Ari Henning: 1968 Honda CB350 - Legacy Racing

A Moving Tribute To My Father's Racing Career

By Ari Henning, Photography by Stuart Smith, Paul Buck

I got the CB350 assembled and started for the first time on a Thursday evening, just 12 hours before practice was scheduled to start for the 14th annual Corsa Moto Classica at Willow Springs, round three of the AHRMA Historic Cup Roadrace Series. Hearing the old twin come to life was exhilarating. This engine is the real deal, complete with one of the last cylinder heads dad ported before his accident. The inscription "01/99 T. Henning" in Dremel-tool script verifies its authenticity.

Practice was overwhelming. Simultaneously trying to adapt to an unfamiliar bike and a new track, I went from pure glee to abject horror on the first lap. I remember dad riding with a casual smoothness; how had he coped with the debilitating vibration, flexing chassis and feeble brakes? Thankfully my nerves deadened and I adjusted to the machine.

It was unspeakably satisfying to know I was riding dad's bike with the same focus I saw in his eyes in his old racing photos. The fact that this race weekend coincided with the 10-year anniversary of his crash made it all the more meaningful.

On the track I was totally isolated inside my head, completely absorbed in the experience and unaware of the other riders around me. In the pits, I was anything but secluded. Word had spread that I was Todd Henning's son, and as a result a steady stream of visitors stopped by, eager to express their respect and admiration for my father and offer their encouragement and support. It was humbling to know that dad's role in the racing community had been so important. As a kid I hadn't picked up on that.

Rolling to the starting line for the Sportsman 350 race was surreal. I was finally going to do this! The grid was pretty small, about 15 bikes, so for the first time I let myself contemplate a respectable finish; maybe even get a trophy for third place. When the flag dropped I launched forward, shooting ahead of the pack. "Oh crap," I thought, "not the holeshot!" I expected the rightful leaders to come blazing by at any moment, but I kept my head down and rode the wheels of the little Honda, sliding the front and then the back as I barreled through the turns. Pulling onto the front straight, the suspense was too much and I had to look back. The pack was just coming out of the last corner, 100 yards behind me! When the checkered flag fell, I'd won by a mile. The ensuing endorphin rush was so strong that I nearly ran off the track on the cool-down lap. I was beside myself with joy!

My second race of the day was Sportsman 500, in which I'd be going up against larger-displacement bikes, including the built CB450 of my friend and former race winner Rick Carmody. I'd gotten lucky in the 350cc race, but there was no doubt in my mind that Ricky was going to kick my ass in this one!

The starter released us and we barreled into Turn 1, Ricky out in front. But the power of the 350 was impressive, and I quickly passed the few riders between us and fell into Ricky's draft. Approaching the end of the front straight, I used his vacuum to slingshot past going into Turn 1. He got around me at the exit of 2, and I repassed him driving out of 6. I couldn't believe it; I actually had a shot at a second win! We fought hard for three more laps, swapping the lead a half-dozen more times before a hasty pass put Ricky wide at the top of Turn 4, out in the marbles. In my peripheral vision I saw his bike pitch sideways and then skid off into the dirt. Instead of being relieved, I was disappointed by his get-off; we were having a great race! We'd gapped the pack by half a lap, so I dialed back the revs on the 40-year-old mill and cruised to my second win of the day.

With two more wins on Sunday, the weekend was emotionally exhausting, and I hoped to accept my trophies and slip away unnoticed for some quiet contemplation. But Cindy Cowell, AHRMA's race director, had other ideas. Her speech was intimate and concise, evoking a wave of applause from the crowd. As the knot grew in my throat, I was glad my eyes were hidden behind sunglasses.

Racing my father's Honda CB350 was the most moving and gratifying experience of my life. And while it felt phenomenal to win, it felt even better to call dad and tell him I'd continued his legacy.

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Hi Ari,

This is a great read, I appreciate you sharing this about you and your Dad. I was saddened to hear of his accident. I can't tell you how many times I think of him. I live near a road marked 454 and whenever I see it I think "Todd Henning" yellow and black leathers. It was a pleasure to see him race.
Once again thank you for sharing.

Dudes of Hazzard pit crew
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