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Where are they now? John Hazeldene | Columns | Gassit Garage

John Hazeldene is a successful chicken farmer and former 250 runner

You’ve had a very different timeline in bike racing; where did it start?

I started off on a Kawasaki Trail Boss, a 100cc farm bike. Then I bought a 250 Montesa and started doing motocross, speedway and short circuit. I quite liked speedway. It was pretty big in Bendigo at the time and I got hold of a Weslake slider and had a ball. I knew the only way to make a go of speedway was to go to England, but the chicken farm was a family business and I was forever part of it. In the mid-70s I bought a [Yamaha] TZ350 and got into road racing, and made it to A-grade.

Who were the gun guys of the era?

Ray Quincey, Ken Blake, Bob Rosenthal and Ross Barelli, but really I was only a chook farmer having a go. I was never able to dedicate the time required to match those guys, so I gave it away. I’ve never called racing a ‘career’, it was a time for having fun, and it would be 15 more years before I would race again in my late 30s.

In 1988 I bought a [Yamaha] TZR250 and finished last in all of my comeback races at Winton Raceway, but I wasn’t deterred. I wanted to have another crack and I was prepared to gradually increase my race speed, which I did. So then I bought a TZ250W in 1989 for the Australian championship rounds.

How did that pan out in the 1990 Shell Oils ARRC?

The big problem in all my time racing was that I was never fit enough, and that led to inconsistency against the top riders. In 1990 I led the 250 GP races at Mallala and at Baskerville, but lacked the necessary fitness to close them out. I was always quick off the line, and it was a case of fast start-slow finish, or slow start-fast finish. I’d over-ride the bike to make up for my lack of fitness, so I crashed several times in 1990 – I did two collarbones and a shoulder that year.

You raced at close quarters with the best 250 GP riders of the era. Who impressed you?

Michael O’Connor and Rene Bongers were very quick, then you had Steve Whitehouse and David Horton, who were both very consistent, steady and fast. Marty Craggill was also very quick and if he had’ve stayed in the 250 GP class he would’ve ended up winning it. He proved that when he won the [Australian] Superbike title in ’96 from Troy Bayliss.

Tell us what happened at Eastern Creek in ’91.

I got a wildcard for the Australian 250 Grand Prix, which was a thrill. In practice I was coming around Corporate Hill and I had big highside. I think it might’ve been cold tyres; anyway, it was big. I ended up smashing my leg and it was 10 months before I could get around without crutches. So, at 37, my second stint at racing was over.

After 25 years, it’s only recently that you’ve got back into it.

Yes. I’ve been MD at Hazeldene Chickens, which employs 750 people and has 300 contractors. I’m now 62 and was thinking of stepping back a bit and doing a few things I really wanted to, so I had a look at Period 6 250 GP racing, had my TZ250W restored and entered this year’s Island Classic. For preparation I did the Superbike School on one of its BMWs, which was good to get re-acquainted with the Island, although the BMW was completely different from a 250 GP bike.

For the first time, I’ve been working on my fitness and I’ve noticed the improvement in both my flexibility and general well-being.

I ended up going okay at the Classic. I was a bit scratchy, I got a couple of fifths. I was hoping to get a bit higher, but I’ll be better for the run and more seat time. I’m heading up to Eastern Creek for the International Festival at the end of March, and I can’t wait. I’m not expecting to re-write the record books, I’m just looking to have a bit of fun.

Do you have a roadbike?

I’ve had a Honda 900 Hornet for 14 years but there’s only 8000km on it, so that tells you how much I ride!