Munro memorial brings excitement

Spectators stand in the sand dunes at the Burt Munro Challenge Indian Motorcycle NZ Beach Racing...
Spectators stand in the sand dunes at the Burt Munro Challenge Indian Motorcycle NZ Beach Racing Champs at Oreti Beach last year. Photo: Gregor Richardson
People come from far and wide to honour Southland’s motorcycle hero Burt Munro. Luisa Girao chats with the man who is bringing a contingent of motorcycle-mad Aussies to the deep south for this year’s event. 

In the early 1970s, biker Eddy Garner had an "unforgettable" experience burning rubber with Burt Munro.

Eddy Garner proudly displays his Burt Munro's mementos: a book with the Fastest Indian's...
Eddy Garner proudly displays his Burt Munro's mementos: a book with the Fastest Indian's signature and a medal from the 2018 challenge. Photo: Supplied
During a quarter-mile race he was nearly killed by the "world's fastest Indian", the bike on which Mr Munro famously pursued land speed records.

Mr Garner competed after Mr Munro on that occasion.

He remembered driving at full speed, when he saw something coming.

"I had to swerve to avoid Burt Munro coming the other way. So my first race meeting was very nearly my last one," he said.

There were no hard feelings; Mr Munro apologised with his traditional good humour.

"He came to me and said: ‘Sorry, young fellow. I thought you had to go both ways to qualify."’

It was the first of many meetings Mr Garner had with the "speed demon" who became an inspiration to him.

After the close encounter the men became good friends, and Mr Garner said he learned a lot from Mr Munro.

"He also was a lovely guy and very persistent. "

"It’s a shame all this ... you know being famous did not happen much when he was young. It was life before the internet ... I guess."

Mr Garner was born in Christchurch and moved to Invercargill when he was 16 to take up a job at a freezing works.

His passion for bikes began when he was just a boy — he bought his first motorbike at the age of 13.

"I had trouble getting to school with it because, of course, you needed a licence. "

Eddy GArner and Tony Blain in their Harley Davidson's numbers 569 and 954, respectively at...
Eddy GArner and Tony Blain in their Harley Davidson's numbers 569 and 954, respectively at Daytona, USA, in 1997. Photo: Supplied
He said he had always been fascinated by the two-wheeled vehicles, and believed shifting south had made his passion even stronger.

When he was 21 he moved to Melbourne where he founded Aussie Bike Tours, the largest guided Harley Davidson and BMW motorbike tour company in the country.

He said in his most "crazy years" he owned as many as 100 motorbikes, but now he "just" had dozens.

What was his favourite?

"Probably a 1969 Bonneville [model]" which he said he had owned for longer than he had been married.

Next week, Mr Garner will bring together a group of 30 Australian riders to compete in the Burt Munro Challenge.

Mr Garner said his relationship with the motorbike legend, and his connection to Invercargill, remained strong after having attended yearly events back-to-back.

One of the most anticipated competitions in the challenge was the beach race.

"It’s ironic because we used to race at the beach with Burt. When we came back it is what we still liked to do. But the thing is now ... the police don’t chase us any more," he said.

Eddy Garner at full speed on his H-D-engineered Buell in a competition in Christchurch. Photo:...
Eddy Garner at full speed on his H-D-engineered Buell in a competition in Christchurch. Photo: Supplied
The group would compete in a range of racing events, including a "battle against the Kiwis" in the International Hand Shift Challenge.

There would also be a display of Harley Davidsons from the 1920s-1940s, as well as Indian bikes, on Wednesday outside E Hayes & Sons from 10am.

Logistically, bringing all the gear was not easy and it cost "many thousands" to do so — everything needed to be carefully packed in containers and shipped from Sydney to Christchurch.

When they arrived, the engines would be taken by van to Invercargill.

"It is a lot of work but everybody is so passionate. "

Mr Garner said this year’s event would be a special one for him.

"It will be my 50th year racing. It’s great fun. It’s like Burt ... would never consider not doing it. If you can do it, you keep doing it.

"It’s the excitement and the adrenaline — and it is quite addictive."

 

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