Remembering Bazza

Barry Sheene, 1950-2003

BARRY SHEENE WAS A motorcycle racing international superstar.

The last British rider, in 1976, to win the coveted 500 crown in Grand Prix racing for his country, it is impossible to convey just how popular Barry Sheene was -- and is, to this day. Sheene didn't merely make motorcycle racing popular, he brought the figure of the Grand Prix Motorcycle Racer fully into the spotlight of popular culture in a way that no rider has, before or since his meteoric rise to GP fame.

How could Sheene have been anything but a star? He was a racer to the core, with brilliant racing acumen, and determination and resilience of heroic proportions. His skeleton pieced together with more hardware than most racers carry as spares, Sheene came back in a matter of weeks from a 175 mph crash at Daytona in '75 to win his first 500 GP. Alloyed with this brave nature and unbelievable talent was an angelic countenance which matured into rock star handsomeness, charm and wit that made him universally attractive, and an unassuming and engaging manner rendering him accessible to anyone who cared to approach. Those blue eyes, that smile, they made you an instant accomplice, a partner-in-crime in the pursuit of motorcycling thrills...Barry Sheene was a star, all right!

Sheene won 23 Grands Prix, two 500 GP championships, and a Formula 750 Championship. But, most of all, he won the hearts of so many. I barely knew him and yet I deeply mourn his passing. My heart goes out to those who were close to him. How heavy and sad their hearts must be. I am at a loss for words with which to adequately express my condolences. Millions will miss Barry Sheene. Here are words from a few of them, telling us how they remember Barry Sheene.-- Patrick Bodden

"BAZZA" IS THE TYPICAL British nickname for Barry. However, it was given added import at the time that Barry Sheene came to prominence in the 1970s by the Adventures of Barry McKenzie, an extremely popular and very scurrilous cartoon character penned by Barry Humphries about the exploits in London of an expat Aussie whose mates all called him did Barry Sheene's.

Barry Sheene's roadracing career exactly reflected my own much more humble racing life. I remember first becoming aware of him when I heard the BBC report from Jarama on the final Grand Prix of the 1971 season. After winning three GPs in his first season in Europe on a privateer 125 Suzuki, Barry finished a close second to Angel Nieto on the works Derbi in the 125cc World Grand Prix Championship. Soon after that I started racing myself and continued to follow Barry's progress. Barry's swift rise to stardom during that period was punctuated by his horrific Daytona crash, then barely three months later, his amazing first 500cc GP victory over the seemingly invincible Giacomo Agostini. I got used to watching his exploits on the track and seeing him from afar in the race paddock, seemingly always chirpy and happy-go-lucky even in moments of stress - at which point he'd draw ever deeper on the inevitable Gauloise cigarette that became one of his trademarks, along with the Donald Duck helmet and No.7 race plate. It wasn't till I won my first championship in 1978 that I got to meet him at last, when he was guest of honor at the British Motorcycle Racing Club's awards evening, and presented me with my trophy. My wife, Stella and I sat with him and his modelesque girlfriend for dinner and were entertained with a classic performance of Sheene ribaldry, interspersed with several telling observations on factories, teams, race technique, and other riders. I've always regretted not having a tape recorder that evening. But when a couple of years later I became a full-time bike journalist, Barry not only remembered who I was and the occasion we'd first met, but went out of his way to give me comments and feedback about the bikes he was riding. I expect he realized only another racer would fully appreciate what he was relating and that I would be able to translate the information for my readers.

That was the way Barry was. He could operate on several levels with consummate ease, from the public at large to roadracing insiders. He was extremely open, would tell you to your face if he reckoned you were wrong and he disagreed with you, but was also honest with himself in a way few racers were. When later on we started racing against each other in Historic events -- at which he was instantly successful against people who had been racing Manx Nortons and the like with success almost all their racing lives -- he was as professional yet as sporting as he was throughout his career. My greatest Sheene souvenir used to be that famous moment when he gave Kenny Roberts the V sign behind his back in the 1979 British GP at Silverstone...until I got the Sheene squeeze on my inside leg measurement during practice at the Goodwood Revival Meeting three years ago! Never got him back for that one. Last September at Goodwood on the Saturday night, soon after coming a close second to Wayne Gardner in the Lennox Cup race, he discovered I'd got switched on to learning how to fly a whirlybird. Barry insisted on finding time to take Stella and me and our friend Mitch Boehm up in his helicopter, which speaks volumes for his insistence on finding time for his friends, one of whom I am proud to say I had become.

