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Old 12-24-2010, 12:05 AM   #1
Deuce3wCpe
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Default Henry Harnish _The 1962 Ford Aurora Champ

I’ve been writing this thread for some time but never seemed to find the time to finish it. It’s a true story, with a little Christmas in it and a HAMB friendly car so I figured now is as good a time as any…….

It’s July of 1962. Outside the streets are full of kids enjoying the summer break….playing stickball, spinning Hula Hoops, and riding their Schwinn bicycles. 15 year old Henry Harnish is hunkered down in the basement of his parent’s Whippany New Jersey home, toiling over a miniature electric racecar and running test laps. He’s already triumphed over scores of other slot car racing competitors, wining the local, district, and then state championships. Now he has set his sights on the big prize….The 1962 Ford Aurora National Championship, the first of its kind ever held. According to Aurora records, over 1 million entries (1,200,000 to be more precise), adults and kids alike, have been registered across America during the 6 months of preliminary competitions. The final race is set to take place in late August in Rockefeller Center, NY and will be televised live nationwide on NBC’s Today Show. The grand prize: A brand spanking new 1962 Ford Thunderbird.




Henry and his dad setting up his first slot car set….Christmas day 1961.

Several of the local newspapers carried the story :

“Henry became interested in model car racing a year ago last Christmas when his parents bought a racing set for him. “I started fooling around with it, bought some more cars and started modifying them” he said.

“Henry has his eye on the top prize in the contest, a new Ford Thunderbird. “If I win, I’ll give it to my dad” Henry says….



In the 8 weeks leading up to the final race, Henry is practicing 6 hrs a day…tuning the tiny electric motors, making chassis adjustments and honing his driving skills.


Harnish (black shirt to the right of tower) waits his turn to race in a qualifier.
Notice "the stare" that would become his trademark. - Rich’s Hobbyland 1962


Henry poses with State Championship Trophy



As word spread of Henry’s success, even the local dignitaries and politicians begin to take notice. Here Denville, NJ police Lt. Donald J. King helps to time Henry’s practice laps….


Narrowed down through local, state, and then regional title races held across the country, the field has been narrowed to just eight - eight racers out of over a million entries... and Henry Harnish of Whippany, NJ is one of them. He can hardly sleep at night.



When the big weekend finally arrived, Henry and his parents piled into the family sedan and headed to New York. The Aurora Corp., doing their best to squeeze every bit of publicity out of it, scheduled it as a two day affair with the semi-finals being held at Toots Shor’s restaurant on August 20th to determine the final four competitors.



Toots Shor’s was a famous watering hole of the day for stars like Jackie Gleason, Frank Sinatra and members of the New York Yankees. Here Henry looks over his racing stable for a final time. Notice how neat and orderly his table is while the others are still scrambling…Henry was well prepared.



The big race was held the following day, Monday August 21 at Rockefeller Center on The Today Show with Jack Lescoulie (filling in for Dave Garaway). The gleaming 1962 Thunderbird, resplendent in its Corinthian White paint and chrome and stainless trim, was on display for all to admire. With the stage lights turned up and cameras rolling, the contestants were introduced. Final instructions and the call to drivers was given by none other than Sterling Moss, the race's honorary Grand Marshall. One can only imagine the nervous excitement each one of these boys must have felt.


Legendary driver Sterling Moss gives some last minute driving tips to the finalists….

The race got off to a rather auspicious start for Henry….an early spin had caused him to fall back and undoubtedly created some anxiety in his cheering section. But the ever calm Harnish with his icy stare and nerves of steel eventually pushed his car to the lead and held it there. Henry later recalled “ I was definitely in the "zone" for this one - I remember early on that I was in second and when the leader eventually spun I passed him and it was just be smooth and keep it on as my competitors were trying too hard to catch up and were crashing.”
When the checkered flag finally dropped and the dust settled, Henry Harnish of Whippany, NJ stood atop the slot car racing world. He was the 1962 Ford Aurora Champ. Abe Shikes , President of the Aurora Corp offered his congratulations and handed young Henry the keys to the T-Bird. Because Henry was only fifteen at the time that he won the car he was too young to drive it.

Off camera, Aurora offered to award him a voucher which could be used to purchase a car at a later date. Henry’s father sized up the situation and quickly interceded… “thanks, but we’ll drive this one home” was his reply.


