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. .