“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.