Barry Sheene Festival of Speed with Phil Hall
Well the 11th annual Barry Sheene Festival of Speed (hereinafter to be known as the BSFoS) has come and gone for another year, leaving those who attended with the burning question, What can the PCRA of NSW do to “top” this year’s event?
With over 500 bikes of all kinds in the pits, nearly 300 riders appearing in over 50 events during the 3 day weekend (4 if you count the practice day on the Thursday) the event has grown out of all proportion to its humble beginnings.
Begun over a decade ago as an historic bike race meeting to honour the memory of our favourite adopted Pommie son, Barry Sheene, the BSFoS has always been far more of a “local” event than its better known sibling, the Island Classic at Phillip Island. Over the last couple of years, however, the PCRA of NSW (Post Classic Racing Association) has moved to give their event far more of an international flavour with more and more “stars” being recruited to see and be seen and to participate in what has always been a prestigious affair.
Last year the bar was raised by an impressive degree with the appearance of three times World Champion, Freddie Spencer. Spencer was not only happy to attend but made himself freely available for the whole three days of the meeting, participating in not only organised autograph signings but demonstration laps on the track. Added to this he spent the rest of his time sitting in the pits, happy to chat and pass the time with the punters like it was second nature to him.
Flashback to that event and we were wondering what PCRA could do next. Well, if one world champion was good, why not import a few more? So the 2016 iteration of the BSFoS saw us up to ears in motorcycle road racing royalty. Back for another go was Spencer, this time on a proper piece of 500cc kit, the delightful Honda triple brought out by Luxembourg resident, Paul Galles.
Spencer has been seriously hitting the gym, so I was told and it sure showed. I never saw Freddie in his racing days but the pictures show a thin and wiry rider whose leathers really didn’t NEED that much leather! If Freddie isn’t back down to that racing weight of 30 years ago, he must be very close to it. Always charming and willing to chat, Spencer has become a real ambassador for the two stroke brigade of the day and his explanations of what life and racing was like back then are as captivating and vibrant as they could possibly be.
Add to the importance that Spencer’s attendance at a meeting could bring, there was a surfeit of stars. 1993 World Champion, Kevin Schwantz, brought his own laconic and humorous slant to pit life and his fierce competitiveness to the “demonstration” laps that the “Legends” staged for the crowd over the weekend. On a genuine, pukka 500cc grand prix Suzuki, Schwantz peeled back the years and his battles with Spencer looked far more like racing than demonstrating from where I sat!
Then there was Steve “Stavros” Parrish. One-time team-mate of the late Barry Sheene in the “works” and British Suzuki teams, it was wonderful to listen to his reflections on GP life in the day and his personal memories of Barry were especially meaningful. Colourful and unreserved, it is very clear why the TV networks clamour for Parrish’s commentary. Self-effacing to a fault, Steve would like us to believe that all of his success was simply a matter of being in the right place at the right time, but no amount of modesty can disguise the fact that, in his day, he was as fast as Sheene and as respected. Riding a delightful RG500 Mk VII, owned by former RG rider himself, Stu Avant, Parrish did a great Barry Sheene impersonation on the track.
The First Lady of Racing, Maria Costello, came back, this time racing a gorgeous Paton GP bike brought from Italy especially for this meeting. As quiet and dignified as the Paton is loud and “out there”, Maria is an absolute charmer and she backs up her media persona with a fiercely competitive nature. Again, a spectacular ambassador of the sport, she has won the hearts of the Sheene crowds and looks like becoming a permanent fixture on the programme.
Let’s see, who else was there? Well, Jeremy McWilliams was. Backing up from his Island Classic gig, McWilliams seems to be spending a lot of time in Oz of late and his presence at a race meeting always brings with it his own touch of class. Could we be seeing even more of him in the days to come?
How about a FOUR times World Champion? Expatriate South African, Kork Ballington was there, riding, of course, for Kawasaki. Gary Middleton brought his complete collection of ex-TKA bikes, fettled by Jeff Dillon, and these were ridden by Kork, Murray Sayle and Graeme Crosby. Kevin Magee rode the fabulous, genuine, Yamaha YZR500 Yamaha Grand Prix bike and put it to the rest of the “legends” in no uncertain terms.
Kiwi international, John Boote (he of the “TZ in a suitcase” fame) rode an original TZ700 Yamaha (also owned by Gary Middleton) and Chris Vermeulen rode Paul Edwards delightful RG500, dressed up in DAF Racing colours.
And these were just the “Internationals.” Alongside them were a couple of hundred Aussie and NZ riders competing for the many trophies on offer, including the Trans Tasman Cup, won this year by the Kiwis. It’s always hard for the organisers to keep a huge programme like this running on time, but they did a marvellous job, big props to all the people behind the scenes.
Wandering through the pits (another very special feature of the Sheene) you could be forgiven for thinking that the show was all about the bikes in the paddock and the Show and Shine pavilion and not about the racing at all. Everyone that has something worth seeing brings it to the Sheene and leaves it there to be admired, and what special bikes some of them were.
Last year it was the Willing Kawasaki, this year, less than a year after his untimely death, it was the ex-Team Honda CB1100R superbike, ridden in its day by the late Dennis Neill. Destroyed in that terrible accident at Bathurst in 1981, the crash that ended Dennis’s career, the bike has been lovingly restored to its former glory after many, many years of neglect. A constant source of admiration and the telling of tall tales, it was a wonderful thing to see the bike back to its former glory. It’s probably a bit TOO shiny for a race bike, but I can forgive that.
One of the precious few meetings these days where sidecar racing takes place, the chairs were there in force with some old names (Doug Chivas) and many new ones in attendance. Watching the smoke pour of the passenger’s hip as the outfits howl through T1 at the Creek is still a buzz.
What CAN PCRA do to “top” this year’s effort? I don’t know and I suspect that they don’t care. For the moment at least they can rest on their laurels and be very satisfied that they have organised, run, and completed a stunning event that some would have said was going to be impossible. When told a long time ago by PCRA Treasurer, Peter Macmillan what his plans were for 2016, I said, “I wish you luck.” It wasn’t luck in the end. It was hard work and graft and the club is to be congratulated.
Some time ago I noted that there are only two events on my calendar each year that are “musts”, the Island Classic and the BSFoS. Last weekend’s events served only to confirm this decision.