The Barry Sheene Festival Of Speed is one of the most exciting weekends of racing for any petrol-head motorcyclist. For anyone who enjoyed following Grands Prix in it’s two-stroke heyday and the heady days of air-cooled AMA Superbike, 1980s and 1990s GP bikes and F1 TT racing, this is the event you need to get yourself to one day!

Now in its 13th year and held at Australia’s Eastern Creek circuit, the Barry Sheene Festival of Speed has evolved into one of the biggest classic motorcycle events in the Southern Hemisphere.

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Originally just a small race meeting including a round of the Post Classic Racing Association Club Championship, from 2009 the event became an open historic race meeting, with top national competitors and Kiwis joining the competition, and a bigger crowd gathering to check out the action.

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Over the next few years hard work by the PCRA grew the Festival into what it is now, an event that attracts more than 230 entries and 520 classic race bikes each year, along with motorcycle racing royalty from all over the world.

Barry Sheene
(Sept. 11, 1950 – March 3, 2003)

Barry Sheene was a charismatic, colorful, legendary champion who passed away after a long battle with cancer in 2003. He was born in London but moved to Australia in the late 1980s, partly due to the warm Queensland weather helping him cope with his many injuries and arthritis.

Sheene started racing as a teenager at club level, where he immediately showed promise and bucket loads of talent. Sheene went on to be one of the all-time legends of grand prix motorcycle racing, and one that helped raise awareness and popularity along with earnings and increased safety – all to the benefit of his fellow competitors, who admired him off track and feared him on track.

Sheene won 23 grand prix races in his career along with 52 podiums. He was World Champion in 1976 and 1977 and he retired in 1984 due to injuries. Sheene became a popular commentator and was a household name here in Australia. For decades he appeared in TV ads, shows and hosted car and bike racing telecasts. He was a familiar face at most major race meetings and helped promote our sport through the 1990s.

He helped many riders with their careers, including Chris Vermeulen, and is sadly missed Down Under. The Barry Sheene Festival of Speed is a celebration of the life of Barry Sheene and honors his memory in a fantastic and fitting way.

This year, March 18-20, had the biggest lineup of stars and rare machinery seen yet, and what a treat it was. From the U.S.A. we had our childhood heroes and superstars Fast Freddie Spencer and Kevin Schwantz, both crowd favorites. Freddie was riding a 1984 Honda RS500R owned by Paul Galles in the GP Legends Clash, while Kevin Schwantz was taking more of a competitive line, racing in P3 500cc on a 1962 McIntosh Norton Manx 500, which he won, and the top class, P5 1300, riding a 1980 Suzuki XR69 1170 owned by Steve Wheatman’s Team Classic Suzuki.

Other International stars at the event included four-times world champion (250 and 350, 1978, 1979) Kork Ballington, riding the ex-Gregg Hansford H2R Team Kawasaki owned by Gary Middleton, and superstar Kiwi Graeme Crosby also riding an ex-Hansford bike, a 1976 KR750. Barry Sheene’s ex-teammate, superbike and GP legend now commentator Steve Parrish was riding a DMR Motorsport RGB500, and U.K. superstar Jeremy McWilliams rode a 1975 XR14 also from Team Classic Suzuki.

Aussie legends Chris Vermeulen (Suzuki XR35), Kevin Magee (1993 Yamaha YZR500), Murray Sayle (Hansford KR350) and Cameron Donald (1982 XR69) all wowed the crowd for three thrilling days. Also on the grid was Maria Costello MBE, the fastest woman to lap the Isle Of Man TT course, riding a Beugger 1968 Paton 500, and Kiwi legend John Boote piloted a Yamaha TZ700A. It was pure heaven, and with 530 bikes entered, impossible to take it all in. What a weekend!

Freddie Spencer and Marie Costello talk bikes.

Freddie Spencer and Marie Costello talk bikes.

