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My life in bikes: Steve Parrish

Published: 27 November 2015

Updated: 26 November 2015

‘I fell off while leading the British GP, I got sacked for that’

till dodging getting a proper job, British champion bike (and truck) racer, team manager and now TV commentator, Steve Parrish talks bikes and Barry Sheene.

 

When did you first get into bikes?
I had an older brother who was into bikes so I’d wait until he went out and would try to start up his field bikes. The first bike I actually bought was a Matchless 500 that I paid £12 for in 1965. I got my first road bike as soon as I was 16. It was a 250cc Yamaha.

When did you start racing?
I started racing at 19 after I got too wild on the roads. I was ending up in ditches so me and my mates built a Triton to go racing. I was an agricultural engineer at the time so was more interested in the engineering than the riding. It was a 500 but we cheated and put 650cc cylinders in it but when we got to Brands Hatch it was still way slower than anything else on the track – that’s how crap I was at engineering.

What do you consider to be the highlights of your racing career?
Crikey – there haven’t been many! I guess winning my first British Championship on a TZ750 Yamaha in 1976 was pretty special. I got a great deal of satisfaction from finishing third in the Senior TT in 1985 but then lost that sense of satisfaction when I was disqualified for having an oversized fuel tank! The stupid thing is, I still did two pit stops like everyone else so I didn’t gain anything. But at least I got to stand on a TT podium with Joey Dunlop before they stripped me of the result.

Loctite Yamaha
‘FZ750 restored to match my race bike’

What was your best result in a 500cc Grand Prix?
I finished third in France in 1981 but most of the top riders had boycotted that race. My best championship position was fifth in 1977 so that was the peak of my racing career. I would have finished third in the championship if I’d not fallen off while leading the British GP on the last lap. I got sacked for that at the end of the season.
You’ve won more European Truck Racing Championships than anyone else. How did that compare to racing bikes?
It was great but it wasn’t the same rush because you knew you weren’t going to die if it all went wrong. It might sound silly but I’m sure that’s a big part of the rush of bike racing.

You were Sheene’s team-mate and best mate. How did you first meet?
It was at Brands Hatch in 1974. I was riding in the Stars of Tomorrow meeting and he was a judge. I won lots of races but still didn’t win overall. Barry voted for me though – probably because he fancied my girlfriend.

How did you become involved with George Harrison?
Through Barry. George used to come to a lot of the Grands Prix – quite often with Eric Idle. George was quite annoyed when I got sacked from Texaco Heron Suzuki in 1977 and he said “Don’t worry Steve – I’ll make sure you have enough tyres and petrol to go racing,” and he gave me £55,000!

1961 Panther Sidecar
‘I’ll use it to get to posh functions’

You spent five years as a team manager for Loctite Yamaha in BSB. Did you enjoy that?
Yes, it was quite successful too. We won four British championships between 1987 and 1991 with Terry Rymer, Rob McElnea, Keith Huewen and Mark Phillips.

What bikes do you currently own?
I still have my 1979 Suzuki RG500 and I’ve had a Yamaha FZ750 restored to look like the one I raced. I’ve also got a Yamaha FZ1 Fazer and a T-Max. I’ve just bought a 1961 Panther Sidecar outfit as a restoration project too – it’s going to be my transport to really posh functions where everyone else turns up in Bentleys and Rolls Royces!


 

Photos: Rex/Bauer Archive

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