Barry Sheene is one of the all-time greats of the world motorcycle racing — alongside Geoff Duke, Mike Hailwood, Kenny Roberts, Valentino Rossi, Giacomo Agostini, Jim Redman and Wayne Gardner, plus pre-war aces including the great Jimmy Simpson, Jimmie Guthrie and Stanley Woods.
(Incidentally, errors and omissions excepted, just in case anyone wants to enter the discussion).
Born in London’s Grays Inn Road in 1950, Barry Sheene enjoyed a motorcycle racing career from 1968 to 1984, during which time he was twice crowned world champion. But here comes the Australian connection.
After his retirement from Racing, Sheene relocated to Australia, working as a motorsport commentator and property developer. We Aussies therefore have a particularly soft spot for young Barry and it’s fitting that he is remembered in the annual Barry Sheene Festival of Speed focused on historic motorcycle racing.
Could I miss it? No, so a week ago I drove down to the Sydney MotorSport Park — formerly Eastern Creek Raceway — to soak up some two-wheel nostalgia at the first day of the festival.
As it happened. I was soaking up more than nostalgia because the forecast was for showers and, on the motorway going south the rain turned torrential. I even considered turning round and giving it a miss, but I’m glad I persevered.
It’s ironic that after weeks and weeks without rain, it was the weekend of a motorcycle racing meeting that hosted such a downpour. Fortunately, the rain had cleared by lunchtime
Worth a visit
The Barry Sheene event is always worth a visit, although this year’s gathering was less ambitious than in previous years, with no big-name veteran overseas stars present. Despite this, the general entry was as big, if not bigger, than ever.
The pits and paddock were packed with bikes but the spectators sparse, probably due to the rain. More came out on Sunday which is always the bigger day anyway.
There are a few good things about these historic motorcycle race meetings and the first is that the riders and their teams are so friendly. Little in the way of overweening ego is on display, at least not that I saw, unlike a many car race meetings — including, sadly, even at historic car racing. There are no giant transporters sigh-written with the drivers’ or team’s names. And egos are kept in check.
Secondly you can wander the pits and pit lane freely . This is great for just looking and really good for photography. Thirdly there is always a wonderful selection of bikes yo gladden the eye and the lens.
Now motorcycle sidecar racing is for the very brave. I wouldn’t say braver than drivers, but there’s no getting away from the fact that on two wheels the rider is more exposed. And he has to move from side to side on the bike at very high speed in order to balance it through the corners. Insane, perhaps, is more appropriate than brave.
I met two really affable guys from from Bathurst — I’m sorry but I did not get their names — with their older and well-worn outfit. It isn’t a carbon-fibre, high cost, European outfit like most of their competitors. However on a very wet and slippery track they came home a very safe second in their first race of the day and they were delighted with their effort and so they should be.
We can be fortunate that Barry Sheene made Australia his home and, as a direct result, gave us this fascinating annual festival of historic motorcycling. It’s well worth a visit.