Thursday was low key, being practice and venue set-up. I spent the day there testing bikes, and it really was surreal to be in the pit garages with legends I grew up watching on TV. Freddie, the Kevins, Parrish, Ballington and company going about their business setting bikes up – just like they were back on the grand prix circus. These guys are so professional.

When I was a kid, my dream was to be a racer or a factory team mechanic, so I did my apprenticeship as a motorcycle mechanic while I was also racing. For me, some of the heroes are the ones I admired twirling spanners. Walking around and seeing people like Dave ‘Radar’ Cullen (ex-Doohan, Magee, many others mechanic), engineer Peter Molloy, Ken McIntosh, Stu Avant, Dudley Lister and many more working on vintage bikes was thrilling. I felt like I had stepped back in time. It was one of those days I will never forget and can’t completely share, as it was such a personal experience. It just made me realize how lucky I am and that motorcycles bring me so much happiness, I should always be grateful that I discovered them.

Schwantz gets the holeshot from McWilliams and Spencer

Kevin Schwantz gets the holeshot from Jeremy McWilliams and Freddie Spencer.

Come Friday and things got serious. Practice in the morning followed by qualifying and some afternoon racing. There were dozens of classes there supporting the GP Legends Clash events, but what everybody wanted to see were the legends out on the exotic GP bikes.

With open pits including garages, plus pit lane for those accredited, it truly was a hands-on amazing experience for not only the fans but also the legends. With the bikes being rolled out and warmed up, the crowd gathered with hundreds of cameras going like a scene out of an early 1980s European Grand Prix. The look on the legends faces said it all to me as I stood back with my camera and enjoyed the moment myself.

Spencer has been on a fitness campaign and it shows.

Spencer has been on a fitness campaign and it shows.

I could see Kork Ballington looking serious and focused as he warmed up his KR250. Murray Sayle was sitting back on his KR350 taking in the dozens of photographers surrounding him, just like the old days, while Kevin Schwantz sat on a bench in his pit garage, helmet on, only walking out when it was time to take off down pit lane. Kevin Magee was all smiles as he climbed aboard his Yamaha YZR500, and Freddie Spencer was virtually mobbed as he waited for his 500 to be warmed up; of course he then happily posed for some photos before riding away.

The legends appeared to be enjoying it all as much as the crowd, which was refreshing and proved they are, like us, pure enthusiasts. They just happen to be able to ride like very few in the world can, and somehow maintain that in their retirement years! They hung out a lot and there were plenty of laughs, with a few of them looking a little dusty on the Saturday and Sunday mornings – you can only imagine the catch-ups over a few beverages among these guys!

Steve Parrish leads Kevin Schwantz, Freddie Spencer and Kevin Magee.

Steve Parrish leads Kevin Schwantz, Freddie Spencer and Kevin Magee.

The so called ‘Clashes’ were supposed to be parade-style laps, but I can tell you they were nothing of the sort! As cool as the riders were in playing it all down, these guys are ultra competitive people and they care about beating the next guy – a lot! Throw in the fact that the ‘next guy’ is one of their all-time rivals, and they are not going to let it go easily. There were sideways glances and grins being exchanged between these guys all weekend, and I watched it closely. They’d talk before a session, planning passes for the crowd and discussing who will lead, then the flag would drop and it would all go straight out of the exhaust pipe! It was on and there was some serious slipstreaming going on.

Jeremy McWilliams was the man who finished the weekend with the most points. However, he had swapped bikes with Schwantz a few times to try the modern RGV while Kevin sampled the old RGB. So with that in mind, it was Kevin Magee that was the GP Legends winner on his YZR500 followed by Fast Freddie Spencer with three-second places and a fourth, then Steve Parish, Graeme Crosby, Murray Sayle, Kork Ballington, Maria Costello and Kevin Schwantz.

Jeremy McWilliams racing for real on the XR69 in the Barry Sheene Challenge.

Jeremy McWilliams racing for real on the XR69 in the Barry Sheene Challenge.

