As riders throughout the country descend on Sydney this weekend for the Barry Sheene Festival of Speed, a long-term racing and industry identity talks about his relationship with the racer.
By Dale Schmidtchen
I found out that Barry had finally succumbed to his throat cancer while speaking to a sponsored rider on the phone.
This rider was too young to really appreciate what Barry was to our generation, as a rider and pioneer of rider’s rights and safety but I don’t mind admitting crying when I heard the news and having to hang up the call to carry on the conversation at a later time.
Barry’s loss was both personal and also hard hitting.
This survivor of all that life could offer, good and bad. A champion and larrikin. Larger than life. Gone. Forever. It was unbelievable.
Barry knew tens of thousands of people and had a very busy life outside of motorcycling, with interests in chemical companies and real estate on a global basis.
But he was still approachable and so long as you didn’t waste his time, I found him genuinely interested and helpful.
Most of his friends knew him better than I, but nevertheless, if I picked the phone up and called, he was most times able to spend five minutes chatting and always made the effort to remember faces and names, should you see him in public.
I could easily relate his profile in his heyday, but most of this has been reported ad infinitum. Numerous magazine articles, books and soon a movie is coming out. He had a fantastic and miraculous, inspiring career on the track, but what made him a true champion was his efforts to ensure riders risking their lives got a fair income for the effort and entertainment.
Barry was also instrumental in many safety developments with track design and racer clothing. He also managed to bring many out of industry sponsors into racing, which was usually dominated with tobacco brands.
He had talent, intelligence and combined with a charming wit, was always popular with any crowd, not just motorcyclists.
In the UK and later when he moved to Australia, Barry discovered much of the new racing talent at the time and assisted many riders in career paths.
It’s a shame some of the more prominent Australian riders who have benefited from racing don’t try to give back something to the sport that allowed them to live in luxury and fame.
We can’t forget that. The riding and racing world owes much to Barry Sheene MBE. His loss is still being felt today.
Barry Sheene Festival of Speed
When: March 18-20
Where: Sydney Motorsport Park, eastern C reek
What’s on: GP and TT legends including Freddie Spencer, Kevin Schwantz, Chris Vermeulen, Steve Parrish, Kork Billington, Graeme Crosby, Jeremy Williams, Kevin Magee and Maria Costello MBE.
– Round 1 of the “Trans-Tasman” series
– Round 1 of the Australian F1/F2 Sidecar Championships
– Guest riders including GP & TT Legends
– Legends autograph signings
– Grandstand Access
– Swap meet
– Race and display bikes from Australia, NZ and Europe