after mum and the grandkids.” I wasn’t that old. Still had to wait two years for the pension. Jack never changed and that was a good thing. Hugh Anderson New Zealand
Jack Ahearn on the bike he christened “Whispering Death” – the square four 250cc Suzuki.
RIGHT John Mockett with Wayne Rainey when John was with the Team Roberts outfit in 500cc GP.