Motorsport: Tauranga race ace relives his glory days

By Colin Smith


The motorcycle that roared to victory in the inaugural Wanganui Cemetery Circuit feature race in 1951 was supposed to remain on a trailer that day.

Tauranga's Dene Hollier - at the time the workshop foreman at the Pink and Collison motorcycle dealership in Palmerston North - rode a 1948 Triumph Grand Prix to victory in the 1951 race and set the original lap record of 66.40secs for the street circuit.

He hadn't intended to ride the twin cylinder 500cc machine on the new street track.

"I was supposed to ride my 350cc Velocette but I had trouble with the motor during practice," says Hollier.

"I only had the Triumph there because we were going on from Wanganui to race at the TT in Auckland. We got the Triumph off the trailer and I think we changed the gearing then away we went."

This week, Hollier, 85, was reunited with a near-identical Triumph that has been restored by Tauranga's Peter Pawson, a former NZ representative at the Isle of Man TT races.

Pawson's Triumph will be a centrepiece of a display of significant bikes which traces the 60 years history of the Cemetery Circuit races in Wanganui ahead of today's Boxing Day event.

The 60th anniversary is being celebrated in 2012 because the race wasn't held in 1964.

Of his 1951 success, Hollier remembers it being a day of unknowns with the only certainty being that bike racing legend Len Perry would be his biggest threat.

"Nobody knew what to expect. The circuit had never been used before and, compared to what we raced on back then, it was short and quite narrow."

Hollier's thinking was the Junior class Velocette would be better balanced on the tight circuit. Once he tried the Triumph, he found it was well suited to the Wanganui track.

"I don't remember having any problems. The only person who worried me was Len Perry. I think he'd built a special bike for Wanganui with a 500cc J.A.P. speedway engine.

"Len was always good at every track and he was a canny old bugger. He was a bit of a worry to me towards the end of the race."

Hollier recalls the Triumph fondly and rode it for several seasons.

"Part of the reason for my success was it was a new bike and it was always pretty reliable. In those days, some of the big races we did were 100 miles.

"I remember when the bike first arrived, I rode it from Palmerston North to Napier to run the engine in."

The bike Hollier raced was owned by Pink and Collison.

"I was very fortunate. I got to race the bike and all they wanted was half the prize money. But you had to race for 100 miles to earn it."

Hollier went on to race cars during the 1960s, competing successfully in the 1.5-litre single-seater cars. He contested Tasman Series races alongside world champions including Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jackie Stewart, Jack Brabham and Denny Hulme and the last part of his four-wheel career overlapped with the arrival of young Kiwi racers Ken Smith and Graeme Lawrence.

The bike that will be part of the 60th anniversary celebrations has taken Pawson about five years to restore, starting from what he calls a "basket case" condition.

He says its pure chance that its completion has coincided with the 60th running of racing on the streets of Wanganui.

"It's been a struggle. Sometimes it's been a real pain and, sometimes, I got lucky. The oil tank turned up one day in an ad in the NZ Herald."

The only significant part on the bike that isn't fully authentic is the front brake with Pawson having to use a slightly later model part.

The twin cylinder 500cc Triumph GP is capable of reaching just over 200km/h.

Hollier remembers the bike he rode to victory in Wanganui as being the 13th Triumph GP to come to New Zealand. He believes 15 of the bikes came here and Pawson says the whereabouts of only two others are known.

In the lead-up to the Wanganui races today, the Triumph is part of a display of historic bikes on show at the Wanganui Information Centre along with an AJS 7R, Norton Manx, Suzuki RG500, the Suzuki TR750 campaigned at Wanganui in the mid-1970s by American star Pat Hennen and a Britten V-1000.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 23 Jul 2014 15:26:31 Processing Time: 289ms