Barry Sheene the Legend!
10 THINGS YOU DIDN'T KNOW ABOUT BARRY SHEENE!
1. He had the best V sign in sport
The 1979 British Grand Prix at Silverstone was an epic duel between Sheene and King Kenny Roberts, the teak-tough reigning world champion from the USA. As Sheene passed his rival at 180mph he infamously put two fingers up behind his back. He lost the race by 0.3 seconds, but his gesture cemented his reputation.
2. He performed at the Royal Opera House as a schoolboy
His penchant for brawling at school in Trafalgar Square saw him talent spotted for the role of a hooligan in Tosca, Giacomo Puccini’s tale of murder, torture and suicide. The soon-to-be star of a macho sport thus appeared alongside the great stage diva Maria Callas.
3. He lost his virginity on a pool table in a church crypt
Thereafter he was relentless in his pursuit of women. As he became more mainstream he ditched the “happiness is a tight pussy” patch on his leathers, but reflecting on his many injuries mused, “My favourite part of the rehabilitation process was trying to bed as many women as possible.” His ethos changed when he met his wife, Stephanie, in 1975, although years later a friend recalled he did manage to escape a parking ticket on London's Kings Road and then persuade the traffic warden “to get her tits out”.
4. He drilled a hole in his helmet so he could smoke on the grid
That hole in his chin bar was evidence of a 60-a-day habit that undoubtedly contributed to his cancer. Sheene had been smoking since the age of nine, despite suffering from chronic asthma, and was rarely without a Gauloise. After his 175mph horror crash at Daytona, when he broke his leg, six ribs, his back, a wrist and his collarbone, the first thing he did when he came round in hospital was ask the nurse for “a fag”.
5. His Brut 33 sponsorship stank
By the late Seventies, Sheene was a bona fide star. He hung out with George Harrison and James Hunt and splashed it on with Sir Henry Cooper for ubiquitous aftershave ads. His wife, Stephanie, was unimpressed. “I’d have gone mad if he splashed that all over him. We had buckets of it so we would give it to his uncle who used to stink of it.”
6. He survived in a deadly era of motorsport (and once saved a rival’s life)
Sheene's mechanic, Martyn Ogborne, kept a record of deaths in the Suzuki GB Race Team from 1969 to 1988. The final tally was 62. Riders reasoned that there would be six fatalities a year and each rider would have three crashes, so they each ticked off their crashes and hoped. Once, during a practice session in Sweden, Sheene stooped on the track to free the tongue of fallen rival John Williams.
7. He ruined his best friend’s chance of winning a grand prix
Sheene had already wrapped up the 1977 title defence by the time of the British Grand Prix. After retiring through bike failure, he watched his great friend, Steve Parrish, head towards victory. From the corner of his eye, Parrish saw his friend leaning over the pit wall with a message board at the start of his last lap. “Gas it wanker”, Sheene had scrawled. Parrish obliged and crashed.
8. He was dubbed “bionic” after his second near-death crash
He hit a stricken 250cc rider, Patrick Igoa, in practice for the British Grand Prix in 1982 at 165mph. They ended up in neighbouring hospital beds. This time there were metal plates and 27 screws. Kenny Roberts, one of the first on the scene, described what he saw as “a plane crash”. Yet Sheene returned and still made the podium in his final year in 1984.
9. He was “Balaclava Man” and once broke into a house
In his later years he formed a high-jinks gang named “The Squadron” with a bunch of friends including Steve Parrish. Once they underwent a clandestine rescue mission to reclaim £250-worth of goods owed to Sheene’s housekeeper by a former boyfriend. They broke into the house and then made their getaway in a Rolls-Royce.
10. He was a good talent spotter Having been impressed by a young rider, he typed a letter and sent it to Mitsuo Itoh, a TT-winner turned Suzuki top brass. “I have every confidence in his ability to become a big fighter in the 500 GPs.” He urged a quick reply. “His name is Michael Doohan. He is 22 years old.” Seven years later Michael had become Mick and he won the first of five successive world titles.