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|RARE SPARES LEGEND PROFILE
Chic Henry was born Anthony Robert Henry on December 15, 1946 in
Chic’s father Robert Henry had returned from serving in World War 2 in
Chic had come from excellent stock as his great, great grandfather started out
as Clerk of Works at the quarry that supplied stone for most of Hobart’s
buildings. He then moved on to become
scoundrels”. “I never got into trouble, no not me. I was never to blame for anything that went on there”, Chic tells me with a glint in his eye. “Glen Dhu was a particularly strict school”, Chic remembered.
“You could say that I kept on getting the cane quite a lot in those early
years.” From there the young tear away took that rebellious nature on to
These frustrated teachers would constantly punish the young Henry boy until his Mum complained to the Department of Education about his constant discipline. “One of the teachers there Eric Flude thought he could see some good in me”, Chic revealed. “He was my English teacher and in the end we became really good friends and I stayed in touch with him for a long time after I finished school.”
Chic’s dad had been a departmental man all his life, receiving a gold watch after forty years service and would call his young son in to work in the post office during the busy times, such as the lead up to Christmas. Given his lineage it was therefore expected by his parents that he too would follow in the footsteps of his forefathers and take up a position in the PMG, but that wasn’t what Chic had in mind.
While in his final year at Queechy High School, one of his mates took up an apprenticeship with the Army and Chic thought to himself “that would be a sensational job to have”. Unfortunately for the lad from Launceston his
application came in too late and he ended up repeating his last year of high school again. “Queechy was a great school to actually receive ‘trade’ experience and that’s where I first learned about blacksmithing.”
That repeat year had an unexpected bonus as the high school became co-ed so the young Chic thought it was great to go to school with the girls. In 1964 Chic again applied to the Army for an apprenticeship and ended up being accepted as an apprentice in the blacksmithing trade. “My dad was none too happy”, Chic vividly recalled.
“It wasn’t the fact that I was not going into the post office but that I was to become a blacksmith, which my dad thought, would be a dying trade. There is a lot more to being a blacksmith than people think. It is not all about shoeing horses as this is done by a farrier. As a blacksmith, you learn to massage metal and make up all manner of things and you also gain a great understanding of metallurgy”, he went on to say.
It was also around the time that Chic started his apprenticeship that he started becoming aware of cars. “I didn’t realise that I had an interest in cars when I was young —
It was only in later years when I started to analyse my life that I figured it
out’ he freely admitted. “I remember when I was young going down to Baskerville
“My Dad was mad about cars and motor racing when I was young. I remember he had
a ‘36 Chev roadster that you could call a hot rod. The engine died and my dad
and two uncles put in a six cylinder engine from a
“I remember going to Longford (a long closed road circuit in northern
I can also remember seeing Sir Jack Brabham’s Cooper Climax (Brabham won the first international event at the track in 1960) at a local motor dealer before one race. I was more interested in the look and sound of the car rather than the racing itself”, he conceded.
“Another racer I recall is a car called a Tornado. This was a fat cigar shaped open wheeler car and I couldn’t get enough of it going around the track. I also remember seeing Bob Jane’s E Type Jaguar on a trailer after it had died on the track. I came up behind it and saw those massive wheels and thought to myself—this has to be the coolest thing going around.”
“It’s funny when I got to
to buy a Porsche. I don’t know how we were going to pay for it but I just use to dream about that chocolate brown Porsche being for sale. That was in my first year of
my apprenticeship when we were not even allowed to have a car”, he added.
Going back slightly to the start of his apprenticeship and the move to
Despite making a living from this trade, Chic was better at some things than others.
“I remember buying a Morris Messenger van and ended up finishing it like no other. I painted it Company B blue with a brush and that same day it rained and the paint ran and ended with a speckled finish”, he recalled. “My mother made me black satin curtains and I got an inner spring mattress from a friend of mine’s spare double bed — it had surfing decals on it and was a real shaggin’ wagon well before they were ever invented”, he vividly recounted.
A couple of Chic’s mates at the Army camp became well known around Melbourne as they had hotted up cars, especially Dave ‘Grease’ Rodgers in his FC Holden and another dude with a Mk 2 Ford Zephyr. We called the FC our Blue Fastback Limousine.
