Barry Sheene MBE (September 11, 1950 – March 10, 2003) was a British former World Champion Grand Prix motorcycle road racer.
Sheene was born in London, England the second child of parents Frank (resident engineer at the Royal College of Surgeons) and Iris. His early years were spent in Queens Square, Holborn.
He became the British 125cc champion aged just 20, and finished second in the World Championships for that class a year later. A spectacular crash at the Daytona 200 in 1975 threatened to end his career, breaking his left thigh, right arm, collarbone and two ribs, yet he recovered and was racing again seven weeks afterwards.
In 1976 he won five 500cc Grand Prix, bringing him the World Championship, a feat he repeated the following year with six wins.
After the 1979 season, he left the Suzuki works team, believing that he was receiving inferior equipment to his team-mates. He shifted to a privateer Yamaha machine, but soon started receiving works equipment. A 1982 crash largely ended Sheene as a title threat, and he retired in 1984.
Sheene was a colourful, exuberant character who used his good looks, grin, and Cockney accent to good effect in self-promotion, and combined with an interest in business was one of the first riders to make large amounts of money from endorsements. He is credited with boosting the appeal of motorcycle racing into the realm of the mass marketing media. He also tried his hand as a TV show host and starred in the low-budget film Space Riders.
He moved to Australia in the late 1980s in the hope of relieving some of the pain of injury-induced arthritis, moving to a property near the Gold Coast. He combined a property development business with a role as a commentator on motor sport, first at the Nine Network with the famously loud Darrell Eastlake, then moving with the TV coverage of the motorcycle Grand Prix series to Network Ten. Sheene's commentary style was idiosyncratic, to say the least. Never letting the audience wonder for a minute exactly what he thought of a rider, bike, or team, his biases were completely transparent. He combined insight into the skills of riding, and the vagaries of the professional circuit, with a penchant for the occasional double entendre delivered with a trademark grin.
In later years, Sheene became involved in historic motorcycle racing, usually thrashing the awed amateurs behind him. A little-known piece of trivia is that Sheene invented the motorcycle back protector, with a prototype model he made himself out of old helmet visors, arranged so they could curve in one direction, but not the other. Sheene gave the prototype along with all rights to the Italian company Dainese - they and other companies have manufactured back protectors since then.
He died of cancer, survived by his wife Stephanie and two children.
Following reconstruction of the Brands Hatch Circuit in England for safety concerns after requests by the FIM, the Dingle Dell section was changed for safety, and shortly after Sheene's death the new section was renamed Sheene's Corner in his honour. The FIM named him a Grand Prix "Legend" in 2001. At the 2004 season, V8 Supercars Australia made a memorial medal calling it the Barry Sheene Medal.