Gary Coleman Racer to Rossi
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.