He won 10 world sidecar crowns, but what’s Webbo up to today?
nly two Britons have won 10 road racing world championships: Mike Hailwood and Steve Webster. Yorkshireman Webster had a long and illustrious career in sidecars, taking his first world championship in 1986 and his last in 2004, when he was 44. Webbo (now 56) raced during a time of great upheaval for the chairs, when they were thrown out of Grands Prix because they didn’t fit the sport’s plans to go corporate. Later Webster and his rivals found a new home within World Superbikes, when the class switched to four-strokes and was renamed Supersides. He retired at the age of 45.
Born: Easingwold, North Yorkshire, January 7, 1960
Sidecar World Champion: 1987, 1988, 1989, 1991, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2004
Why three wheels, not two?
Webbo’s dad Mick raced Triumph-powered chairs in the 1960s and 1970s, winning three consecutive British grasstrack titles before switching to road racing. Webbo started racing while he was doing an apprenticeship at Rowntree Mackintosh in nearby York. “I was taking so much time off work to go racing that they eventually gave me an ultimatum: if I wanted to carry on racing I had to take redundancy, so that pushed me into racing full time.”
What’s the biggest gong he won?
Webster was made an MBE in 1991. “It was a laugh. At Buckingham Palace they trained us how to walk up to the Queen and made sure we knew the right things to say to her. She said something to us about sidecars not being made out of wicker baskets…”
So, what’s he up to now?
He’s a full-time engineer – he’s good at all aspects of engineering and fabricating. When he raced he machined a lot of his own bits, made gearbox parts, cast crankcases and so on. “A lot of the sidecar lads are like that,” he says. “You can’t just walk into a shop and buy what you want.”
He was at Goodwood, right?
He rode one of his old LCR500 GP outfits at the Festival of Speed. He used to play around in classic trials – with a BSA chair – until health problems intervened. “For a few years I was struggling to walk and I was losing feeling in my legs. I thought it was the racing but the surgeons said it wasn’t that. They ended up fusing my bottom three vertebrae and sticking a couple of six-inch rods in there. They said you’ll be all right, so long as you don’t abuse it, so I thought I better give up the trials because you can end up upside down now and again.”
Did he have any big crashes when he was racing?
A couple. Most famously at the 1985 Dutch TT at Assen when he was leading his first GP and ran off the track at speed before ploughing into a dyke and nearly wiping out a posse of photographers. “The photographers were on the other side of the dyke thinking, this is a good shot and we’re safe here, he’s not going to hit us. You see one of them suddenly realise that our outfit is coming right at him. Bits of the outfit went right over his head.” There’s some great footage off the accident on Youtube.
What about the TT?
Webbo did the TT once, in 1983. He only made it to the 13th Milestone on the first lap before another big crash. “I still can’t remember anything about it really; I must’ve got the 13th wrong! I ended up in Nobles hospital with compressions of the neck. My passenger, Tony Hewitt, broke a couple of vertebrae.”
Who was Webbo’s biggest rival?
Rolf Biland, the Swiss ace who won seven world titles between 1978 and 1994. “Biland was always the guy I wanted to beat – him and his passenger, Kurt Waltisperg, were the best. I came along, followed them, learned from them, got to the stage where I felt I could have a go at them and then started to beat them.”
Words: Max Oxley