“Your arse, if you’re going fast enough.”
–Barry’s famous retort when asked by BBC, “What goes through your mind during a crash?”
In a brilliant racing career in which he amassed back-to-back World Championships (’76 & ’77), 23 Grand Prix victories, and 52 Podium finishes in all– the late, great Barry Sheene is one of the most loved and remembered motorcycle racing legends to this day. The victories alone, as impressive as they were, would not be enough immortalize the man. It was Sheene’s fearless spirit & iron will, a body that was repeatedly broken but not beaten, and his witty charm & handsome looks, that have eternally endeared him to racing fans around the world. It’s that old cliche– every woman wanted him, and every man wanted to be him.
Barry’s career was no doubt impacted by two major crashes that are forever a part of motorcycle racing history. The 1st occurred in 1975– at the Daytona 200, a locked rear wheel at 170 mph jerked him violently and Barry lost control. It’s a wonder he survived at all– amazingly, he didn’t even lose consciousness. In fact, he later recounted the crash in detail as the unforgiving track pummeled his flailing body. He suffered a shattered left leg, smashed thigh, broke six ribs, a wrist, and his collarbone. When Barry awoke at the hospital, he didn’t miss a beat– asking the attending nurse for a fag (cigarette, for you Yanks out there). The 2nd came in 1982– the two-time World Champion crashed (again going 170 mph) at Silverstone during practice for the British Grand Prix. Barry later recalled, “Wasn’t my fault; came over a hill and there was a wreck right in front of me.” They feared he’d never walk again, let alone return to the racetrack. His legs were compared to “crushed eggs,” taking eight hours to piece back together– with the aid of two stainless steel posts, two steel plates and almost 30 steel screws. After Barry was told he might be able to bend his knees in three months time, he did it in two and a half weeks– and returned to racing the following year. Some took to calling him– Bionic Barry. How you like them apples?
October 4th, 1958, Southwark, London– Motorcyclist Frank Sheene here pictured with his young son (the future legend Barry Sheene) at Club Day —Image by © Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis. Barry’s old man, Frank Sheene, was no slouch on a bike himself– and could even turn a wrench. The young and fearless Barry was on a bike at the wee age of 5 yrs old– a Ducati 50cc motorbike. He entered his first competitive race at the age of 17 at Brands Hatch. He Crashed, (DNF). Wasting no time, Barry entered again the very next weekend and won the bloody thing. The Barry Sheene racing dye was cast.
Barry Sheene, in the paddock during the start of his epic racing career, with the Seeley Suzuki he would transform from relative unknown into a major force in motorcycle racing. Barry Sheene won the 1976 and 1977 500cc World Championship. –photograph by Frank Melling via. Barry Sheene palled around with Formula One legend James Hunt. In the two weeks leading up to Hunt’s famous battle with Niki Lauda for the 1976 Formula One championship, Hunt and Sheene went carousing. Back then Hunt’s favorite hedonistic haunt was the Tokyo Hilton, where he and Barry Sheene, then world motorcycle champion, settled-in to party. Like clockwork, every morning British Airways stewardesses were delivered to the hotel’s door for a 24-hour stopover. Hunt would charm them as they checked in, and invited them up to his suite for a party — they always said yes. Allegedly, James Hunt went on quite a run during this two week binge (33 BA stewardesses). But, as Stirling Moss, who also used to carouse with Hunt in Monte Carlo before he was married, said– “If you looked like James Hunt, what would you have done?” via
1970, Barry Sheene
1981– Barry Sheene at The AGV Nations Cup Races via
Barry Sheene via
Barry Sheene at Oliver’s Mount –photograph via
The motorcycling great Barry Sheene, good buddy and infamous carousing partner of James Hunt.
Barry Sheene –photograph via
The Magnificient Seven — Barry Sheene
Barry Sheene via
Le Mans, France, 1979– Barry Sheene on his factory Heron Suzuki 500 at the French Grand Prix. via
Barry Sheene pulls on his leathers, circa 1970. –photograph by Allan Engel via
Barry Sheene with his wife Stephanie on the back of his bike.
The legend that was Barry Sheene in all his cheeky glory. via
“Don’t wait for your ship to come in– swim out and meet the bloody thing”
–Barry Sheene when diagnosed with cancer that eventually took his life.
Barry Sheene RIP 1950-2003
Barry Sheene’s breaks over his racing career:
Toes | 3x Left / 4x Right
Left Ankle | Once
Right Ankle | 4 Times
Left Tibia and Fibula | Once
Right Tibia and Fibula | Twice
Left Femur | Once
Heelbone | Once
Vertebrae | Twelve
Ribs | 4x Left / 5x Right
Split Kidney | Once
Collarbone | 3x Left / 4x Right
Right Forearm | Once
Wrist | 4x Left / 1x Right
Metacarpals | 4x Left
Knuckles | 4x Left
Fingers | 4x Left
Amputated Left Little Finger
great stuff…Barry Sheene what a legend
really captured the public imagination back in the eighties
like the George Best of motogp
As compared to many of the monkey pilots or jockeys who race today, Sheene was a man among men.
He was one of the last great party-and-ride type riders…. legendary at both!
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Where is the Don Van Vliet / Captain Beefheart special? A true original is gone.
The first real rock star of the race track, max respect to the man!
my dad knew him. how lucky i was
once again the great magazine that is THIS..
Once again! Another great article JP. You hit on the eptiome of racing of that era….the speed, the thrill, the girls, the lifestyles. James Hunt and Barry Sheene were the epitome of an do attitude and living life to the fullest. Man! for Barry Sheene just to come back from those injuries is astounding!
Today’s racing stars just don’t seem to have that playboy can do it all attitude. To much commercialism and fakeness, spoiled brats with multi-million dollar contracts, many of them tracing back to royalty and bluebloods. I want to see the mavericks coming outta nowhere. The “No isn’t in my vocabulary”kind of people…I want to see Sex, drugs and rock n roll! Maybe Keith Richards can give them a few lessons….
speechless. He was and will always be for me, the man who started it all – my passion for two wheels. A legend will always be missed. Cheers
Listening to him in the video clip, I love that he is so matter of fact…doesn’t take himself or his exploits for more than they were, doesn’t embellish things as most such characters do today…this guy was for real!
Sheen is in a league of his own. Great read and photos.