Harry Mes­man

NSU racer

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS -

At Cousin Ricky’s fifti­eth birth­day party, the topic of our Dutch-In­done­sian her­itage came up and Tante Pauline men­tioned an auto re­pair shop nearby. It was run by Dutch-In­done­sians. Since I’d just bought a sec­ond-hand Honda Civic, I de­cided to check it out and while there, had an ex­tra­or­di­nary flashback to 1956. To In­done­sia, where I grew up. I was just eight years old when my fa­ther took me to my first mo­tor­cy­cle race. And on the track I saw a rider who—next to Dad—was to be­come the most im­por­tant man to shape my life.

The auto shop was run by Ge­off Mes­man, a youth­ful forty-year old. Ge­off had the fea­tures and col­oration shared by most Dutch-In­done­sians. In­stant recog­ni­tion! We chat­ted a bit, and then I no­ticed a photo on a wall. It was Ge­off, carv­ing a cor­ner on a Honda CBR600. A Mes­man on a mo­tor­cy­cle! The im­age trans­ported me back to In­done­sia, 1956. My fa­ther Jo­hannes, a life­long mo­tor­cy­clist, rode a Ger­man NSU 250 Max and taken me to a mo­tor­cy­cle race through the streets of Surabaya, our home town. As we stood on a curb watch­ing mo­tor­cy­cles zip­ping by, Dad pointed to a com­peti­tor, also on an NSU. “Dat is Mes­man; hij rijd goed.” In­deed. Mes­man and his NSU promptly won the race. Other than the rider’s name and the bike, I don’t re­mem­ber much of the event. But the im­print stuck; I begged Dad for more. But he had other things on his mind. Our world was about to col­lapse. In­done­sia had been a Dutch colony for 400 years and in­ter­mar­riage be­tween Dutch colonists and In­done­sian women cre­ated a sub­group of the pop­u­la­tion: Dutch-In­done­sians. That was us. We had Dutch names, spoke Dutch and car­ried Dutch cit­i­zen­ship. And the In­done­sians de­spised us. Post WWII, In­done­sia sued for in­de­pen­dence and when the Dutch re­sisted, things turned vi­o­lent and ugly. It was no longer safe to stay in In­done­sia. So Dad packed up the fam­ily and by 1960, we’d set­tled in an idyl­lic place for a young man to pur­sue his mo­tor­cy­cling pas­sion: Cal­i­for­nia. Within days of turn­ing six­teen, I bought a used 125cc Honda CB92 Benly for $200. I rode the Benly for two years, then de­cided to race it. But once again, dark clouds in­ter­fered. A pale yel­low let­ter ar­rived: “You are hereby or­dered to re­port for in­duc­tion into the Armed Forces of the United States……” On the other side of the world, in a place called Viet­nam, the Army needed doorgun­ners for their new fleet of Huey he­li­copters. I flew my first com­bat mis­sion in April 1968 at age nineteen and in one year lost four he­li­copters and two pi­lots to en­emy ac­tion and crashes. The last crash sent me home with in­juries that took a year to heal. I was dis­charged in July 1969, then landed a job in a juice bot­tling plant for $1.35 an hour. And I spent ev­ery penny on a suc­ces­sion of Yamaha road rac­ers. I en­tered my first pro race at Day­tona Beach, Florida in 1972. But af­ter the lead­ers lapped me on the bank­ing I had an epiphany. As a racer, I sucked. Deeply dis­ap­pointed, I traded the Yamaha for a 1969 Honda CL350 scram­bler and en­rolled in Cal­i­for­nia State Uni­ver­sity Long Beach. Four years later, with an Engi­neer­ing de­gree in hand, I worked my way across the At­lantic on a Nor­we­gian freighter, hopped off in Lon­don and bought a clapped out Honda CB250 for $400. The CB took me to the Isle of Man, the Dutch TT, and the Bel­gian Grand Prix at Spa Fran­cochamps. There, I met Amer­i­can racer Pat Hen­nen. Pat needed a me­chanic; I needed an ad­ven­ture. Three weeks later, Pat won

the Grand Prix of Fin­land, be­com­ing the first Amer­i­can to win a World Cham­pi­onship event. Next thing you know, Suzuki signed Pat to join Barry Sheene on the fac­tory team for 1977/78. Pat won two more GP’s be­fore his ca­reer end­ing crash at the Isle of Man in 1978. Both of us came home. Once back in Cal­i­for­nia, I joined Kawasaki to test en­gines for the Superbikes that Ed­die Law­son and Wayne Rainey rode to Na­tional cham­pi­onships. In my spare time, I built a 750 Kawasaki en­durance racer and in 1982, co-rider Roger Hagie and I won the AFM 6-hour in River­side, Cal­i­for­nia. Rac­ing suc­cess at last! But not for long. A so­prano named Karen stole my heart and shortly, two ba­bies came. Money was tight, and I left Kawasaki for bet­ter pay in the medical de­vice in­dus­try. I also had to sell my 1984 Kawasaki Ninja 900 and fig­ured my mo­tor­cy­cling days were over. But one babe had other ideas. At age ten, daugh­ter Sara—out of the blue—asked if I could teach her how to ride a mo­tor­cy­cle. My genes had trans­ferred! I bought Sara an XR70 and in the years since, we have rid­den about thirty dif­fer­ent bikes. Sara is now twenty-seven and rides a Kawasaki KLR650. Other daugh­ter Hi­lary tried mo­tor­cy­cling as well but even­tu­ally chose a sec­ond hand Honda Civic for trans­port. And that’s how, in the spring of 2014, I ended up in Ge­off Mes­man’s auto shop, pon­der­ing a photo of Mes­man on his mo­tor­cy­cle. As the mem­o­ries of that race in In­done­sia 1956 came flood­ing back, my eyes wan­dered to a sec­ond photo on the wall. And I froze. The faded black and white print showed a young rider lean­ing a vin­tage road­racer with a dust­bin fair­ing into a cor­ner. “Who’s this Ge­off?” “My fa­ther. He used to race mo­tor­cy­cles.” The hair on my neck stood up. “Where?” “In­done­sia, mid fifties.” The words tum­bled out of my mouth: “I saw him! I was eight! I saw your dad race!.” Ge­off gave me a “Yeah-sureyou-did” look. “My dad had an NSU 250!” Ge­off came around: “That’s an NSU in the pic­ture.” I looked, and it was. Then Ge­off dropped a bomb­shell: “Dad is sev­enty-seven and no longer rides. He owns this shop; he’ll be in next week.” Pre­cisely one week later, I met Harry and Monique Mes­man. The NSU racer who kick-started my mo­tor­cy­cling pas­sion fifty-eight years ago on the other side of the world and I shared lunch. I also set a place at the ta­ble for Dad, but he didn’t show. Dad passed away in 2002. Still, I’d like to think he was there. Af­ter all, who else do you sup­pose could pos­si­bly have ar­ranged the meet­ing?

ABOVE CEN­TRE Frans and his sis­ter aboard dad’s NSU Max. ABOVE Frans gives his sis­ter a demon­stra­tion of his cor­ner­ing skills on his Honda 125 Benly.

Frans with Harry and Monique Mes­man. In uni­form in Viet­nam. On the Euro­pean GP cir­cuit: Frans (left) with Pat Hen­nen. Prior to Hen­nen’s fate­ful Isle of Man de­but. Frans with Mike Sin­clair. Vic­tory at River­side. What’s left of the heli­copter af­ter Fans’ last crash. Banged up but alive.

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