Schwantz was up there but, as mentioned, swapping bikes, coming in early and a few things like that, which were needed to accommodate real racing commitments, and this negatively affected his points tally.

Speaking of his real racing commitments, it is clear that Revvin’ Kevin hasn’t lost any of his magic, cleaning up in the P3 500cc class on a Ken McIntosh-prepared Manx Norton, with four wins from four starts netting him 100 points, as well as finishing fourth overall behind Chaz Hern (T-Rex Bimota), Paul Byrne (McIntosh Suzuki), Dean Ouhtred (GSX-R1100) in premier class, the Barry Sheene Top 50. This achievement meant many back-to-back events for Kevin, including jumping off the RGV500 straight onto the XR69 without even a quick drink.

Kevin Schwantz trying out the old school 500.

Kevin Schwantz trying out the old school 500.

The races were long and hard, too, so it helped that Schwantz is still super fit. It just shows how much Kevin loves bikes. He was beaming all weekend and stayed on in Australia the week after to spend Easter at Round 2 of the Australian Superbike Championships, where he caught up with old mates such as Peter Doyle and Mat Mladin, and enjoyed the local racing including watching Anthony West make his Australian Superbike debut.

Like Schwantz, Jeremy McWilliams is still fiercely competitive and takes racing very seriously. He is a familiar face at these big classic events and competes each year in the Island Classic at Phillip Island. This was his first year at the Barry Sheene Festival of Speed, and he had mixed memories of the circuit. Unfortunately bike issues ruined Jeremy’s attempt at winning the Premier Class, but that didn’t stop him from finishing in front of both Sunday’s GP legends Clash events and getting into the 1:45s along with Spencer and Magee. That’s moving on these old bikes!

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Overall it was a stunning weekend with legends, amazing bikes, thousands of like-minded classic racing enthusiasts providing an authentic style step back in time to the glory days of grand prix motorcycle racing. Having Freddie Spencer and Kevin Schwantz here in Australia truly was an amazing thing, an event we’ll remember for years to come.

I suggest that if you are planning on a holiday Down Under from the U.S.A., that you convince the powers that be that Easter is the best time to travel here!

For a full list of all results and races, click on this link: racing.natsoft.com.au.

The Stars

032916-barry-sheene-festival-2016-Spencer on the factory 500 triple getting into itFreddie Spencer

Born in 1961 in Shreveport, Louisiana, Spencer gained the nickname Fast Freddie early on in his career. When he took the 1983 500cc grand prix championship, he was the youngest ever prior to Marc Marquez to win the title. Then in 1985, Freddie won world championships in both the 500cc class and the 250cc category in the same season, something no one has done before or since. He started riding at the age of four and began racing soon after. Incredibly, he had already been racing for 15 years when he became World Champion age 21. He also has multiple Superbike and Daytona wins. Freddie spends his time at classic events these days, having retired from commentary and closing his riding school.
032916-barry-sheene-festival-2016-Kevin Schwantz raced an XR69 in the Barry Sheene Challenges and was up there at the front along with Cam Donald and McWilliamsKevin Schwantz

Born in 1964 in Houston, Texas, Schwantz learned to ride aged four and began his competitive career soon after, riding trials and motocross. He began road racing in 1984 and joined the Yoshimura Superbike Team, winning both legs of his first race in the 1985 Willow Springs AMA Superbike National. In 1988 he headed to Europe and that same year won the Japanese 500cc grand prix on the Pepsi Suzuki. Kevin became World 500cc Grand Prix Champion in 1993 and retired in 1995 aged 31. He had amassed 25 wins and 51 podiums by then.
032916-barry-sheene-festival-2016-Four times world GP champion Kork Ballington on the Gregg Hansford KR250Kork Ballington

