Jolly Jack Ahearn – com­peti­tor and friend

Old Bike Australasia - - LETTERS TO THE EDITOR -

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.

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