American recalls Circuit glory

By Jared Smith

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It was a gentle climb rather than a sweeping youthful swagger as Pat Hennen mounted the machine from his glory years, but that big smile was as infectious as ever.

The 59-year-old American is a special guest for next week's Tri Series finale around Wanganui's Cemetery Circuit much the same streets he dominated as the star of the-then Marlboro Series in the mid-1970s.

Hennen was a world-class rider at the peak of his powers winning the series championship for three of its five years on the back of his Suzuki TR500, TR750 and RG500 machines.

"The successful things become favourites," he said of his times thrilling Wanganui's crowds, adding he will watch on Boxing Day with "a big smile" of nostalgia.

It was one of those Suzuki's emblazoned with his name and basically in the same shape that he competed on it which Hennen sat on at the Wanganui i-Site yesterday.

Still a man who greets you with a two-handed handshake, he humbly downplays his cult-status with the locals as "better than I deserve".

His undiminished love of the sport and positive outlook is all the more admirable given the cruel twist which ended his career and changed his life.

The season of his third Marlboro title 1976-77 Hennen was the first American to win a 500cc Grand Prix motorcycle road race in the 1976 Finnish Grand Prix.

A leading contender for the world championship, two years later at the Isle of Man TT he had just become the first man to ever complete a sub-twenty minute TT lap when he hit a curb at over 241km/h.

The crash left him with severe head injuries, from which he recovered over time but the lasting effects forced his retirement from racing.

It would prove only to strengthen his faith.

"The fun part is if I had died when I was involved with my accident, I'd be in Hell now," Hennen says.

"Now I'm Christian, and life is beautiful."

Hennen was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame in 2007.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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