1975 Daytona 200 Documentary Starring Barry Sheene

The 170-mph crash, the stricken body, and the unbroken spirit

This British documentary from 1975 follows Barry Sheene as he goes to Daytona for the 200. Sheene fans will remember that prior to race week, he was testing the Suzuki TR750 XR11, the famed "flexi-flier" 750cc two-stroke, when nearing 8,500 rpm in top-gear the rear tire failed, catapulting him at around 170 mph. The footage is hard to watch. The rear end comes around. There's the grinding noise of metal on asphalt. Then silence. Sheene lays crumpled and motionless on the ground. The stillness is terrifying. Why isn't he moving? The camera keeps on rolling. Sheene is lifted onto a gurney and the ambulance doors shut.

We all know that Sheene recovers from his injuries, but as if to reassure those present—those without the luxury of hindsight—he makes light of the situation. His biggest complaint is that the hospital staff refuses to give him a cigarette.

“Can’t even get a bit of suntan now,” he says cheekily.

Come race day, Sheene is absent, but the grid is full of legends of the sport. Twenty-two-year-old Kenny Roberts sits on pole. Behind him, a strong field features Giacomo Agostini, Gary Nixon, Yvon Duhamel, Gene Romero, Johnny Cecotto, Steve McLaughlin, Don Castro, and Steve Baker.

24-year-old Barry Sheene riding motorcycle
24-year-old Barry SheeneCycle World Archives

The documentary has some neat images of a young Dr. Claudio Costa, founder of MotoGP's Clinica Mobile, explaining to Gary Nixon why it would be wise to sit out the race and let his wrists continue to heal after being broken the previous year in a race in Japan. Nixon, incidentally, is wearing a pretty slick Motorcyclist T-shirt. Thanks for representing, Gary. It's fun to hear track commentary from Dave Despain. And is it just me, or does the race announcer sound like it's Larry Maiers?

Sheene remains the star of the show, however.

The documentary is fascinating, not only because of the legendary riders and iconic machines (surely it’s one of the greatest eras of racing) but because it gives a view of Sheene in an impossibly vulnerable state. His reputation as the James Hunt of the GP paddock doesn’t do him justice. Yes, he had the cars and the women. And his ne’er-do-well charm and enviable swagger made him a man for his time. But that image overlooks his fortitude and indomitable spirit, his predisposition for racing glory.

Joking and making light of his injuries as he chats with race winner Romero after the race, Sheene demonstrates the racer’s ability to look beyond the present. His sense of the temporal allows him to overcome pain and to prevent setbacks and distractions from diminishing his goals. Perhaps that quality also means the racer feels the joy of victory all too briefly. Regardless of what ultimately drives a racer, it’s clear that Sheene embodies the archetype of the world champion.

And he was a hell of a character.