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Burt Munro rode the world's fastest Indian, but his Invercargill mate Russell Wright was the fastest in the world on any motorcycle.

And the feisty 76-year-old is back on holiday in New Zealand after 15 years of retirement in Queensland happy to tell you how he did it.

Wright hasn't yet seen the film based on Munro's feats, but he is not surprised it has been a local hit as his old rival was such a character.

"I got on well with him. He was without doubt the greatest do-it-yourselfer I've ever met and you had to admire him.

"We raced each other a bit. He was way behind me except on Oreti Beach," says Wright with a smile.

"My mother grew up on the farm next to the Munros and Burt tried to court my mother but she wouldn't have anything to do with him. I wonder what I'd have turned out like if they'd got together!"

When he was 11, Wright bought an old James two-stroke with 10 he had earned from catching rabbits and 5 he borrowed from his mother. He was quickly hooked on two-wheeled speed.

He imported a Vincent Black Lightning from England with 500 earned as a builder. In 1954 he set a NZ speed record of 140mp/h (225.30km/h) on Tram Rd, north-west of Christchurch, beating the time Munro had set on his Indian by 1mp/h.

From then he teamed up with Christchurch engineering whiz Bob Burns, who provided the shell to allow Wright to set a world record of 185.15mp/h (297.97km/h) on Tram Rd on July 2, 1955.

"I was across the finish line on the second run when I came out of an avenue of trees and the crosswind nearly tipped me off at 185mp/h. I stopped safely but when I got out of the shell my pals said my face was dead white."

The bike was sold and Wright had the honour of holding the solo world record for just over 12 months.

"What I'm proud of is that the record was set on a public road lined with trees and it was the last one in those conditions. From then on all the world marks were set on the salt flats. It was also the last with the rider in a sitting position instead of lying down. I used to ride the bike back home in Invercargill, after all."

With backing promised from the Vincent factory, Wright and Burns headed first to the Earls Court Motor Show in London and then to the Bonneville salt flats to try to lift the world mark over 200mp/h.

However, Vincent got into financial strife, the Germans got to Bonneville first and Willem Herz on an NSU regained the record with a speed of 209.95mp/h (338.09km/h). The best Wright managed was 198mp/h (318.64km/h).

Wright proudly displays a copy of the official list of the world's fastest motorcyclists published by the Federation Internationale Motorcycliste.

It runs from April 14, 1920, when American Gene Walker set a mark of 166.67km/h on an Indian at Daytona Beach, to July 14, 1990, when another American, Dave Campos, set a speed of 518.44km/h on a 3000cc Harley Davidson at Bonneville.

On July 2, 1955, at Swannanoa, NZ, Russell Wright achieved 297.97km/h on a 1000cc Vincent Black Lightning, it records.

Wright carries a card to show his devotion to motorcycling and the Vincent machine that brought him to world attention. It includes a pointer to a 1996 ballad by Richard Thompson that he considers his theme song.

It concludes:

Says James "In my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl.
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeves won't do,
Ah, they don't have a soul like a Vincent 52"
Oh he reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
Said "I've got no further use for these.
I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome,
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home"
And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride.