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Robert Holden

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Robert Holden

Born: 1958 - 1996

Inducted into MNZ Hall of Fame: 2017

Born in the UK, Robert Holden emigrated to New Zealand with his family in the early 1970s.

He caught the motorcycle bug from friend Peter Dawson.


The Dawson's were family friends who had also emigrated to New Zealand.  Both Peter and his brother rode bikes.


Robert left school and worked with his Dad before starting work at Wellington Motorcycle Centre in the parts department and soon after started racing.


However any plans for serious racing would have to be put on hold, after a near fatal road accident. Riding his friend's bike around the south coast of Wellington, Robert hit a sheet of plasterboard on a blind corner, and slid under the rear end of a Humber 80 car breaking his legs and puncturing his lungs as a result of slamming into the car's tow bar.  On the way to hospital he actually stopped breathing.  A close call.


After a time recovering, Robert eventually returned to the race track. Then  in the  1977/78 season riding a Suzuki RM125 converted for road racing, he would win his first New Zealand  titles, The NZ Ultra-lightweight 125cc Championship along with the New Zealand Grand Prix and New Zealand 125cc TT and the New Zealand 250cc Hill Climb Championship on an Suzuki 250.


Robert's road racing career that would span the almost the next twenty years had begun.


The era of production racing was an important part of the sport, and Robert soon proved he could adapt to any bike, whether it was the best bike to have or not.  The most successful team of the era was the Suzuki Wellington Motorcycle Centre race team. The star riders were Dave and Neville Hiscock and Robert as the young pretender. Whether a 250cc or 1100cc machine he soon showed that his determination and hard charging style and how versatile he was.


Whether riding a moto cross machine, road race machine, speedway sidecar or doing “skids” on the beach in his car. He excelled. It was not unusual to see  Robert race a multiple number of completely different machines at a single race meeting and win on those machines. National championship wins weren't the only goal, Robert would want to win whether a national race or club day or any thing that involved competition on or off the track.


Robert's best friend Kevin Maxwell recalls “He was the most competitive person I've ever met.  Maybe not the best talent but never wanted to be beaten so determined not just with bikes, just anything. He was happiest when on something with a motor, road racing, motocross, trials, hare scrambles, trail riding, sidecars, saloon cars, midget cars he pretty much turned his hand to anything and was competitive straight away.  Also he just loved having fun and being one of the lads.  We got up to a lot of mischief but it was always fun.”


Throughout the 1980s Robert continued to race in New Zealand winning many victories and various national titles including the The New Zealand Formula One championship twice once in 1983/84 and again in the 1986/87 season, while also embarking on International  campaigns, Australia and Canada were first.


When Robert parted ways with Suzuki, he began racing Ducatis for various sponsors, Australian Bob Brown, New Zealand's Dallas Rankine, Don O'Connor and Grant Vinten among them.


His international racing took him to the Isle of Man where he placed second in the 1994 Super Mono TT and won in the same TT in 1995. He also raced in Ireland, Europe and Japan. He achieved wins in France, The Ulster Grand Prix, The Northwest 200 and raced in the World Endurance Championship for the leading privateer team Phase One for several seasons with some very good top five results.


There are so many memories that riders and fans of the era remember, one that sticks out for many was the actually a crash, riding a Suzuki GSX1135, which was more of a touring bike than racer, Robert crashed entering the sweeper at Manfeild raceway, and proceeded to demolish the “Holden Car” sign on the outside of the corner.  When the dust cleared, there he was already on his feet, but the bike was a bit worse for ware. The crash was caught on film and later the sequence was printed out.  The pictures still hang in Wellington Motorcycles in 2017.


But there is one record that probably will never be beaten, his record at the famous cemetery circuit in Whanganui. A staggering 47 wins, 22 seconds and 22 thirds.


In his final year at the cemetery (1995), the reason why Robert raced showed through. Instead of racing the machine that he would have effortlessly won on and had already raced on the day.  Fitting slick tyres on his dirt bike, he choose to race that instead because “it was more fun”.


Before his death on practice week at the Isle of Man 1996, Robert already was planning to return to New Zealand and race a road race sidecar.


Robert died after crashing at Glen Helen, Isle of Man May 31st 1996. His ashes are spread at his much loved Cemetery Circuit  in Whanganui.



Written for Motorcycling New Zealand Inc ©2017

By Ian Dawson – Fkmedia .