"Who do you think you are, Barry Sheene?" That was the standard opening line for more than 20 years from one of the boys in blue, if you got pulled over while riding a motorbike in the UK. It's a measure of Barry's long-lived popularity that I, ahem, have to own up to being asked that question as far back as 1974 or so and just last year in 2002. Barry Sheene is the man who made motorcycle racing not only respectable, but also a national sport in the UK, bringing it to the same level as car racing or cricket. He accomplished this thanks to the force of his personality, the extent of his achievements on the racetrack, the bravery with which he overcame his horrific injuries, and the fact that at the end of the day, he was that rare thing - a Nice Bloke, who was also a born winner. That's why it's right and proper to put Bazza up on a pedestal alongside Mike Hailwood and Geoff Duke as the three greatest British riders of the modern era. they were out of the same mould, yet perhaps only Barry had the gift of the gab.

"Don't wait for your ship to come in - swim out and bloody meet it!" was my favorite Sheene saying - to which I might add, we all have great reason to be glad he did.-- Alan Cathcart

WITH TWO LAPS LEFT, Sheene and Roberts banged elbows and scraped handlebars at 150 mph, and motioned to each other to get a move on. The two men and their machines were glued together - screaming, tilting tumult. On the final bend Sheene, on the outside, had his knee in contact with Roberts' ankle. Roberts kept his two-inch lead to the line...the screeching din died. There was an unimaginable silence all over Northamptonshire. The two dismounted, and embraced.

The fumes had the whiff of genuine and unforgettable drama, and they would linger for a long time - as they always did when the incomparable young Sheene was shining.Smiling, shining king of the track. -- Frank Keating

"THERE WAS NEVER MUCH sugar in what we said about each other and sometimes we'd stir things up a little bit more than we should have - but that was all for the benefit of other people.We first met before I was even thinking about competing in the world championships and we went out and got crazy together more than once.

In Italy once we rolled our rental car upside down and went into a canal.I will remember Barry as just being Barry - very sharp, very quick and never boring."

"BARRY WAS A FIGHTER and nobody would have kicked in harder than he did, but unfortunately it wasn't meant to be.He was the most resourceful and resilient man I have ever met. He taught me a great deal about life, not just racing motorcycles.

He was a flamboyant man who liked fast cars, bikes, pretty girls and had fun. I think he lived every day to the fullest."-- Steve Parrish

IT WILL BE WEIRD at Phillip Island this year, as I will almost be expecting him to walk into the pitbox as always, with his cheery smile and chat and that infamous greeting: "All right, Ace."In loving memory of a true legend... Barry Sheene.

MY PERSONAL FAVORITE MEMORY of Barry Sheene - my bit of Sheene folklore - came after the Belgian GP of 1984. I was hacking home on a French motorway, heading for the ferry on a Suzuki Turbo, when a rush of tire noise told me something serious was coming up behind me, it went past in a blast of cheerful horn tooting. A Rolls Royce traveling at warp-factor nine, license plate BS 7.

I stood up on the pegs, yelled inside my helmet and punched the air with my left hand.WHO DO YOU THINK you are then - Barry Sheene?

"I AM A VERY SAD man, because Barry Sheene was not only one of the most brilliant motor racing cyclists who has ever lived, but he was a lovely man.

He was brilliantly cheerful. He had a core of steel. He made a new life for himself in Australia and became as popular as he was and is still now. It really is a very sad loss."-- Murray Walker

ONE DAY, ON THE eve of one the many races spent in the Imola racetrack casualty room, we were going through the riders routine pre-qualification medical examinations. After a while, it was the turn of a cheerful, smiling lad with all the air of a musketeer - Barry Sheene. Rebuking us angrily and insulting us because we wanted to examine him, he yelled: "Examine me! An exceptional, fantastic man; the world's best?!" Surprised and amused, I promised him that I would just register his blood group and let his hale and hearty appearance stand in lieu of a proper check-up. As soon as he heard this he hugged me and said I was the first likeable doctor he'd ever met.

Today, Barry Sheene is in heaven, and I'm sure he'll be racing up there, too. In those races, like he did on earth, he will manage to crash: but the angels will take care of him afterwards, because angels, like all those who met him before, can't help falling in love with him.-- Claudio Costa, MD