I first met Henny through Cycle News East, where I was associate editor from 1979-1982. Henny was our man on the scene in Europe; he lived and worked for United Press International in Brussels and on weekends covered anything that raced with a motor on two wheels.
Henny Ray Abrams was my portal to the world. My first trips to Europe consisted of crashing in his flat in Brussels, then taking trains to other parts of the Europe. Truth be known, I was scared at first, overwhelmed by the cultural shift. But I never feared when traveling with Henny Ray. He had a sense of the world that was not to be equaled. This guy was the ultimate global gypsy. It was not unusual for Henny to fly from New York to London, have dinner with friends, and fly back. Frequent flyer miles will do that to a guy.
When it comes to journalists, Henny was special - he shot the gap between mainstream media and the motorcycle press. This guy was the real deal, a top photographer for UPI and later on the Associated Press. Foreign dignitaries, 9/11, top sport events, Henny shot it all. On one occasion he took me to the U.S. Open Tennis Championships in New York and had me running rolls of film from shooting locations to the dark room. I took a wrong turn, went into the wrong room, and found Pete Sampras sitting on a bench meditating before his match. That was Henny's world and I was only allowed in as a visitor.
And, the many years I spent with Henny at Daytona were legendary. That was in the black and white film era. We'd turn our room at the Hampton Inn into a dark room. Everyone shooting film for Cycle News would deliver their day's shoot and Henny would soup the negs and hang the strips from the shower rod in the bathroom. Then, we'd lay on the beds and look at the dried negs with photo loupes late into the night. How much better can life get than that?
It was Henny's understanding of the mainstream media that made him highly passionate about motorcycle coverage. His relentless worth ethic and firm beliefs in what constituted quality news coverage was consistent and not negotiable. He'd debate and argue for his values, both as a journalist and advocate for riders and the sport of motorcycle racing. We had our share of arguments when I served as director for AMA Pro Racing in the mid 1990's. But whatever the topic, Henny's perspective was highly regarded; his Cycle News column "Chicanery" became the benchmark for editorial/opinion writing within the industry.
Henny was a special type of guy. He enjoyed long visits on the phone, or in person when our paths would cross. During recent years, he became an accomplished chef and enjoyed hosting dinner parties at his apartment. His eclectic tastes and broad base of knowledge allowed him to maintain diverse friendships throughout the world. He was free, his spirit roamed free, and he did life his way.
I spoke with Henny a few days before his death. The hot topic had been diet and exercise. He had been working hard during the off season to shed a few pounds and we'd hash out foods to eat and calories ingested. He was going to be svelte and ready for Daytona. Past that, five Moto GPs were already booked for his 2013 schedule. It was to be a year as many before, with his life in New York shared with his life in all parts of the world.
I'm rambling on, but I'm sad and trying to process the loss of someone who cared enough to stay in touch over these many years. He's a good friend who won't be replaced in this lifetime.
You were a good one, Henny Ray.