The 2016 QBE Barry Sheene Festival of Speed at Sydney Motorsport Park is done and dusted for another year – the 11th time in fact – and it was the most impressive and well attended in its history with 275 entries and over 520 motorcycles spread throughout the 33 classes, including outfits.
This year’s event had an air of magic about it, with a handful of living legends of the sport in attendance, riding some incredible machinery over the course of the four days of practice, qualifying and racing.
The event was organised by the Post-Classic Racing Association of NSW and a huge pat on the back to all concerned that organised and promoted the event.
Three-times world champion, Freddie Spencer returned for his second visit and was joined by an illustrious bunch of larrikins; 1993 500cc World Champion, Kevin Schwantz, four-times world champion Kork Ballington, Barry Sheene’s best mate, Steve “Stavros” Parrish, Jeremy McWilliams, Graeme Crosby, Kevin Magee, Chris Vermeulen and John Boote, along with Maria Costello MBE who made her third visit to the event.
With names like those above, it is no wonder that attendAnce was up some 200% on last year.
Then there were the rest of the characters – the local club racers – that make up the bulk of the entries in domestic classic racing. Without them we don’t have a meeting. Even with a bunch of road racing gods getting out and having a dip, any classic event is nothing without the mainstay of support that turns up at each event.
The array of machinery that was lined up for the lads to ride in five demonstration rides over the three dayswas drool inducing.Absolutely salivating. Some catch fire, others leak oil, break down, blow up or last the distance but the common denominator of every motorcycle is that they are thrashed to within an inch, and sometimes beyond, their mechanical lives.
It is a brilliant aural and visual assault of the senses.
There were bikes racing that are the last of a breed and lucky to be seen anywhere in the world particularly one of the Suzuki RGV 500cc XR86s that Schwantz attempted to defend his title in 1994. Another is even rarer; the Suzuki XR14 that Barry Sheene won his first 500cc GP at the 1975 Dutch TT was in the thick of it, piloted by McWilliams and Schwantz. There is no other example any where in the known universe.
Both were shipped out from the same private collection in England, owned by a gentleman by the name of Steve Wheatman. (He has a small collection of over 60 race bikes, mostly Suzukis, and over 120 road bikes! Besides his normal day job, he also happens to own a pub!)
Burly Irishman Tom Dermody – along with Stu Avant – supplied a number of weapons including the Suzuki RGB 500 for Steve Parrish, and the actual Yamaha YZR500 that Kevin Magee rode in the 1992 All-Japan 500cc title, when he finished runner-up behind Daryl Beattie. Fettling the machines were two more legends of the sport in Kiwis, Mike Sinclair and Paul Treacy who worked in Team Roberts for over a decade and, arguably, know the insides of a two-stroke like no other.
Also in the Dermody stable was a Suzuki XR69 for Cam Donald, and a Macintosh Suzuki for Aussie Irish flyer, Paul Byrne, while Paul Galles from Luxembourg brought the Honda RS500R for Freddie Spencer; a production version of the bike the multi-world champion rode in 1983, his first championship year.
Aussie, Gary Middleton supplied the Kawasaki’s of Gregg Hansford. Gary was a good friend of Hansford, and after his tragic death, he purchased all of the bikes. They were ridden by Kork Billington, Graeme Crosby and Murray Sayle. Kork was another that was caught up in the emotion of the event stating that, “when we were racing we were pretty fierce rivals but we did become friends. He should be here, now, on an occasion like this. At least I had the opportunity to ride one of his bikes. It was a very special moment as I rode around thinking of those days.”
Crosby was aboard a H2-750, similar to the one he rode in the monumental 1979 Unlimited GP while Sayle alternatedbetween the 250cc and 350cc machines.
Mention should also be made of the exquisite Paton single cylinder 500cc machine, ridden by Maria Costello in the Legends class and also the P3 500cc class that was supplied by Swiss enthusiast Peter Beugger while local Paul Edwards donated his Suzuki RGB500 Mark VII for Chris Vermeulen to ride.
