One of Australia’s best motorcycle events was on recently, The Barry Sheene Festival of Speed, and it might just have been the best year yet for the event. Thousands made the pilgrimage to Sydney Motorsport Park for 3 days of racing and an up-close look at the legends on these bikes.
One of racing’s most colourful characters, Barry Sheene was the epitome of the modern sports superstar, bringing charisma and entertainment for the media along with his impressive wins. Having taken out 23 Grand Prix wins and 52 podium finishes, Barry Sheene MBE became a legend in every sense of the word. Born in London England, Barry made the move to Australia in the late 1980’s in the hope that the warmer climate would add relief to his injury-induced arthritis. It was in his newly adopted home that Barry would take on the role as commentator for motor sport broadcasts.
Sadly in 2003, Barry’s life would be tragically cut short as he was diagnosed with cancer of the oesophagus and stomach just 8 months earlier. Following his passing, tributes began to appear throughout the motor racing community. For the 2003 season, V8 Supercars introduced a medal in honour of Barry, the Barry Sheene Medal, for the ‘best and fairest’ driver of the season. There would also be a memorial ride from Bairnsdale, Victoria to Philip Island held by Aussie motorcyclists annually, before the MotoGP held at the island. An annual meeting of motorcycle racing greats would also become a tribute, as the Barry Sheene Festival of Speed would be created. This event is a celebration of Barry’s life and achievements, while also being a celebration of motorcycles and racing.
The event this year was held March 18-20th at Eastern Creek, and featured moto legends that would be racing alongside each other on the machines which they honed their skills in bygone eras. These legends would include ‘Fast’ Freddie Spencer (1983 500cc, 1985 250cc & 500cc World Champion), Kevin Schwantz (1993 500cc World Champion), Chris Vermeulen (2003 World Supersport Champion & MotoGP Rider), Steve Parrish (500GP Rider & Factory Team Manager 1987 – 1991), Kork Ballington (1978 & 1979 250cc & 350cc World Champion), Graeme Crosby (500cc GP Rider and TT Formula One Winner), Jeremy McWilliams (MotoGP Rider), Kevin Magee (500cc GP Rider) and Maria Costello MBE (Isle of Man TT Racer).
Each day of the event was a myriad of machines from different decades racing against each other, from old school 2-stroke racers to 500cc more modern machines. The pits were abuzz with crew and racers, prepping and repairing the bikes for each race that seemed to be nonstop. Despite a bit of rain on the Friday, the rest of the weekend went ahead with perfect weather. This would be ideal for the punters that came along, as there was plenty to see apart from just the races. There was a Show & Shine competition, various trade and club stands, Spectator Parade Laps, and the ever-popular Swap Meet. This event would provide something, if not everything, for the motorcycle enthusiast.
It wasn’t just two-wheeled machines that were tearing up the track, as the F1 and F2 Sidecars gave it a crack. The combination of driver and passenger was a fantastic sight to behold, as the passenger would be found scrambling from side to side to create the correct weight distribution, and their face would be millimetres from the track.
The Barry Sheene Festival of Speed isn’t a restricted, grandstand only event. You can have a up-close look at the pits and riders as they prep for races, which provides a far more comprehensive racing experience for those in attendance as the show is just as much off the track as it is on. All the legends had a lot of time for their fans, signing an innumerable amount of autographs, always with a smile on their face. It’s a grand celebration that has an honest and personal touch to it, something very rare to find in unison for such an event.