Bruce Stewart, born in 1939, grew up in Sydney’s inner west suburbs of Leichhardt and Ash eld. At 15 he started a mechanical apprenticeship at Harden and Johnson, a large general workshop in Kings Cross, having previously helped his uncle to x up MG TC sportscars after school.
It was inevitable he’d soon nd himself going motor racing given his employer’s clientele.
“At Harden and Johnson we worked on everything,”Stewart explains. “We even helped prepare the Redex Trial Peugeots of Ken Tubman and David McKay. I worked with future racers Andy Roberts (sports cars) and John Wright (F5000) and all we talked about at lunchtime was racing cars. My teacher at Ultimo Tech was Brian Lawler (another prominent racer) and 60 years on we’re still friends.”
Like a lot of penniless racing wannabes of the time, Stewart got his start in Humpy Holdens, in 1962. Note the plural. He didn’t just race one, but several. Stewart was not averse to passing on a Humpy if the price was right and building
up another one to race. This was the golden era of early Holden racing in NSW, with Stewart up against stand-outs like Warren Weldon, Bo Seton and Spencer Martin. He even scored the odd lap record, “but only when the quick guys weren’t there,” he says, trying to play down the achievement. Nevertheless, he was starting to be noticed.
“Simms Spares was running a Humpy for this guy and soon I was offered a drive. I started winning races and they gave me the car and sponsored it.
“I couldn’t afford new tyres. I would run my competitors’ cast-offs. One time at Catalina Park, my tyres were right down the grooves. I told the boys ‘she’ll be right,’ but in the race it went down to the cords and blew. In no time I’m upside down!”
It was fellow Humpy hustler and good mate Don Smith who offered Stewart a drive with him at the 1965 Armstrong 500 in a HD Holden X2. The lumbering Holden had no chance in a class dominated by the eet-footed Morris Cooper S, nishing ninth in class on 116 laps, good enough for 22nd outright, without brakes or a clutch. Stewart’s lifetime pilgrimage to Mt Panorama had begun.