While these were attractive to him, Chic was keener to go surfing with his mate,
Kevin ‘Rabbit’ Burrows. “I rode a surfboard for the first time in ‘62 and was a
good swimmer and diver, but had more fun doing ‘maddies’ off the diving board.”
One time he and his mates were thrown out of the
Once Chic had crossed the pond he and Rabbit were regular surfers at
remember nearly drowning once at
In all, Chic spent three life changing years in the southern capital and in
1967, moved to
“While I was there I use to work with lumps of steel that were the size of a Mazda 121”, he stated. “At the start of my fifth year I then did my corps training which I had to do to become an Engineer. When I look back I realise that I had the leadership qualities that I think are so important now. My teacher in high school, Eric Elude could see those leadership qualities behind the facade of a naughty boy and though I was as stupid as I was at the time, he had identified such
qualities in certain kids.”
“My Army training taught me how to crawl down tunnels and delouse mines, jack hammers, etc and how to build bridges. You also had to know how to use pneumatic tools and I got to work with explosives. In fact I had a lot of interest in explosives — not that I used it in later life, but I found it fascinating:’
“My first real posting was to 6 Engineers Stores Regiment in Penrith. When I was
Chic had amassed a number of skills in his time in the Army and was considered
for a very risky job at one stage in his time in
— it turned out I was the only one in the area that had that suite of skills as I had clearance diver experience with the Navy. In the end it didn’t work out and just as well as might not very well be here anymore”, he explained.
“It’s funny but the junior officers would come down to our workshop compound to
find out what was going on. We had our finger on the pulse and they would learn
more that way than through official channels. I didn’t have the attitude to be a
senior NCO or an officer and as a result, would end up having to clean the pots
and pans in the mess hall. One day in January 1973 I’d finally done my time and
resigned from the Army and moved down to
“I had no trouble getting a job as a welder and this saw me work in places like Thiess Brothers, Leighton Contractors as well as a couple of
smaller places. I had a job for a while at a
large workshop that made up massive signs
and billboards that were used on the side of highways. If a special request was received for something unusual to be created then it usually came to me as I had the skills from my blacksmithing days. I had the ability to massage all sorts of metals including brass, copper, steel and aluminium and turn it into whatever the customer wanted.”
Chic still enjoyed his water sports, but while in Townsville the Barrier Reef
meant that he couldn’t surf too often. This saw him focus more on water polo,
which he had played for years. While playing in Townsville, Chic was spotted and
asked to try out for the
As part of Chic’s fitness regime, he could be found in the gymnasium in
Townsville. It was here he suffered a bad spill on a trampoline that severely
damaged the big Tasmanian. As Chic recalled. “I’d come off it awkwardly and
ended up doing some serious damage to my back. So bad was the injury that I
eventually had to have an operation in
“I had no idea that I could do that sort of work but, as it turned out I became very good at it. I had compassion and really enjoyed helping people but the only thing I could not come at was the religious aspect of it. While I believe in Christian values the thing I noticed day after day was the ‘hypocrisy’ of religion — I hated seeing the falseness of some people.”
“You might ask how could I use such skills and apply them to welding. What I did absorb really helped me in later life when I found myself needing to be a much more understanding and compassionate person. I often tell people that I learned much more about public relations from being a funeral director than anything else that I’ve ever done. People are pretty much out of sorts on that day, so even if you just help them park their car, they seem to think that Funeral Directors are terrific people”, he explained.
It wasn’t long before Chic’s talent in the funeral business was spotted and a
job offer at Ballina was in the offing. Chic tells me. “My While still in the
army, Chic would drive down from Townsville to Ballina at Christmas time.
Passing through Surfer’s, they would see signs for the Ampol New Year Drag
Racing Series. In 1969, they started attending the races. “When I was living in
Townsville I saw the local track,
money on there. I had become good friends with the Brosnans who were pretty tough at national level in Super Stock. The Brosnan brothers and I became good mates”, he conceded. “It was also around this time that I met John “Stomper” Winterburn through an Army mate of mine, Tommy Fulton who was a ‘Nasho’. Tommy drove a fifties Ford Crown Victoria and I’d never ever seen anything like that before and Stomper drove a HD Holden covered with graphics. It was the maddest thing I’d ever seen. So here I was with a mate who had a Crown Victoria with red oxide primed front guards and this other guy with his wild hair do and a graphics painted HD Holden — that really affected me at the time.”
