It’s easy to forget that behind the injuries, 70s glamour and cheeky quips was a stellar racing talent. This is the story of Barry Sheene’s historic first 500cc world title...
n July 25, 1976, Barry Sheene wrapped up his first 500cc world championship at Anderstorp in Sweden, after winning the race by 34 seconds from Australia’s Jack Findlay. To mark the 40th anniversary of Sheene’s historic achievement, we asked those who were there for their memories of that incredible season. We also take an in-depth look at the bike that took him to the title and talk exclusively to his son Freddie about his Dad’s lasting legacy.
The summer of 1976 was a scorcher for the UK, hotter and drier than any other year on record. It was also a scorcher for a young British motorcycle racer called Barry Sheene, as he lifted the first of two consecutive 500cc Grand Prix world titlee and became a global superstar and household name in the process.
Entering that season as the number one rider for the Texaco Heron Suzuki team, Sheene had only won two 500cc Grands Prix – in Holland and Sweden the previous year. His team-mates on the iconic orange-red-and-black liveried Suzuki RG500s would be fellow Brits, John Williams and John
Newbold, but it would be Tepi Lansivuori and Pat Hennen that would prove to be his closest challengers for the greatest prize in motorcycle sport.
Although there were 10 races on the 1976 calendar, riders were allowed to select their six best scores to count towards their overall tally. With five wins and one second place, Sheene won the title by 33 points from fellow Suzuki rider Lansivuori. In fact, such was the domination of the RG500 Sheene had helped develop, that the bikes filled nine of the top 10 places in the championship.
Sheene refused to race at the TT and sat out the final three rounds after wrapping up the title because, bizarre as it may sound now, travelling to GPs actually cost him money!
Sheene had become a star in 1975 after his high-speed crash caused by a tyre blowout at Daytona had been repeatedly shown both in a documentary and on UK news bulletins, but by clinching the 1976 world title, he became a superstar. Not only was he a devastatingly effective motorcycle racer, he was also intelligent, charming, multi-lingual, good-looking and cheeky at the same time – a perfect celebrity cocktail, and one that ensured his status as a mainstream star and a very wealthy man.
Words: Stuart Barker Photos: Bauer Archive