A certain Barry Sheene hung over pit wall holding the signal board that was going to herald a new chapter in the history of British Motorcycle racing. The GAS IT W….. message brought a smile to the face of his great mate Steve Parrish as he raced towards Copse corner on the last lap leading the very first British Grand Prix.
It was an August afternoon in 1977 in these were incredible times and now the prospect of a British winner – it did not get any better than this, although perhaps a Sheene victory would have been the ultimate ending to the most perfect day. Since 1949 the British round of the World Championship had traditionally been held over the mountain circuit at the TT in the Isle of Man. The majority of the leading riders had stopped riding at the most famous motorcycle race in the world while even some of the National Federations had banned their riders from competing because they felt the 60.721 kms circuit was just too dangerous. We’d had our appetites whetted with many of the Grand Prix stars competing in lucrative international meetings at Silverstone, Brands Hatch, Mallory Park and even Cadwell Park but this was the real thing. At last after 28 years, the British round of the World Championship was on the mainland and the timing was perfect.
Barry Sheene had already retained the 500cc World Championship, Barry and girlfriend Stephanie were the Beckhams of the seventies and featured on front pages and in magazines that would never have dreamt of even mentioning motor cycle racing and to make it the perfect day, Sheene was starting the race in pole position. To say Silverstone was buzzing would be a vast understatement.
The so wanted Sheene victory did not materialise when the World Champion was forced to retire with mechanical problems but led by Sheene, the massive crowd switched their allegiance to his partner in crime Steve Parrish. Even after that there was a backup with John Williams, riding another RG 500 Suzuki in second place in front of Sheene’s team-mate and not great friend American Pat Hennen.
Everybody was on their feet as Parrish raced between those towering grandstands at Woodcote to start the last of the 28 laps to re-write the history books both for himself and British Motorcycle racing, but don’t forget this was England in August. A few spots of rain spattered on Parrish’s visor as he turned his head to read Sheene’s typical message. Just 4.711 kms of the flat Northamptonshire countryside to negotiate and Parrish would win his first Grand Prix and would be crowned the very first winner of the British Grand Prix.
The National Anthem and the Union Jack were being prepared at the podium, but it was the Stars and Stripes that would be required. Going into the first corner at Copse to commence the most important lap of his life, Parrish lost the front end of his Suzuki and went down. Before the crowd could hardly utter a moan, Williams crashed three bends later leaving the way clear for Hennen to win his second 500cc Grand Prix, little did we realise that Kenny Roberts was going to open the flood gates a year later.
That was that. No British rider has won the premier class race at the British Grand in the next 41 years, the unfortunate Steve Parrish never won a Grand Prix and American riders dominated the Championship for the next ten years.
It could have been all so different.