“While I was in
first wife, Doreen was from Ballina and we use to go there often to see her folks. Plus, the surf around there is great. I ended up meeting this bloke at the funeral of Doreen’s father and he made me a job offer with a promising future there. In the end though, I really thought that I couldn’t be a Funeral Director for the rest of my life”, he conceded.
It wasn’t long afterward that Chic separated from Doreen in 1984.
“The day I left to go to Townsville the drags were on at Castlereagh and I found
myself following a trailer with this Anglia that had huge rear wheels shod with
massive slicks and that got my attention”, he tells me and then — “When I was up
past Rockhampton, near Sarina I was travelling along the Crystal Highway (so
known for the large amount of shattered windscreen glass on the side of the
road). As I travelled north I could see this car glowing in the distance. It
didn’t take me long to catch up (we use to travel everywhere back then at 100
mph — as you could get away with it) and I saw on the trailer, the Plymouth
Ramcharger of Col Neaton. This car was painted in all sorts of metalflake
colours and I remember that the car was literally glowing and that really
grabbed me. I pulled alongside it and it had all these wild colours and the
shape of the roof and everything. I later saw the car at
“There was another car up there too — the ‘Crazy Critter’ — it was an S Series Valiant with a blown Hemi in it and that was the maddest thing I’d ever seen — I didn’t care about anything else — I just thought that it was a cool car. This was the early days of the Wild Bunch style cars. I also remembered the days of Bill Shrewsberry’s wheel-standing LA Dart. He’d turn the fuel off while coming back down the track sitting on the bonnet steering and waving. After one particular run he turned it off late and overshot the burnout area and people ended up diving out of the way as he entered the pits”, he stated with a huge chuckle.
“It’s funny how all of these particular influences, not so much towards drag racing, but just wild cars was really starting to get me hooked. I had the EH and then got the VE Valiant which was a pretty cool car and it was only a year old when I bought it. After that I bought my first V8 — a VH Valiant Regal with the 318 in it.”
“After that I bought a 318 from racer Cliff Kiss, that was in his AP6 Val, not knowing that there were two different types of 318. That one was not able to fit in the engine bay (being a 90 degree engine). I ended selling it to one of ‘Chickenman’s’ crew. That was another car that had a big influence on me. When it appeared at Townsville Rick ‘Chickenman’ Stapleton put a coat of resin on the Triumph Herald body and then added feathers that came off as he raced down the track”, he explained.
“Now ‘Chickenman’s’ Triumph had a 409 Chev engine and I wouldn’t mind betting
that it was one of the ones that made its way into my ‘62 Chev Impala Super
Sports, which I bought some years later. When the ‘74
“In 1978 I bought the best car ever — a 1962 Chevrolet Impala Super Sports to which I fitted a 427 big block and a 727 Torqueflight out of one of Bill Shrewsberry’s wheelstanders. On reflection I guess it was pretty naughty, but I use to love to get the car to roar away from the lights and let it get sideways down the road. I loved to drive it fast and I can remember going up to Maryborough one time and looking down at the speedo — I was doing 146 mph and it was full of stuff — it weighed 4010 pounds and was like getting a battleship onto the plane. I used to love to take guys for a run and see their utter disbelief when they got out of the Impala. I had one really high horse-powered engine in it that had enough power to pick up the front wheels when it left hard. For such a heavy car it certainly could perform on cue. I recall taking my long time friend, Mick Atholwood (who had built the engine) and another dude called Wolfman who cried in fear. Man it was fun in those days and don’t tell anyone — it still is”, he revealed with that youthful fire still aglow in his eyes.
“I remember when I was growing up that I use to see this ‘57 Chev that had the little rubber tips on the front bumpers. I think these were standard on the imported versions. Anyway, the first ‘57 I bought had them. I got it from a racer called Jeff ‘The Burner’ Burnett. In fact the engine in it was from the American ‘Too Bad’ funny car that crashed at Surfer’s. I bought it just before the ‘74 floods and when I saw it, the only thing sticking out of the water was the roof turret. Burnett ended up washing it all down and I still agreed to buy it and ended up keeping it for quite a few years. When he built his first funny car I ended up using the ‘57 as a push car. I drilled holes in the front bumper bar (which now, would be looked upon with disdain) so I could mount a bracket for the push bar”, he said.
