After more than two decades in retirement, 77-year old motorbiking veteran, Grant Thomas is making a competitive comeback in the Masters class at this year’s South Australian Reliability Trials.
He will be riding alongside his sons Rob, 51, and Chris, 34, beginning with the Phillip Haydon Trial, which was held at Tarlee last Saturday.
Grant started racing as a teenager in the 1960s, experiencing much success at Rowley Park Speedway, including a win over five time World Champion, Ivan Mauger.
“The first year I rode I paid for my bike in prize money,” Grant said. “And two years running I finished as the top B-Grade rider.”
His competitive career went on to encompass a range of disciplines, including a fifth place finish in the Australian Long Track Championship in the early 1970s.
“Dad did speedway, road racing, observed trials, short circuit, long track, enduros, motocross, side cars, solos—dad’s done it all. And then he got his kids involved,” said Rob, who has been racing motorbikes under his father’s skilled instruction since the age of 10.
Saturday’s Trial however, marked the first time the three members of the Thomas family have competed in the same event together.
The Reliability Trials are a series of challenging circuits in which competitors must ride for over six hours at a time, often through the dark, carrying all their supplies, and any spares and tools they may need for repairs along the way.
Each Trial is made up of competitive sections within private property, and transport sections on public roads, and as the name suggests, they are a test of endurance and reliability for both bike and rider.
The season climaxes with the 24 Hour Trial in Eudunda in July, where just finishing the race is a respectable achievement.
“The sport was borne out of a time many years ago when bikes weren’t so reliable,” Rob said. “It’s all timed to the second, and we’re stupid enough to do it!”
To qualify for the Masters class of the Trials, a competitor must be aged over 55, a milestone Grant passed more than twenty years ago.
“I’d anticipate dad will be the oldest person there by a fair way,” Rob said.
“I don’t know of any other old fellas that ride, everyone else is a lot smarter!”
Involvement in motorsport is very much a shared love for the Thomas family. Rob’s daughter, 15-year old Maddie Thomas, competes nationally in motocross on quad bikes, and even Grant’s wife Mary, took out a win in a ladies’ race many years ago.
Those family members who aren’t on the track are out supporting the team from the sidelines and enjoying the camaraderie of the sport.
Grant, who has never had a serious injury from a motorbike accident, credits the longevity of his career to common sense, avoiding show-off tactics and riding within his limits. And there’s no plans to give up the bikes any time soon.
“I’m still young, you see. Everything’s functional, there’s no pains and I can still see, I can hear and talk,” he said.
“And I’m not a really good spectator. I’m sick of spectating.”