Ironically, young Henry’s finest hour would also prove to be his final competition. After winning the 1962 Ford – Aurora Grand Nationals the executives of Aurora asked Henry if he would consent to lending them his winning car (which actually was a tan pickup) and maybe a dozen or so of his other race cars. “Their intent was to study my cars that had been tuned for racing with the hopes of possibly coming up with some new ideas to better their product. I agreed and soon gave my best cars to satisfy Aurora’s wishes.”
“A few weeks went by and Aurora informed me that they had somehow lost or misplaced all of my cars. Fortunately I didn’t give them my Galaxie qualifying car and my radical modified and I still have those two cars. They made a token gesture to replace the cars with new ones but in my eyes their handling of the situation was in very poor taste” Henry says today. “To add insult to injury they later informed me that I couldn’t defend my title and could not compete in the 1963 contest for which I definitely had in my mind to compete.” Disillusioned by Aurora’s treatment and apparent snub, Henry lost interest in the hobby. He's quick to point out though “I’m still a huge Ford fan…all I ever buy”
Just as he had promised, Henry gave the car to his father. The car became the family’s daily driver and primary mode of transportation. Henry got to drive the car on special occasions, like to his Senior Prom. “My parents drove it until 1966 and then traded it in on a new Ford and I never saw it again” Henry laments today.


Washing the car in 1964

Senior Prom 1965

Fast forward 40 years and Henry is walking the aisles at the Englishtown automotive swap meet. Out of the corner of his eye he spots a table full of vintage slot cars and decides to strike up a conversation with the vendor, who happened to be a collector of Aurora slot cars and well versed in the company’s history. Henry was astounded to discover that not only were people collecting these old toy cars, but that they were interested in his story and knew who he was. He was invited to attend one of the larger collector shows and soon found himself once again involved in the hobby and even trying his hand (very successfully I might add) at racing again.
I met Henry several years ago when my son got involved in racing slots. He’s as nice a guy as you’ll ever meet. To hear him tell that story of the 1962 championship and what it was like to be there is a real treat and a step back in time to a place where life in general seemed so much simpler and innocent.
So here’s to my pal Henry Harnish, 1962 Ford Aurora Champion.






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Last edited by Deuce3wCpe; 01-20-2011 at 08:21 AM.
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Old 12-24-2010, 12:38 AM   #2
ss34coupe
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Default Re: Henry Harnish _The 1962 Ford Aurora Champ

Very cool story! Aurora put out some great stuff for a couple of decades or so. I have the 34 Ford coupe model kit in the original box that came out in 1963. The artwork on the box is absolutely fantastic. Slotcar racing was big in the 60's and those old sets are still available on the used market and a very affordable hobby.
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Old 12-24-2010, 04:05 AM   #3
Muttley
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Thumbs up Re: Henry Harnish _The 1962 Ford Aurora Champ

Thats a great story.
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Old 12-24-2010, 08:38 AM   #4
tommy
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Default Re: Henry Harnish _The 1962 Ford Aurora Champ

That is a cool story.
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Old 12-24-2010, 08:54 AM   #5
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Default Re: Henry Harnish _The 1962 Ford Aurora Champ

great story ,great times.thanks for sharing.
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Old 12-24-2010, 09:54 AM   #6
ChrisinPhilly
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Default Re: Henry Harnish _The 1962 Ford Aurora Champ

Hey that was a great story! Thinking back, my favorite Christmas present ever was in around 1967 (I was 10) and my Dad (Santa) got Aurora slot cars for me and my brothers. The track was set up in the basement, and yes I still have the Aurora slot car from that day, a 1963 Riviera ( with a lot of decals that I put on it).
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Old 12-24-2010, 01:20 PM   #7
B.A.KING
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Default Re: Henry Harnish _The 1962 Ford Aurora Champ

would those be the early vibrater cars??? great story. thanks for sharing
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Old 01-01-2011, 01:27 PM   #8
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Default Re: Henry Harnish _The 1962 Ford Aurora Champ

