Eric Harrison: 90 Years young
Many will remember Eric Harrison and his outfit, number 123, at meetings far and wide. His daughter TRICIA REUST shares some of those moments with us.
Eric Harrison’s riding took him through New South Wales, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia. Based at the BP Service Station in Cabramatta, NSW, the bike that began the racing career was one he and a few men from the garage, including Ronnie Elliot who remained his mechanic through the entire racing history, put together. A member of the Southern Districts Motor Cycle Club, he successfully raced locally until the club had to close as they had no money to obey the new fencing laws required by the NSW Speedway Act, after which he joined Willoughby MCC. His swingers included Ray Ward, Eric Smith and Allan Hepworth. During one meet at Moorebank he went through five passengers – they kept falling off or jumping off! Some of his many racing achievements include the SDMCC Junior Championship in 1958; several NSW Hill Climb placings, several Lilac Time races at
Boxers Creek (Goulburn) with wins in 1963 and 1964; Oran Park a favourite from 1957 onwards; 1st Side Car Scratch race Goulburn 1961; 2nd Australian Short Circuit Championships on the Gold Coast 1965. Because his many successes were mostly on dirt, the two most satisfying were at Bathurst on tar. In 1964 he finished second in the Bathurst TT on Easter Sunday with swinger Ray Ward with the Norton and then in 1965, first in the Bathurst SESQUI Centenary TT on Easter Saturday, with swinger Allan Hepworth. The record books of the National Motor Racing Museum record this win by four seconds, the “Highlight of the weekend”. The first rebuilt bike was one purchased from Johnny Carr – a Triumph in which they placed a Bonneville motor. The last bike had a Triumph frame with a Manx Norton motor, which they had turned into a kneeler.
Eric’s favourite competitor was Stan Bayliss – he would run over to Eric and say: “Didn’t you hear I was racing today? You could have saved yourself a trip!” He fondly recalls Jimmy Airey, and Gordon Gausco.
Eric says probably Boxers Creek was his favourite track (mine was Moorebank – I loved the scrambles, watching the side cars in the air over the hills and so much mud and slush!). So many tracks – an old airfield out the back of Lidcombe; Tamworth; Liverpool showgrounds; Calder; Lakeside; Gunnedah; Newcastle and so on. His most frustrating race was in South Australia at Victor Harbor. His swinger Ray Ward had had a couple and on the home stretch thought they had it in the bag so started playing up to the crowd – and fell off! Eric went on to win the race but they took the placing off him as he had crossed the finish line with no passenger. Eric talks of the days the drum brake wouldn’t last too many laps, so he had to sit up or stand, to create wind resistance to slow down the bike. The corner at the bottom of Bathurst’s Conrod Straight was pretty bad – without the brakes you ended up ducking under the fence rail and sailing off on your way “to visit Bathurst”.
Eric and his wife Shirley had eight children. The memories of growing up in this bike racing environment include regular weekends in the car off to watch dad win (or more interestingly crash); waking sleeping babies and tots to get them in the car during the night to travel great distances, easily done back then as there were no seat belts; making zillions of curried egg sandwiches so that there were enough to share; mum buying rolls of striped corduroy to make us trousers to wear at the races; being allowed, back in those days, to go round the race track at Bathurst on the bike with dad; huddling in the tent during rain but not being allowed to touch the canvas because that made the tent leak; the smell of strong liniment coming from the parents’ bedroom with dad getting over recent injuries; holding hot chips out the window on the drive home to cool down for the tots to eat; Mum taking tons of 8mm movies. These movies were all lent to the Bundaberg Motor Cycle Club and never returned – if anyone can help out in their return as our family treasure please make contact! Eric was never much of a drinker, but when the first boy was born, after five girls, the men at the garage got dad super drunk with lots of “now you’ve really made it! Now you’ve proved yourself.” What we girls thought of these comments will remain unwritten. This birth of a son however, coincided with Ronnie Elliot moving on to a new work position, so with losing this trusted mechanic finally the bike was sold and the racing career ended. Eric turned 90 in November and lives with his daughter and son-in-law now, and greatly relishes telling the grandchildren (he has 19 and also 14 greats) stories of his racing days. The arrival of the Old Bike magazine is heralded with cries of recognition on seeing names and tracks mentioned. Thank you for bringing such joy to him.
Eric and Allan Hepworth at Amaroo Park Short Circuit.
LEFT Eric leads George Heggie at Salty Creek, Newcastle. RIGHT Entertainer Bobby Limb (right) presents Allan Hepworth and Eric Harrison with a sash at Boxers Creek, Goulburn.