Sunday, 10 March 2013

Ten Years Ago Today, My Hero Died

I was 13 years old when I first saw Barry Sheene race motorcycles. It was at Brands Hatch in 1979. At that time, at just 20 years old, Barry was an extremely talented and likeable guy who made quite an impression on me. I watched him race dozens of times and he soon became my hero.

That year, he won the British 125cc championship, which signalled the start of a very impressive racing career.

I would travel all round the UK to racing circuits such as Brands, Mallory Park, Cadwell, and Oulton Park to watch the racing. I couldn’t afford the tickets for the World Championship rounds in the UK, so I concentrated on the British Championships and the Transatlantic Trophy series, which pitched the best British riders against the best of the American team.

I remember riders such as Mick Grant, Peter Williams, Steve Parrish and others, but it was Barry Sheene who always stood out for me. The rivalry and races between the two nations teams was legendary and I got to see Americans such as Kenny Roberts and Randy Mamola battle it out in some fantastically exciting races.

Sometimes, I would be lucky enough to walk around the pits and talk to the riders. Barry was always cheerful and smiling and I liked him a lot. Despite his growing fame, he would always try to take time to share a moment or two with his fans.

Famously, Barry had a spectacular crash in 1975 in practice at Daytona. At 175 mph, his rear wheel locked and he broke his left thigh, right arm, collarbone and two ribs. His hero status was elevated even more in my mind when he was racing again just seven weeks later.

Barry went on to win the 500cc World Championship in 1976 and 1977. He certainly lived life to the full and gained (earned) a playboy reputation. A true sporting legend, he mainly raced Suzuki’s and Yamaha’s. It was no co-incidence that I soon owned a bike by each of these manufacturers.

This short video gives a glimpse of the man.

Barry died of cancer ten years ago today at the age of just 52. That was way too young for someone who gave so much, was so talented and so loved by many.

Rest in peace Barry, my hero.


Chiller tek said...

Barry was a living legend among the motorcycle community. Not only was he a supremely talented racer but also the loveable larrican and all round good bloke.

I remember when he died my brother carried around a black number 7 sticker on his R1 until he sold it.

Barry did a lot of commentating on Australian TV when he moved here due to his illness. He headed up the motogp and local touring car coverage. Very knowledgable and also very witty.

Here is a classic Barry Sheene comment during the 2001 V8 Super Cars round. Only Barry was clever enough to come up with a comment like this.

Long Live Barry Sheene.

Nikos said...

He was a remarkable guy and did not deserve to die so young.

KT Did said...

The good is that he is a legend and gave his all for the all. The bad is cancer... it sucks.

VStar Lady said...

It is always nice to remember our heros. I appreciate his style - give life hell while you have the chance!

Rex J. Covington said...

Rest in peace Barry!

Gary France said...

Chiller – You are right, he was a living legend. That is very cool that you brother did that. I didn’t know about his commentating, but I should imagine it was very enjoyable to listen to. Thanks for the clip.

Nikos – So true. He was taken way too young.

KT – You are so right about cancer. As we get older, the more it affects the people around us. One day, I hope there is a cure for this demon disease.

VStar Lady – I like that. “Give life hell while you have the chance!”. So apt.

Rex – Indeed.

Jack Riepe said...

Dear Gary:

There for the grace of God go all of us.

Fondest regards,
Twisted Roads

Gary France said...

Jack – Abso-friggin-lutely. It should be incumbent on us all to do as much as we can, as soon as we can, because you never know when it is your turn.