Barry Sheene was, without question, one of the greatest, most talented, and toughest motorcycle racers of all time. Born in the UK in 1950, Sheene succumbed to cancer in March 2003.
Starting with Bultaco and after racing in the 125s for a few years (he won the British 125cc GP championship in 1970, riding for Suzuki), Sheene went racing on the 500s in 1974. In 1976, with five race wins, he won the 500cc world championship with Suzuki. He again won the 500cc championship in 1977, with six race wins in the season.
Sheene left the works Suzuki team after the 1979 season, and joined a privateer Yamaha team. Sheene’s career was blighted with serious crashes and injuries – at one stage, he had metal plates in both knees, 28 screws in his legs and a bolt in his left wrist. Barry Sheene retired from racing in 1984, and moved from England to Australia shortly after that. His biography – A Will to Win – was written by Michael Scott and chronicles Sheene’s life and times as one of the top motorcycle racers of the 1970s.
Sheene was a flamboyant man who lived the good life – fast cars, big houses, endorsement deals (with Brut, Diesel and others…), private aircraft and the most glamorous of women. He married Stephanie McLean, a gracious, tall, beautiful, Page 3 model and Barry and ‘Steph’ were one of the most glamorous couples of the 1970s.
It was a terribly sad day when Sheene succumbed to cancer in March 2003, leaving behind his wife Stephanie and their two children. Recently, British magazine Classic Bike spoke to Stephanie, and here are excerpts from what she had to say about Barry, and their life together:
“I thought Barry was a cheeky little sod, very cocky and outrageous.”
“Brut? I hated it. So did Barry. He never wore it. Anyone who came around the house was welcome to take as many free samples as they wanted.”
“The riders from that time were extreme characters – very outrageous and lots of fun. Cecotto, Lucchinelli – Barry adored them all. Everything’s too politically correct these days.”
“We thought we were pretty ordinary. The press never bothered us as a couple. The journalists at the races were interested only in Barry, it was all about him.”
“He never took a bad race out on me. He might whinge to the press but that was that. But when he was injured, oh dear, he was a typical bloke. You know how it is.”
“When I first met him, his hair looked like someone had trimmed it around the bottom of one of his old pudding basin helmets. He was quite old fashioned when I met him. I had to trendy him up a bit.”
“The Seventies was like one big summer. We felt free. Then you wake up one morning and realize that you had a really good time then, but now it’s all gone. But I have no regrets and don’t believe Barry did. There’s nothing we would have done differently.”