“So I found myself being caught between drag racing, hot rodding and this new
emerging ‘Street Machine’ scene. This happened quite quickly because by now I am
quite well known by the
“Because I had my ‘57 Chevy, I was accepted by the hot rodder’s. But if I had
driven my Valiant, they wouldn’t have given me the time of day. I remember Ross
“He ran the car with ten inch wide wheels on the back, six or seven inch wide ones on the front with no front bumper — that was real street race style right out of the film American Graffiti. He then came to me and said, ‘Can you tell them to get off my back about the car?’. The promoters wanted to see a well presented car but to his credit Victor stuck to his guns and soon became a hero with the flat black that became the real big ‘Victor Bray Pro Signature’ paint”, Chic continued.
“I can remember one of the highlights from that time was at the Streetnationals
drag race at Surfers. I think the Impala still had a 454 in it at the time. This
day I drove the ‘62 down from
“Now at around the end of my time in
“By the time we got to Narrandera I had worked out what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to drive my tough street car on the street whenever I could. I liked to drag race it from time to time and put it into shows whenever I wanted. I enjoyed hanging out American Graffiti style. I loved to go to John White’s speed shop on a Saturday morning and annoy the buggery out of him while he was trying to do some work. To me that was what a Street Machinery did and I’d still do it today if I could afford the time”, he explained.
“The Nationals ran in
“So I bit the bullet and said I’d become the National Director of the Australian Street Machine Federation. I thought back then that I had a more impartial view than some of the other people. That might have seemed arrogant but history proved that I was right. The problem was that the various states all had their own agendas and couldn’t get along — which unfortunately in some cases is still prevalent today in many walks of life. While I had these visions and the drive to make it happen, I loved more than anything to drive my own tough car on the street.”
“I think it had a 454 in it at that time I ended up staging the Street Machine
Nationals in 1982, 84 & 86. In 1983, I realised that this event had a lot of
potential and could become a lot bigger if I could do it full time. But the
Australian Street Machine Federation couldn’t accept that. After the 1980
Nationals in Narrandera I went to
“I spoke with Street Machine Magazine’s Geoff Paradise and Phil Scott and got their backing and with assistance of companies like Yella Terra I decided to stage the first Summernats in January 1988. While the event was a resounding success in many ways it was a financial disaster and I came out $200,000 in the red (quite a lot of money at the time, partly because I had to build the burnout track). Thanks to the continued support from the sponsors, the entrants, the spectators and the bank manager I turned it around to put it in the black”, he revealed.
These days the event is a three million dollar plus exercise. When you add up all the infrastructure, the hired staff and security, the advertising and promotion budget it isn’t an exercise for the faint hearted. Liaising with local government, Police, Ambulance and all manner of government red tape. Things like road closures, health and safety and insurance considerations are a fact of life for Chic to run the Summernats.
Chic acknowledges that he has the ability to overview a project and stay focused enough to bring it to a successful conclusion. Those leadership skills that his high school teacher saw back then have come now to the fore over the years. This has given him the ability to pick and manage the right people, problem solve on the fly and with a hands on attitude, steer the event through the rough and the smooth. He also says with great sincerity, that his years of success are also the result of great supporting friendships and a family that have stuck by him through the stressful times.
Over the last sixty plus years Chic has been a loving son, a larrikin school student, an able apprentice blacksmith, a learned lance corporal, a hard working husband, a fantastic father, a talented tradesman, an understanding undertaker, an inspiring boss and a promoter’s promoter. He has strived to do the very best job he can do with an amazing range of skills and all the time has kept in touch with the people who helped him create an event that has gone on to be a cultural icon. The fact that Chic is still the same down to earth bloke that I initially met in 1973 is to me the most important thing of all.
There is no doubt that the Summernats has evolved continually throughout the last twenty years and will continue to evolve well into the next twenty. Chic Henry took the best aspects of what started as the Street Machine Nationals and added his own brand of entertainment and events to make that special weekend in January at the Canberra Showgrounds an experience for all that attend.
Information for profile has been sourced from: Jon Van Daal’s, A History of Summernats
For more information on the book go to http://www.bookworks.com.au/
Jon Van Daal, Chic Henry, a short biography, A history of The Summernats (2008)