Like father, like son: Fourteen years after they
last went racing in Europe, the roles are
Funny how life is sometimes. Its trajectory can form large circles through time and space, intersecting with itself.
Young Master Henning and I had traveled many miles, only to be ground to a standstill. We both peered at the hot, oily shrapnel littering the fairing of the Honda CB350 roadracer graciously offered to him by Frenchman Lionel Regnat. Hadn’t I told him in my last e-mail, “Don’t blow the f*cker up!” Was it a jinx? A premonition? A young lion failing to heed the advice of an old retired racer? But Ari Henning isn’t your average young lion. I’d learned that 14 years ago...
In 1995 I was struggling with a Honda-based vintage roadracing program of my own and had met Ari’s father, Todd Henning. One of the most successful vintage racers ever, Todd has 50-plus wins at Daytona alone. We quickly became good friends. Both rivalry and camaraderie formed around making hapless Honda CB350s and 450s into racebikes. In ’96 we took a break from those frantic antics when Todd invited me to go with him to Belgium. It was a last-minute adventure organized around the MZ Skorpion Cup Series of the time. Todd announced that his 10-year-old son, Ariel, would be joining us. Though I love mine, I’m not a kid person, so I didn’t see the point in having a pre- teen to watch after as part of this trans-atlantic sortie.
But Ari was different. He contributed a lot to that first trip to Belgium, complaining only once—of hunger. He was clearly a member of his dad’s support team, and there was that special father/son bond. But Ari also took keen pleasure in observing everything around him. Todd didn’t win, but the trip was a success nonetheless. My last memory of Ari was him gazing up through the vertical, luminous space of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris just before he and his dad headed home. A few years later, Todd suffered a horrifying crash at Sears Point that ended his racing career and very nearly his life. Everything changed, including my relationship with the Henning family. I saw Todd here and there, but not Ari.
So I was more than a little surprised when, 14 years later, Ari extended me a similar invitation—to join him at a roadrace in Belgium. I live in France nowadays, and picking Ari up at Charles De Gaulle Airport in Paris, I discovered that the boy was now a young man. Just as enthusiastic, just as observant, handsome, fit—I even liked the dreadlocks. We started off with a visit to another cathedral—a small one in Senlis, 20 clicks north of the airport—where Ari spent considerable time analyzing the details.
Todd on the MZ at Zolder in 1996.
The next day we were analyzing the details of a fragged racebike. I suggested some type of corrective surgery. Ari was skeptical, but game. He wandered off and returned to our pit with a sympathetic Dutchman’s spare 350 engine in a plastic bin. This time it was Todd’s turn to offer support. He was there with us and offered the occasional, “Well, son…” It was all kind of amazing. Todd isn’t the same person he was in ’96, but in some important ways, he’s still very much himself. It was a pleasure to be with him and his son again. Todd and I talked and laughed, and sat quietly at times.
Borrowed motor installed, Ari returned to the track for Sunday’s race. He had a good go at it, snagging fifth place 100 yards from the finish line. It was another good trip.
Despite all the difficulties and weariness, Ari complained only once—because he was hungry. “All they eat for breakfast here are croissants,” he observed. “That’s just not enough!”
Ya’ gotta love them young lions!