Too bad he couldn't have competed in '63 and came home with a '63 T-bird Sports Roadster that was Corinthian White with Pearl Beige leather interior instead of a plain-Jane hardtop! I'm in the process of updating my T-bird databases (I collect serial numbers and data plate information on T-birds, living and dead, to try and help people determine build dates, colors and accessoreis used as well as figure out production history) and ran across the story of the '63 Model Motoring winner. Long story short is that the Roadster, which happens to be an early production '63 but not given away until about a year later, survives to this day. The winner of the '63 race, Ronald Colerick of Rapid City, SD, had his car delivered to Rapid City after he won. and sold it a long time ago. A collector of Aurora slot cars in Monroe, CT found out it was still around and bought it. He told his story in 2002 on the Thunderbird Registry, entry #27
"Bob Beers says: This Thunderbird was brought to my attention by the previous owner, Mark Bachman. I tried for five years to buy it from Mark and October of 2008, I took possession. The car was first prize in a Ford Motor Company and Aurora HO slot car company co-sponsored race on national television on the Johnny Carson Show. I am an avid Aurora HO slot car collector and knew of the car and it's history thru the boy who won it, Ron Colerick. I own Ron's trophies and now the car too. I have documentation authenticating the car and the race."

Either way, Deuce, I'd LOVE to get the VIN and other info from Hardick's '62 (color/material of interior (I suspect black leather), as well as accessories) - there could be a slim possibility it could be still around. I suspect that since he won it on August 21 '62 that the car was probably build a few wees to a month before, i.e. late July-early August '62, making it a late '62 T-bird, but after looking over the '63 winner's invoice it could have been built anytime during '62 production. Needless to say right now I have a place-holder for it in my '62 list right now.

As an aside, my brother and I got a Model Motoring set for Christmas 1967 - I think my dad enjoyed it more than we did, but it was a PITA for a little kid to use those steel alingment dowels and plastic locking pins then push the pieces together! BEST. CHRISTMAS. EVER! We had it set up along with my model railroad until I graduated from high school in 1979. My brother now has it sitting in storage and I lust after the thing all the time. Just wish I had a few early '60s cars like the T-birds for it.

Alan H. Tast AIA
Technical Editor/Past President, Vintage Thunderbird Club Int'l.
Author, "Thunderbird 1955-1966" & "Thunderbird 50 Years"
Collecting T-bird info for all years/models

Last edited by Yutan Flash; 01-01-2011 at 02:02 PM. Reason: Add'l Info
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Old 01-01-2011, 09:21 PM   #9
Deuce3wCpe
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Default Re: Henry Harnish _The 1962 Ford Aurora Champ

Alan, unfortunately I don't think Henry has the vin for the car , but I'm sure he could provide you with every detail/option it was outfitted with...he remembers the car vividly and would LOVE to find its whereabouts. I will relay your offer to help trying track it down....





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Old 01-20-2011, 08:57 AM   #10
Deuces
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Default Re: Henry Harnish _The 1962 Ford Aurora Champ

Great story guys!! Wish Ford would get the kids involved today in slot car racing.... I know, it ain't gonna happen....
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Old 01-20-2011, 11:39 AM   #11
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Default Re: Henry Harnish _The 1962 Ford Aurora Champ

Great story, thanks for taking the time to share it.
I wish I had all of my old cars and track still!
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Old 03-07-2011, 11:37 AM   #12
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Default Re: Henry Harnish _The 1962 Ford Aurora Champ

Alan,

Gerhard Christensen informed me of an e-mail that you sent that had some info about me. As the former 1962 Ford-Aurora National Champion, I am actively looking to see if the car I won still lives. Please respond to this, and I will give you all the info that I know of.

Thanks,
Henry Harnish
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Old 03-07-2011, 03:00 PM   #13
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Default Re: Henry Harnish _The 1962 Ford Aurora Champ

SS34coupe,
I know the Aurora 1934 Ford coupe very well as I was the lead modelmaker of the original protype of this car. I worked for HMS associates at the time and we hand made all the new Aurora kits. I was recently able to buy an unassembled kit that allowed you to build it in stock form as well as a rod named "Scream Puff"
The box artwork is wonderful showing the stocker on the gas station lift and the Hot Rod out in front. HMS also had us building and testing the MM chassis for the best pin and pickup designs. Our shop had a track, wall mounted about 7 feet off the floor so that we were able to run our new designs all day long to debug problems. Ahh! to be so young and foolish!
Phil Herman
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