Born in 1951 in Rhodesia, Ballington is a four-time world champion. He used his production-based national road racing experience and success to springboard his International career, gaining entry into the British scene. He raced as a semi-works or privateer rider for a few years doing the European Circus before gaining a spot as a factory rider on the Kawasaki Team. Kork won the 250 and 350 World Championships in 1978 and 1979, and competed at the pointy end of 500 grand prix on the factory Kawasaki KR500 in 1980, 1981 and 1982. After GP racing, Kork raced in various series before spending time racing AMA for Honda until 1988 when he retired to Queensland, Australia. We seem to get them all Down Under!
032916-barry-sheene-festival-2016-Graeme Crosby heads out on the KR750Graeme Crosby

Graeme ‘Croz’ Crosby was born in New Zealand in 1955. He spent the late 1970s racing in Australia, impressing kids like Wayne Gardner and Kevin Magee, where the Australian fans loved him. Croz has won the Imola 200, Suzuka 8 Hours and the Isle of Man TT. He is the 1980 TT Formula One Champion and finished fifth in the 1981 World 500cc Grand Prix Championship while also defending his TT title. In 1982, he joined Marlboro Yamaha racing for Agostini and won the Daytona 200. He finished second in the 1982 500cc championship and then abruptly retired.
032916-barry-sheene-festival-2016-Magee was the fastest 500 legend all weekendKevin Magee

Born in 1962 in Horsham, Australia, Kevin Magee is known locally as the Horsham Hurricane. He raced production and superbike with great success before gaining International attention after scoring second place at the Suzuka 8 Hour in 1986. Kevin scored a third place in his first ever GP race as a wildcard on the Kenny Roberts team, securing him a full-time ride alongside Wayne Rainey for 1988. Kevin scored his first win at Jarama that same year. A crash at Laguna Seca in 1990, involving Bubba Shobert, ended Magee’s GP career after head injuries prevented him from reaching his full potential. He retired in 1993 after some success racing AMA and World Superbike. He is now a household name Down Under as a TV commentator and magazine test rider.
032916-barry-sheene-festival-2016-Parrish hard on the gas. Not bad for a 63-year-oldSteve Parrish

Born in Cambridge, U.K., in 1953, Steve is a former bike and truck racer who is now a very popular commentator. Parrish turned pro in 1976 aged 22, winning the British Solo Championship. That year he became teammates with Barry Sheene on the factory Suzuki team and raced in the 500cc World Championship. He finished fifth in the title that year. In 1978 he was British 500cc Champion and won the Shell 500cc title in 1979 and 1980, along with the British Superbike championship in 1981. Steve was the manager of the Yamaha Factory BSB team from 1987 to 1991, leading the team to three successive titles.
032916-barry-sheene-festival-2016-Chris Vermeulen on the 1983 facotry RG500Chris Vermeulen

Born in Brisbane, Australia, in 1982, Chris was World Supersport Champion in 2003 riding for Ten Kate Honda. He raced in World Superbike from 2004-2005, and moved to MotoGP in 2006, 2007 and 2009 riding for Suzuki.

Vermeulen returned to SBK for 2010 and 2011 riding Kawasaki and retired in 2012, moving back to Australia.

032916-barry-sheene-festival-2016-McWilliams was flying on the old RGB500Jeremy McWilliams

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 1964, McWilliams is a former 125, 250 and 500cc Grand Prix rider. He also raced in MotoGP for the Ilmor team. McWilliams still races to this day, competing in classic and modern events. He is a test and development rider for KTM and is heavily involved in junior racing development.
032916-barry-sheene-festival-2016-Maria Costello on the expensive Paton 500Maria Costello MBE

Maria, known as the Queen Of Bikers, was the fastest woman to lap the Isle of Man TT course, with an average speed of 114.73 mph until the record was broken in 2009. She was the first woman in TT history to stand on the podium as a solo racer when she took third place in the 2005 Manx Grand Prix riding a VFR400 in the Ultra Lightweight Class. Maria is a great advocate for promoting women in motorcycling and is an FIM Woman’s Motorcycling Sport Foundation coach.
  • Tod Rafferty

    Nice coverage.