I have been going to the Barry Sheene Festival of Speed (BSFOS) every year since its inception. I love it, but probably for all the wrong reasons.
For me, it’s not about the racing all that much. Let’s face it, Sydney Motorsport Park is not the best spectator track and there are only so many times I can walk to and fro across the pit-garage roof before I want to harm myself with a blade. And while the racing is very special for the blokes out there banging handlebars on a range of two-wheeled weapons (some of which date back to the Bronze Age), it’s not the Death or Glory speed-fest of MotoGP, is it?
But that’s alright. The BSFOS has a certain cachet that no other race meeting in Australia can match. And where else could you see Schwantz and Spencer hacking at each other, pursued by Crosby, Vermuellen, Magee. McWilliams and Ballington?
Sure the Island Classic at Phillip Island is sensational, but it lacks the purified intimacy of the BSFOS. Everything that needs to happen or that you need to see is concentrated in and at the back of the pits. All the stalls, the teams, the bikes, the red-eyed monsters who race them, and the redder-eyed OCD madmen who beat the machines with spanners and a fierce love in their hearts, is right there in a very small space.
It’s a zesty, concentrated goulash of motorcycling purity, from an age when racers relied on just their enormous balls and skills to get their bikes around the track. None of that high-end electronic sorcery then, ladies. You put your cags on the line and prayed to the Gods of Speed the Yoshi-gutted GSX or the Seeley-framed Norton you’d cobbled together in your shed would play the game. You’d roll the crazy motorcycle dice and hope it wasn’t snake-eyes.
This year’s BSFOS was the best-attended to date. It’s hosted by the Post-Classic Racing Association (PCRA) of NSW, and judging by the traffic jams at the gate on both Saturday and Sunday, it looks like it’s become a victim of its own success.
This year, the PCRA decided, quite rightly, to hand promotion of the event over to the blokes who run the Distinguished Gentleman’s Ride; specifically, Stephen Bronholm, Mark Hawwa and their very promo-effective team of mostly bearded and social-media savvy hobbits.
And you know what? It beat the hell out of advertising the event on AM radio. The blokes did a great build-up in the weeks before, hosting a film-night and race-bike displays in the pub (Vic on the Park) where they hold Throttle Roll each year, and saturating Facebook and its ilk with great videos and promotional urgings. Boon and I went to the Vic on the Park pub to behold this new blending of hipster marketing savvy and old school PCRA tradition, and honestly wondered if the alliance would work.
It did. Spectacularly well, and I congratulate both sides for what was a hugely-attended event. Sure, there were issues, but these were due more to Australian Race Drivers Club (ARDC). These were people responsible for getting you into venue quickly and efficiently (epic fail), and all the million other crucially important logistical things that need to happen so that the stall-holders and spectators get the appropriate bang for their buck.
I actually think the ARDC wasn’t quite prepared for the crowds and imagined the BSFOS would be just like one of those FX meets where five people turn up, while seven million sit at home watching it on SBS.
Still, hard lessons were learned, and Stephen Bronholm performed an endless succession of minor miracles to ensure things ran as smoothly as they could. I’m pretty sure even he didn’t expect the crowds they got.
There were several highlights to my three days at the track.
Chief among those was the chance to ride the astonishing Motoinno TS3. I initially walked straight past the bike and its accompanying sandwich board that was parked behind the pits with just a sideways glance.
“Meh,” I muttered to myself. “Another madman who imagines hub-center steering is the way of the future. His tears of anguish and despair will be epic.”
But then Colin and Ray, the blokes who built what is truly a bit of a revolution in terms of front-end suspension, approached me.
“Are you Boris?” Colin asked.
“All the time,” I replied.
Undeterred, Colin then asked me if I’d seen their concept before. I confessed to profound ignorance. He then explained what they had created (which is not hub-centre steering at all), my jaw dropped a little bit, and then dropped all the way when he offered me a ride on the thing then and there.
“On the track?” I gasped. “With Schwantz and Spencer?”
“No,” Colin laughed. “In the carpark.”
Yeah, like I’d say no.
Three minutes later, I’m banging the Ducati-engined wonder around the car-park and shaking my head in disbelief. You will read about the Motoinno TS3 and my brief and eye-opening time upon it in a future piece I have yet to write. But in short, it’s quite possible Colin Oddy and Ray Van Steenwyk, and Motorcycle Innovation Pty Ltd, have cracked the handling code and put traditional motorcycle forks on notice.
My other happy time was at the Legends dinner on the Saturday night. I scored a ticket thanks to the generosity of my mate, Ray from Held Biker Fashion. Basically, I hung around his stand long enough for him to ask me out on a date.
It was a great evening, brilliantly hosted by Steve Parrish and attended by Kevin Schwantz, Freddie Spencer, Chris Vermuelen, Kevin Magee, Kork Ballington, Graeme Crosby and Jeremy McWilliams sitting at the bridal table up front.
But if all you did was hang out at the track for two or three days (and I did), you didn’t actually miss out at all.
The bone fide motorcycle-racing gods were available and approachable all weekend, and you could have done everything I did (except for maybe riding the Motoinno TS3), including drinking cold beer.
You were free to wander through every pit. You could have bathed in the perfumed despair of two-stroke weaponry as your ears bled each time the throttle was blipped on an RGv500 or a TZ750. You could have stared in wonder at weaponised GSX1100s, GPZs, Nortons, Vincents, Harleys…, hell, you name them, they were there. Even the mad submariners of the motorcycling world, the deranged sidecar nutters were on hand; and you blokes seriously need to come to terms with the fact that I will never swing for any of you ever, but thanks for asking.
And of course you could have watched them all race, explode into flames, vomit their liquids onto the track, pitch their riders into the gravel, stall on the start, hammer three abreast into Turn One, get rebuilt, re-tweaked and rolled right the fuck back out again.
As a complete traditional motorcycle road-racing experience, it’s impossible to beat in terms of atmosphere, especially in these plastic, over-regulated, safety-first-and-at-all-costs times.
Because this is what it used to be like when dinosaurs ruled the earth so righteously.
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