I scoured the internet for information, joined message boards and began having telephone conversations at odd hours with racers in England, New Zealand and Australia. Had I any inkling of what I was in for at this point, my heart may have quailed and my resolve would have dissolved. But the sheer, blissful ignorance of youth was still upon me, awash in endorphin laced enthusiasm, the hooks of addiction being gently set, but I still a virgin to the drug. Like Benjamin Braddock climbing the stairs to Mrs. Robinson's bedroom, I could only imagine the ecstasy that lay in store for me. Agony? What agony?
The path to Phil's door got well worn under my feet as I paid for that Suzuki bit by bit. Phil and I became fast friends, and I believe, at first anyways, that his wife Lucy was glad to have me there getting him out from under her feet. He told more of his fantastic stories, which I readily devoured, along with Lucy's home cooking. People asked why I wanted to spend my time with that crazy old bastard, to which I answered, I can't believe you don't want to.
This was a man that had lived, seen and done things that I never would, in possession of an earthy wisdom that came from experience. He was living history tempered by hardship, finely honed wit that was never acerbic, slow to anger, quick to laugh, careful and methodical in his work, always a free thinker in search of a project. Phil had a way of looking at things that was different than everyone else and it came through in the motorcycles he built and the brilliant solutions he came up with. Once, when funds were tight (aren't they always?), he made me a rear bike stand out of a dining room chair, which I have to this day. People called him crazy and a tinkerer, but it was much more. Huxley said, "The secret of genius is to carry the spirit of the child into old age, which means never losing your enthusiasm." That was Phil, always curious, seeking answers to questions others couldn't be bothered to ask, never bound by ideas of what should be done, but only by that which could be. He was of the all but extinct ilk of Renaissance men, not just a thinker and a but doer as well.
It is safe to say that without his knowledge and guidance I probably never would have rolled two wheels on to a racetrack, and if I had, in all likelihood I would now be dead. My balls were much bigger than my brains during those heady days, and my mouth much faster. Phil was a grounding force, the voice of reason that understood the insanity of racing and how to manage its highs and lows. His example made me a better racer and a better man. The debt of gratitude I owe him for helping me forth on one of the greatest journeys of my life cannot be overstated. Phil, it has been a true honor to know you. Thanks.
To read more stories about my early days racing, please visit Murray Bernard's site:
Disclaimer: These stories were written by yours truly many years ago. They are neither polished, edited, nor politically correct. I make no apology for them.