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Garry Thomas – Seventies superbike supremo | Columns | Gassit Garage

Suitable secondhand machinery was plentiful in the late 1960s. So much so, that there were literally hundreds of C-grade entries at Amaroo and Oran Park when Garry Thomas first started racing. Yet Garry managed to regularly put his road-registered Norton Dominator among the dedicated track machines on his progression to A-grade.

Keen to be on a bike every weekend, Garry purchased a Montesa 250 for scrambles and reliability trials and, as a swinger for Wal Hambly, won the New South Wales Sidecar Championship at Moorebank.

Garry’s first major road race, the inaugural Castrol 6-Hour in 1970, was almost his last. In the opening laps he speared his Honda CB450 into the rear of an ambulance that pulled onto the track without warning, sending him somersaulting over the fence and down the bank on the inside of the kink. It earned him a ride in that very same ambulance and, with a severely broken foot, Garry was out. However, with a new front-end borrowed from a spectator’s bike, his teammate Paul Giles managed a finish.

Garry began the 1970s riding for the NSW Kawasaki distributor but was underwhelmed by the team’s bike preparation, which led to a few unwarranted injuries. A season spent dirt-tracking around the NSW Short Circuit scene on a JAP-powered Hagon wasn’t the fun he thought it would be and Garry wound up the year in a position with ACE Motorcycles at Liverpool.

It was here he met regular customer Leo Pretti and formed a partnership that was an instant success, with Garry scoring the first worldwide victory for the new Yamaha TZ350.

“We then bought a H2 Kawasaki and won $4000 in 1974 in the Chesterfield Superbike Series,” Garry recalls. “It was the only money I banked in 15 years of racing – but it was a fortune at the time.”

Fortunes come and go, but real estate is forever. In 1981 Garry made the decision to forego the former and invest in the latter.

He moved to Coffs Harbour with his wife, Yvonne. No more racing unless someone else paid the bills.

Enter old mate and sidecar star Bob Levy, sponsor of Clive Knight and soon to be sponsor of Mal Campbell.

The new team had many successes, but the most memorable contest was Garry’s second place on a Kawasaki Z1300 in the 1979 Unlimited Production Race at Mount Panorama where, according to Jim Scaysbrook’s film Bikes & Bathurst, “Thomas, in an amazing display of skill and bravery, slid and bounced the big Kawasaki around, using every inch of the track and then some.” Tony Hatton took the win but Garry won the crowd with his spirited performance.

Hanging up his helmet the following year, Garry joined Levy as scrutineer for the Australian MotoGP and World Superbike rounds before becoming an official with Motorcycling New South Wales (MNSW).

Garry was on the committee that made a proposal to the Department of Sports and Recreation for Juniors (9-15 years old) to be eligible for short-course racing. It took five years for this proposal to wind its way through the labyrinth of bureaucracy, during which time Garry was elected to the board of MNSW.

Matt Anderson, president of the North Coast Road Racing Club, recalls the frustrations they faced: “From my first meeting with Garry, he appreciated short-course competition was the academy for the future of road racing. But authorities kept raising the spectre of seven-year-olds doing 160km/h down the main straight at Eastern Creek. Garry and his legal mate dug in and now our club is hosting the first Short Course Australian Road Racing Championship for seniors and juniors.”

Garry is still heavily involved with the NCRR Club and, in between off-shore fishing excursions with his son Simon and grandson Jordy, occasionally refreshes his memory by riding his Aprilia RS250. 

By Peter Whitaker