He was truly a great rider, and a class act! The Times of London has an excellent, in depth, obit:
Times Obituary: Barry Sheene
Barry Sheene, MBE, World 500cc motorcycle champion, 1976 and 1977, was born in London on September 11, 1950. He died of cancer at his home in Queensland on March 10, 2003, aged 52.
One of the finest motorcycle racers of his generation, Barry Sheene was 500cc world champion in 1976 and 1977. He was also highly regarded in this most dangerous of sports as a leader who championed riders' interests against the dictates of the governing body of the sport, the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM).
Adored by his fans for his ****ney cheek, infectious grin and irreverent attitude to officialdom, he responded to them in return, and loved to wander among the crowds of spectators at trackside after a race. But his hatred of bureaucracy was legendary and he was for some time the riders' representative - and at that a fiercely outspoken one - on the FIMHis care for other riders on the track earned him much affection among his peers. When, during a practice session for the 1976 Swedish Grand Prix, John Williams came off his Suzuki, Sheene swerved round him, screeched to a halt and ran back to the stricken racer, who lay choking with two men standing over him not knowing what to do. In a trice Sheene had Williams's helmet off and was able to clear his airway. This prompt first-aid undoubtedly saved Williams's life.
Sheene campaigned vigorously against a number of circuits which he and many other riders considered dangerous, notably the Austrian Grand Prix circuit, the Salzburgring, after one rider was killed and four others seriously injured there in 1977. But his most signal achievement in that sphere was to have the Isle of Man TT taken off the list of world championship events, after the circuit had claimed more than a hundred lives.
Between 1975 and 1982, his peak years, Sheene won more international 500cc and 750cc titles than any other rider. Yet his glamorous playboy lifestyle, his dramatic crashes and truly horrific injuries made him almost as famous with the general public as his victories on the circuit did. The X-ray picture of his crash-shattered legs, screwed together like a Meccano set by the surgeon Michael Cobb in the wake of a 160mph crash at Silverstone in July 1982, was flashed round the world and became one of the enduring images of motorsport.
Barry Sheene was born in Holborn in 1950, the son of an engineer who was a motorbike fanatic. His uncle was a speedway rider. He first sat on a motorcycle at the age of two and was given his first one - a 50cc Ducati four-stroke - at the age of five. He was educated at St Martin-in-the-fields School, where, as a persistent truant and rebel, he was often and intimately acquainted with the slipper and the cane.
On one occasion he retaliated against the school regime by nipping into the headmaster's study, taking the entire stock of instruments of chastisement from the cupboard and pushing them into the furnace of the school boiler.
It was obvious that he and formal education had little to offer each other, and he left St Martin-in-the-fields to sell second-hand cars. Later he was a courier for an advertising agency. In his spare time he raced motorcycles and in 1968 rode his first competitive race at the age of 17, a 125cc event at Brands Hatch - where his engine seized and he was thrown off.
Within a year he had won his first British 750cc championship and he repeated the feat in 1970. The international stage was at that time dominated by Giacomo Agostini, who had ruled the roost since the mid-1960s and was to go on to win a record eight world 500cc world titles between 1966 and 1975.
Sheene came remarkably close to winning the world title in 1971. But at that time he was competing as a private entrant, and doing his own engine development against works teams with batteries of mechanics. It was really asking too much to expect him to be able to make inroads under such a disadvantage.
In 1973 he signed up with Suzuki. Sheene won the European 750cc title in 1973, and in 1976 ended what had by then become known as the "Ago era" by winning the first of his two 500cc championships on a Suzuki. So complete was his supremacy that he had the title in his pocket after only five of the 12 races. He then refused to participate in the remaining seven, declaring many of the circuits to be too dangerous. He was to land the title for Suzuki for a second time the following year and was appointed MBE in 1978.
But at the end of the 1978 season he was beaten to the title by the American Kenny Roberts, who was to dominate the championship for the next three years. In 1979, too, Sheene had to be content with second place to Roberts, with whom he fought a memorable duel at Silverstone. Leaving the rest of the field in their wake the two riders banged elbows and knees at 160mph, with Roberts ahead literally by inches at the finishing line.
Sheene crashed spectacularly on a number of occasions. In 1975 he was lucky not to be killed when he crashed at 170mph at Daytona, breaking both femurs, his wrist, collarbone and a number of ribs. But his most appalling injuries were sustained at Silverstone in 1982, when his bike crashed into the wreckage of another machine during practice. For a while it seemed that both his legs would have to be amputated. But a series of skilful operations, which involved the insertion of nearly thirty screws and plates into his smashed legs, saved not only his limbs, but restored him to a motorcycle-racing. By 1983 he was competing again, but inevitably he was not the force he had been.
Two years later he finally retired from the sport and in 1987, plagued with the problems Britain's cold winters inflicted on his much patched-up legs, he decided to emigrate with his wife and young family to Australia. There he divided his time between his business interests and racing commentating. He also continued to compete in celebrity events. Only last July he had competed in a "legends" race during the British Grand Prix meet at Donington Park. When cancer was diagnosed he declined chemotherapy.
He married, in 1984, the model Stephanie McLean. She survives him with their son and daughter.
I had only last week learned that Barry's condition was very serious, and had no idea that his death was that imminent. I don't know if it was planned or was cooincidence that during the rain delay (prior to the cancellation) of the Daytona 200, the Legends of Motorsports episode presented on SpeedTV featured one of his epic battles with Kenny Roberts.
Perhaps it is fitting that he passed away on the day following Daytona, where he had his horrendous 170 mph crash on the banking in 1975.
Barry Sheene... the man who drilled a hole in the front of one of his race helmets, so he could have a quick puff without taking off the helmet. A man who got back on a race bike after his leg has been put back together by what looks like a mecano set on the xrays. What a nutter. What an amazing talent. Almost incredible he made it to 52, but having got there it's a terrible shame he didn't make it any further.
Thanks for the links, mate! The MCN site had a wealth of information. And using the MCN search function yielded several excellent recent year articles about "Bazza", glad you pointed me in the right direction!
He was a unique guy, a class act and a great champion of motorcycle racing safety!
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