If you are a reader/rider of a certain age, you may recall a brash, outrageously talented British motorcycle road racing sensation named Barry Sheene.
If you are not one of those of a certain age, you will want to get to know the late Barry Sheene. The definitive work to help you do that is “Sheene,” edited and written by one of Britain’s premier motojournalists, Brian Tarbox.
As retro-reviews go, this is a contemporary publication (2006), available only in soft cover and in the innovative format of a “bookazine.” It is bigger than most magazines, but formatted like a top-shelf magazine complete with advertising, high quality glossy paper and more than 170 color and black/white images by Tarbox himself and other extraordinary professionals like Nigel Clark, Nick Nicholls, Dennis Ainsworth, Don Morley and many others.
In “Sheene,” Brian Tarbox chronicles the dramatic GP road racing career of Brit superstar Barry Sheene.
The story doesn’t begin where you’d expect it to with some family history and his years growing up in England. In fact, Tarbox does get around to that, but instead he begins with what can only be called “nearly the end.”
It is the disastrous crash Sheene suffered during practice rounds for the 1975 Daytona 200. A shredded rear tire locked his Suzuki’s rear wheel, pitching him into a bone-crushing impact with the track at over 170 mph.
Sheene not only survived the wreck, when Suzuki team manager, Merv Wright reached him lying motionless on the track, fearing he was dead, Sheene opened his eyes and asked for a cigarette!
A TV camera crew had captured the event, and its world-wide screening made Sheene a hero not only in England but all over the planet. Later, Sheene’s charisma and sense of humor expanded his popularity even more when he said of the severity of his injuries, “If I had been a horse, they would have shot me.”
With that opening, Tarbox sets the hook on the reader and it just gets more absorbing as he takes you along on the wild ride to the top of the premier class of motorcycle sport that was Sheene’s career. Careful not to bog things down with a detailed re-hash of Sheene’s many GP victories and two World Championships, Tarbox keeps the narrative lively with insights into Sheene’s quirky and comical good-luck rituals to his sometimes complicated relationships with the factory racing teams and his personal life.
This covers everything from the origins of the Donald Duck artwork that adorned his competition helmets and his ritual wearing of a Gary Nixon T-shirt under his leathers to his love for the already-married Stephanie McLean who ultimately became Mrs. Sheene.
Tarbox never loses sight of the fact that Barry Sheene was more than a motorcycle racer—the humanity, humor, class and drive of the person that was Barry Sheene comes through. By the book’s end, you not only know about Barry Sheene’s exceptional career, his ascent, zenith of success, descent and tragic death from cancer in 2003, but you come away knowing Barry Sheene—and liking him.
(We checked with the folks at Mortons Media Group on availability of new uncirculated copies of Sheene and they informed us that it is sold out.)
Author: Brian Tarbox, author and editor, John Brown, Associate editor
Published: 2006 (1st edition)
Publisher: Mortons Media Group, Ltd., Media Centre, Morton Way, Horncastle, Lincolnshire LN9 6JR