Glug, Glug, Glug – How a Trio of Stars Stared Down Oblivion, and Lived to Tell the Tale.
If not for some quick thinking on an April night, 1974, the 1975 Daytona 200 may not have been won by Gene Romero, and the 1976-1980 world 500 championships captured by people other than Barry Sheene and Kenny Roberts.
Barry Sheene liked living on the edge both on and off the track, but he never considered himself a ‘speed demon’. He once told me some of the scariest moments of his life were when he was passenger in a sports car driven by good mate Johnny Ceccotto on the freeways of Caracas, Venezuela. “I wondered how I was going to survive,” he said. In 1974, Sheene and his contemporaries tempted fate the night before the Imola 200 that in recognition of the following anecdote, was unsurprisingly won by Giacomo Agostini.
Sheene, Roberts and his Yamaha USA teammate Gene Romero had been raising merry hell in the town of Imola, and hopped in to their Fiat rent-a-car to raise some more hell. Roberts was driving, and a giggling Romero was trying to work the pedals from the passenger seat at about 130km/h with Roberts fighting him off, when for a “bit of fun”, Sheene pulled the hand-brake on from the back seat.
“Roberts thought he’d be clever and turned into the slide,” Sheene once told me. “So it rolled twice, slid on its roof, went down an embankment upside down, hit a tree, went up in the air, somersaulted and then landed upside down in a river. We wondered why it’d been such a soft landing when we started hearing this glug, glug, glug of water – the thing started sinking!
“The door wouldn’t open so I kicked out the windscreen out. Romero got out then dragged me free. Romero and I were laughing and then Romero thought: ‘Shoot, I better get Kenny or I’ll get the sack if he drowns!”
“Finally, we all clambered up this really steep embankment covered in mud laughing our heads off, and this guy took us back to the hotel.
“Then Yamaha’s team manager Rodney Gould appeared. Hardly believing his eyes, he asked. ‘What in the hell have you three been up to!?!’ Roberts said, “We crashed a hire car.” Gould asked, “Whose hire car?” and Roberts said: “Yours!”
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