The Garth Hogan Story
Book review by Sandy Myhre
There are several elements to this entertaining book written by Tim Hanna.
First, it’s a story of speed, as the title suggests. But speed and the apparent need for it is not the main thrust throughout much of this book, it’s getting there that creates the fascination.
For those who think going fast down a straight stretch of concrete to the end to attain a record is just a matter of having an engine and putting your foot down, it’s a salutary lesson in perseverance.
Garth Hogan grew up with motor racing. His father, Ron, was heavily immersed in the sport, particularly with speedway, so racing was in his genes. And yet Ron was a very closed verbal shop, he simply didn’t chatter very much to his son about what he knew, how to work things out, what tweaks to make to make things go quicker. Indeed, he almost made it harder for Garth by design. On the rare occasions when he did say something it was mostly as critic but the annoying thing was, he was always right!
As this biography makes clear, the younger Hogan had to figure things out for himself. He’s still not sure if that was a good thing but if corporate and financial success is the measurement then it surely was – despite the father-son relationship and personality challenges. There’s quite possibly a lesson in there.
This is just one part to the tale. We discover Garth’s immense success as a businessman, wheeling and dealing in car parts and paint stuff (not a technical description by any means) while stretching his own limits and that of a friendly banker or two in order to achieve what he did. He got stuck in because it is apparent he likes a decent challenge and success came as a bonus, it wasn’t the sole criterion for being in business. There’s a lesson in there, too.
In terms of business success the boy from Pt Chevalier in Auckland is remarkably under the corporate radar. He’s not the sort to shout about his own efforts and that’s possibly why he doesn’t get mentioned much in business media. There are many in the corporate world who profess modesty (and many have a great deal to be modest about) while making sure their name is in lights. That’s not the Hogan way but prosperous he certainly is and that needs to be understood in light of what else he achieved.
Garth would have attained a few records here and there in drag racing because it’s in his competitive nature but he had the financial wherewithal to stretch that ambition as well. He became the first New Zealander to drive at more than 200 miles per hour and he freely acknowledges the team effort required to achieve that, both in terms of his business and those around him in racing.
You’d think that was enough for one person but the third part of this absorbing journey sees Garth literally aiming sky high. He becomes an aerobatic pilot of classic war birds and was part of the display team headed by Air Marshall Sir Kenneth Hayr, KCB, KBE, AFC & Bar who served as Chief Strike Command and Chief of Defence Staff Royal Air Force. The fact Sir Ken asked Garth into the display team says as much about the vastly experienced airman used to leading others as it does about Garth.
But Garth’s nature means he wasn’t content to be ‘just’ a pilot, he built up a business restoring the old war birds and buying and selling a few into the bargain, and helping Sir Tim Wallis with Warbirds Over Wanaka and a couple of other air displays as well. And helping to start a war birds museum in Wanaka.
Throughout this meaty tome there are almost shy references to a few other things Garth has achieved over the past 50 years or so and which most of us will never get near to attaining. What’s laudable (from the point of view of a woman) is that he encouraged his wife Andrea into helping him on the track, in business and in the air to the extent she, too, became a pilot. Not every Kiwi male would do that, believe me.
There are parts of Go Fast Or Go Home that are very technical and parts that are a catalogue of events. But if they weren’t written down here, they very likely would be forgotten.
The thrust of this book should be compulsory reading in schools because it shows that goals and tenacity go together towards achievement. It’s a ‘how to’ book without pious platitudes and annoying American phraseology. It leads by example and rightly places a remarkably high-achieving Kiwi on the front page where, despite his own protests, he really does belong.