Leslie Harris (New Zealand) is living fast, but he’s not dying young.
Earlier this year, at the age of 97 – three weeks before his 98th birthday – Les raced at the Pukekohe 43rd Classic Motorcycle Festival in Auckland, making him the world’s oldest competitive motorcycle racer.
Les competed alongside his eldest son, Rod, aged 64, and his 21-year-old granddaughter, Olivia.
They all rode in the Regularity race, in which the aim is to perform the most consistent lap times.
“Consistent lap times are a crucial element in all motorsports, allowing race teams to have better control over fuel and vehicle wear,” explained Les’s son, Tim.
“It is a skill that takes many years to master without modern timing machines.”
Les had previously won this event in 2019, aged 93, however, he faced several setbacks which prevented him from competing again until this year.
Firstly, he underwent a hip replacement soon after his 2019 victory, which kept him from riding in other events for several months.
He then entered the 2020 Classic Festival to defend his title, however, he unfortunately injured himself at the event and was unable to compete. While mounting his motorcycle for a qualifying race, the bike slipped off the roller starters, resulting in Les falling off and breaking six ribs.
Les luckily recovered without suffering any permanent damage, however, no events were held during the following two years due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Thus, the 2023 festival at Pukekohe Park Raceway was an extra special edition for Les, as it had been a long time since he’d been able to race, not to mention the fact that he was competing alongside his family members for the first time.
Additionally, it was the last time the event was to be held at the historic track, which has now been sold.
“It was very important to Les to be able to ride the track and compete for a trophy he had won at a previous event,” Tim said.
Riding his treasured BSA Bantam 175cc, which can reach speeds up to almost 80 mph (130km/h), Les incredibly managed to finish in fourth place.
Olivia, who was competing for her first time and rode one of Les’s beloved BSA Bantams, placed 21st, whilst Rod placed eighth.
Les has been racing motorcycles in New Zealand since his first official race 70 years ago, in 1953.
Tim describes his dad as “very active” and “somewhat of an anomaly” for a person of his age.
Les is still competing and will continue to do so as long as he can swing a leg over his bike. - Tim
He added: "His passion is racing his BSA Bantam classic motorbikes at whatever racing event he can enter.
“He is busy modifying his bike in preparation for the next event and to suit his aging and shrinking frame.
“As Les says: ‘I’m not finished yet, I don’t need to leave.’”
Les is planning to enter more events this year, and he’s also eagerly awaiting the 44th Classic Festival, which is due to be held in February 2024 at the new venue of Manfeild Circuit Chris Amon, in Feilding.
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