“MY DISBELIEF WAS LIFTING BUT A LITTLE WHEN I WAS SITTING ON SHEENE’S 1976 SQUARE-FOUR RACER IN THE HOLDING AREA AT CADWELL PARK AND THE NERVES BY THIS POINT WERE UNBEARABLE”
While Barry Sheene was busy bagging his first 500Gpworld Championship in 1976 – five wins and a second place giving him the crown with the season only three-quarters done – a 10-year-old boy in north-east Scotland eagerly followed the news from every round.this lad had the posters on his bedroom wall and the pictures and cuttings in a scrapbook.all of his school exercise books had the Suzuki ’S’ hand-drawn on the cover.
If you’d told this same fan-boy that 42 years later he’d have the opportunity to ride Sheene’s 1976 world championshipwinning Suzuki XR14 RG500 he would never have believed you. He still couldn’t believe it when an email from James Sharpe of the Suzuki GB press office landed in the inbox. It read: “Would you like to ride one of Barry Sheene’s championship-winning XR14S at Cadwell?” Slowly it sank in. Me and Barry Sheene’s bikes.the 1976 and 1977 title winners were on offer but the ’76
was the one I really wanted to sample. after all, this was the bike that began a lifelong obsession; if ‘obsession’ is a big enough word.the Classic Suzukitrackday at Cadwell on 13 September promised a host of fine old race machinery but the Suzuki and the vintage Spares guys had really surpassed themselves with this offer. How could I say ‘no’? Although saying ‘yes’ set in train a mixture of trepidation, disbelief and jangling nerves.
My disbelief was lifting but a little when I was sitting on Sheene’s 1976 square four racer in the holding area at Cadwell Park and the nerves by this point were unbearable. I felt like I’d been asked to carry the Crown Jewels up a dark alley at night. I blipped the throttle so I wouldn’t stall this precious machine for a second time, having ground to a halt 50 yards from the Suzuki marquee just moments before, necessitating a bump start from Sheene mechanic Martyn Ogborne and Suzuki GB’S Tim Davies.
As the riders ahead peeled onto the circuit, Martyn’s instructions were still ringing in my ears. “There’s not much power below 10,000rpm, keep an eye on the temperature, you don’t want it going above 70°C, the gearshift is right-side, one up and the rest down. Enjoy it,” he’d smiled. Martyn restored the bike with Nigel Everett last year. I really didn’t want to be the one to crumple their handiwork.
Finally we were waved forward, this was it. a moment I never thought to experience was here. I trundled gingerly onto Hall Bends, round the Hairpin and Barn and onto the start/finish straight. a handful of throttle and as the rev counter needle swung past 10k the XR14 shot forward with an urgency that made me feel like God’s bowling ball. Coppice arrived in a split second and I was back into nursemaid mode through the left and round the right of Charlie’s. More throttle along Park Straight and another dose of adrenalin-fused exhilaration. Round Park and Chris Curve and the dive down the Gooseneck to Mansfield. Is this really happening?
Taking the nadgery section through the chicane and up around to the Mountain like I was riding a moped rather than a racing thoroughbred the realisation dawned that I’d done a lap of an actual race track on Barry Sheene’s actual bike. Doubtless the slowest lap of any race track this bike had ever done but that was never the point. Another three laps then the session was red-flagged. Returning to the paddock with the bike still on its wheels and in one-piece felt like I’d won aworld Championship of my own.
I’m going to dig out that old scrapbook – it must be in my mum’s house somewhere – there’s another picture and another story to stick in it now.
Clockwise from top right: Nice style on The Mountain. Two old boys nattering. Seeley on the TL. Two old boys nattering behind THE RG500 – Bazza’s ‘76-er