The five on -rack excursions were listed as races and the lads didn’t disappoint as they gave the bikes a real workout with the fastest times posted in the low 1: 43s.
Witnessing these greats grid-up was one of life’s surreal scenes for all on-lookers. The on-track shenanigans with Schwantz, Magee Spencer et al going at it, hammer and tongs, muscling the two-stroke demons with light switch power bands that light up like an angry demon was a true blast from the past.
The competitive flame still burns intensely.
In the fourth leg, Schwantz was gracious enough to succumb to McWilliams request to ride his bike, but in all honesty Kevin wanted to ride Barry’s bike. One slight dilemma was that Kevin uses road pattern and the Sheene machine is race pattern. Schwartz admitted before the start that it could go pear-shaped and it did, although he lasted four laps! The XR14 was parked for the final leg and another bike commandeered for Jeremy to ride. The ear drum hurting crescendo that escaped the exhausts of that XR14 was like no other that we have heard in decades. It was deafening. One can only fantasise what a grid of 30 of those screaming banshees would’ve sounded like.
Besides taking part in the five legends races, Schwantz also competed in two other categories.
He has lost none of his style and had plenty of chances to demonstrate it as he competed in 13 races over the three days. In the Period 3 500cc class he rode the immaculate 1962 MacIntosh Norton Manx owned and prepared by Kiwi, Ken Macintosh and in the Period 5 category he rode Roger “Spud” Arnold’s Suzuki XR69 where he finished fourth overall.
He won the P3 500cc class with a perfect scorecard of four wins and fittingly took out the Barry Sheene P3 500cc Memorial Trophy. The magnitude of the event was definitely not lost on the Texan who showed a bit of emotion a couple times throughout the meeting, none more so than at the presentation when his win of the memorial trophy took him completely by surprise, as he had no idea that he had won the coveted trophy. (It may be just the enticement he needs to return next year).
“Riding Barry’s bike at a meeting named after him was something very special,” explained Kevin. “I couldn’t help but get a little emotional. To win the Barry Sheene Memorial Trophy was something that I will cherish. It put the icing on a fantastic weekend. Will I be back? There is a good chance of it.”
It wasn’t all about on track activities as there was plenty of attractions with a very well patronised trade alley, a Sunday Show and Shine and plenty of road going historics scattered throughout the pits.
The great thing about these classic events compared to other top line meetings is the access that spectators get as there are no restrictions. Enthusiasts have the freedom to wander in and out of the garages to perve on the exotica and, with a bit of luck, the chance to bump into an icon of the sport and have a chat.
All the legends were approachable and nothing seemed to be too much trouble for them, responding to the myriad requests from fans for photos and autographs on all sorts of things; from the individual posters that the PCRA had for sale, to personal t-shirts or parts of bikes.
Many were stunned at the openness of the riders but Graeme Crosby put it in perspective by saying, “We are all motorcyclists. Many of these people are getting out and racing as hard as they can. It doesn’t matter if you do a two-minute lap or a 1:40 lap, we are all out there having a go. Plus it is so goodfor the fans to come and say hi and relate many stories about the impact we have had on their interest in the sport. I think most of us would feel more disappointed if folk weren’t asking for an autograph or coming up for a chat!”
The entertainment wasn’t just in the paddock and on track as after racing finished on Friday and Saturday there were a couple of functions for more frivolity.
Friday’s was in the cafe on top of the pit boxes with all of them involved together in a relaxed Q&A session, afterwards mingling with the crowd.Saturday featured a sit down dinner and an evening of very light entertainment. Steve Parrish was in fine form as he did a much shortened version of his hugely popular “Night With Steve Parrish” followed by an interview with each of the riders.
The BSFOS is pure motorcycle porn. An annual event that allows us all to enjoy a bit of time travel. If you haven’t been, or even if you have, lock in next year’s dates.
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