“I feel like a cat with two tails!”
These were the words of Australian karting icon John Pizarro of Parkes after he was told he was named on the Queen’s Birthday Honours List to receive an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia), as part of this year’s Australia Day celebrations.
He is one of two people from Parkes to receive the prestigious medal and title that follows this year, and among the 755 OAM recipients around Australia, of which 470 are men.
Mr Pizarro has been recognised for his service to motor sports, in particular karting, having raced on tracks around the world between 1964-1995.
“I’m amazed...It was the last thing on my mind,” the 73-year-old said.
“My wife Marilyn told me ‘there’s an email here you should probably read’ – not that I think I’m deserving, there’s a lot of people who have done a lot more than me.
“I’m proud and humble.”
Mr Pizarro competed at six World Karting Championships in the 100CC class between 1975-1980, was an Australian champion 15 times and won the Asian Pacific Championship in 1984.
He was a track Inspector for both Karting Australia and Karting NSW during the 1970s and 80s, the NSW delegate on the National Karting Council in the 1980s and Karting Australia’s Hall of Champions Inductee in 2011.
Mr Pizarro has been a life member of Karting NSW since 2011 and was the Orange Kart Club Delegate in the 1970s and 80s.
Among his many awards and recognition includes being a 2017 inductee in the Australian Motor Sport Hall of Fame and the Australian Sports Medal in 2000.
In 1973 and again in 1978, he was Parkes Sportsman of the Year and in 1979 he was the Central West Sportsman of the Year.
“1973 was a significant year for me in a number of ways – I not only won the inaugural Parkes Sportman of the Year but it was the first time I had raced overseas,” Mr Pizarro said.
“None of this would have been possible without the support of my wife of 55 years, Marilyn or my four girls Kristine, Lisa, Annette and Narelle.”
Mr Pizarro started racing karts in 1964, aged 19, starting off with a home made kart fitted with a small motorcycle engine.
He originally had to travel to Orange as there was no karting in Parkes.
“I was interested in motorbikes but I heard the injuries were pretty high,” he said.
“So I turned my interest to karts, I was married at the time.”
Once Mr Pizarro had a taste of racing – and winning – there was nothing stopping him.
“I raced to win and I liked winning – that’s why I stayed with karting,” he smiled.
And he continued to compete until he was 42.
“Then I figured I needed a hobby so I constructed a twin engine kart,” he said.
And he just so happened to race that twin engine at the Australian Championships in 1995 at 50 years old, setting a track record at Dubbo.
Mr Pizarro said among his highlights was winning the International Championships in Orange in the late 70s and early 80s, taking the race by a whole lap.
He had done the same thing only one other time in New Zealand in 1977.
He competed in the International Team Race in Japan with Gold Coast drivers Graham Powles and Howard Heath on October 1, 1978 – his first time racing in Japan and winning it.
“I raced in Japan three times and set a track record on the last occasion,” Mr Pizarro said.
He’s raced five times in Hong Kong and New Zealand, twice in France, and in America, Philippines, Italy, Germany, Portugal and Belgium.
Other highlights include most certainly his 2017 Australian Motor Sport Hall of Fame induction and the Asian Pacific Championships in Cockburn, Western Australia in 1984.
“Two years ago I had the privilege of being inducted into the Confederation of Australian Motor Sport Hall of Fame, alongside the likes of the late Sir Jack Brabham, three-times world Formula One champion and Mick Doohen, five-times world motorcycle champion,” Mr Pizarro said.
“This surely is recognition that karting is a mainstream motor sport.”
From the late 1980s and into the 90s, Mr Pizarro turned his attention to training young drivers on tracks around the Central West.
“I had a near-dangerous encounter so I started training drivers to improve the safety for myself and others, it was common sense,” he said.
Mr Pizarro is also a member of the Parkes Rotary Club, having been involved since 1971, was a former president for two terms and was named a Paul Harris Fellow in 2005.
He also received the Outstanding Service to Rotary Award in 2008 and 2009.
The Australia Day 2019 Honours List is the largest in the history of the Order of Australia, recognising 1127 outstanding and inspirational Australians.
Since 2014, His Excellency General the Honourable Sir Peter Cosgrove AK MC has appointed or awarded almost 7000 Australians in the General Division of the Order of Australia.