Gary Cole­man Racer to Rossi

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story Jim Scays­brook Pho­tos Michael An­drews, Rob Lewis, Cole­man col­lec­tion.

In the an­nals of mo­tor­cy­cle Grand Prix rac­ing, as well as in the four wheeled equiv­a­lent, For­mula One, Aus­tralians and New Zealan­ders have oc­cu­pied many key po­si­tions as me­chan­ics, en­gi­neers and team per­son­nel – out of all pro­por­tion to the size of their coun­tries in pop­u­la­tion terms.

Some even gain fame on their own ac­count – nat­u­rally not of the giddy heights af­forded to the star rid­ers and driv­ers, but fame none the less. Jeremy Burgess, fea­tured in OBA 70, is one such name, as are Ki­wis Mike Sin­clair and Paul Treacy. For many years of Valentino’s il­lus­tri­ous ca­reer, his team con­tained sev­eral such AN­ZACS, in­clud­ing Burgess, Alex Briggs, Dick Smart, and for the sea­sons 2000 to 2015 in­clu­sive, Gary Cole­man. New­cas­tle born and bred, and trained as a fit­ter ma­chin­ist, Gary’s ini­tial in­ter­est in mo­tor­cy­cling was in the leisurely world of Ob­served Tri­als, rid­ing,

not un­nat­u­rally, a Bul­taco Sherpa, since the coal city was the home of Norm Fraser’s Bul­taco-based em­pire. New­cas­tle and its en­vi­rons was also a hot­bed of Dirt Track (Short Cir­cuit) ac­tiv­ity, with nu­mer­ous tracks and prob­a­bly the strong­est line up of com­mit­ted slid­ers in the coun­try. “I used to fol­low Doug Sail­lard and Gra­ham Gates, both lo­cals,” re­calls Gary. “Doug had a Bul­taco Ban­dito 360cc mo­tocrosser that Norm Fraser sup­plied, and Doug road raced it. Gates had one too and did quite well on it. When Doug gave away rac­ing I bought the Ban­dito and raced it on the dirt tracks at Salty Creek and Hed­don Greta, and with a change of tyres, gear­ing and han­dle­bars be­tween events, on the tar at Oran Park and Ama­roo Park. About 1973 I bought a new Yamaha TZ350A for $2,400, and later Dick Hunter bought me a new TZ350 so I con­verted mine to a 250 to give me rides in two classes.” Gary climbed rapidly through the ranks and af­ter win­ning the Ju­nior B Grade race at Bathurst in 1974, and fin­ish­ing se­cond to Queens­lan­der Barry Lemon in the Un­lim­ited B Grade, was el­e­vated to A Grade. At the 1975 Aus­tralian GP at Bathurst, Lemon crashed in prac­tice and was un­able to start in the races, so he of­fered his 125cc Yamaha to Gary, who, de­spite hav­ing no prac­tice on the lit­tle ma­chine, promptly won a thrilling Ul­tra Light­weight tus­sle that in­cluded Greg John­son, Rob Hin­ton and Ge­off Sim and came down to a fran­tic fi­nal cor­ner brak­ing duel. Later in the meet­ing in the 30-lap Un­lim­ited GP, a spec­ta­tor in the Esses dis­lodged a rock which rolled onto the track, and Gary was the first rider on the scene. His 350 stuck the rock and end-forended, pitch­ing him off but for­tu­nately with­out in­jury. One week later, with Lemon still out of ac­tion, Gary won the 125cc Aus­tralian TT at Lake­side on the same ma­chine. Dick Hunter added a new Mk1 RG500 Suzuki to the sta­ble in 1977, fol­lowed soon af­ter by an Mk2, but it was not a happy ex­pe­ri­ence for Gary. For­sak­ing his Yama­has for Bathurst in 1977, the new Suzuki ex­ploded the gear­box in the Se­nior GP, putting him out for the meet­ing. “We took the Suzuki to the Marl­boro Se­ries in New Zea­land, the last time it was held in the sum­mer of 1977/78, but it was a disas­ter, and Dick and I split up soon af­ter that. I think Stu Avant took over the Suzuki, while I went back to Alan Kay’s 350 Yamaha. I won the Ju­nior (350cc) GP at Bathurst in 1978 and 1981, when I rode Mur­ray Sayle’s bike. In this pe­riod I also rode a TZ750 Yamaha that was owned by Frasers, but looked af­ter by the Kay brothers – John, Stu and Alan. I did most of the work on it and we had a fair bit of suc­cess with it.” In both 1980 and 1981 he fin­ished se­cond in the Swann In­ter­na­tional Se­ries and was also se­cond in the Un­lim­ited Aus­tralian Road Rac­ing Cham­pi­onship in 1981. He also teamed up with Greg Pretty aboard the spe­cial XS1100 Yamaha owned by Pit­mans in Ade­laide and con­verted to chain drive by Mal Pit­man. At the Coca Cola 800 at Oran Park, the team re­cov­ered from an early crash by Pretty to take the win and the lion’s share of the prize money.

TOP Gary (52) gets the jump on Ron Boulden (59), An­drew John­son (5) and Steve Trinder (25) in the 1980 Bathurst Un­lim­ited. ABOVE Bathurst 1982, crest­ing Reid Park on the TZ500.

Gary and the boss.

Au­gust 1974 at Lake­side, Qld, with Gary chas­ing Denny Mc­Cor­mack and Gregg Hans­ford close be­hind.

ABOVE Early days at Salty Creek on his Bul­taco Ban­dito. BE­LOW CEN­TRE As a teenager on his Bul­taco Sherpa in a trails event.

BE­LOW In the 1976 King of the Weir, Hume Weir Al­bury. INSSET Hit­ting the deck in the Esses at Bathurst in 1975 af­ter strik­ing a rock dis­lodged by a spec­ta­tor which rolled onto the track.

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