The Mad World of Steve Parrish

Steve ‘Stavros’ Parrish is a British motorcycle racing legend. A familiar face on our TV screens, commentating on the TT and MotoGP, you’re also likely to bump into him at bike shows and events in the UK and abroad. 

His CV is mind-boggling. In 1977, a year after turning professional, he became Barry Sheene’s teammate at Suzuki, finishing a strong fifth in the 500cc world championship. Steve went on to claim several British titles, including the 1981 BSB Championship, before retiring to manage the Loctite Yamaha team. There he took three more BSB titles, while starting out on a new career in truck racing. By the time he retired from that stage in 2002, he’d won six British and four European championships, making him the most successful truck racer of all time!

Parrish is equally quick going backwards - he held the Guinness World Record for the "Fastest Speed Achieved in Reverse" (85 mph, using a Caterham car). We managed to catch up with the man known as ‘Stavros’ to find out more about his life as a racer.

It all started with a petrol lawnmower

I was about 8 years old and I was fascinated by anything with an engine, so that got me hooked. At that time we had some family friends whose son had a field bike - probably a BSA Bantam - and I became infatuated with it. Even though I kept falling off, I always wanted to get back on.

You couldn’t watch bike racing on the telly back then, so you had to go to a race meeting to see your heroes

I was a big fan of Giacomo Agostini and Barry Sheene, who was a couple of years older than me, but started racing way earlier. So it was pretty mind-blowing to find myself in my rookie Grand Prix year, riding in the same team as Barry and on the same grid as Agostini. I had a race long battle with Ago at Spa, dicing for 3rd or 4th place, and I remember thinking that I couldn't believe I was overtaking my hero, while he had no idea who I was!

I’d never been on an aeroplane before

My first Grand Prix was in Venezuela. I’d only been a professional racer for two years, I’d never been on an aeroplane before and I hadn’t a clue where Venezuela was. When we arrived in Caracas, we had to bribe every official we met and when we eventually got to the circuit, it was in the middle of the desert. There were literally no facilities, apart from some tin huts, with no electricity or running water. The nearest hotel was 50 miles away and so was the hospital, so you definitely didn’t want to crash, especially as the snakes might get to you before the ambulance. In spite of all that, I finished in the top 10.

I fell off leading the British Grand Prix

It was the final round of the 1977 500cc World Championship at Silverstone. Barry had retired from the race and I’d put in the fastest lap time and was leading by 3 seconds. Then it started to drizzle. Being out front, I was the first to hit a wet patch, and down I went. The same thing happened to the guy behind me, but Pat Hennen in third had time to figure out what was happening and stayed on to win the race. But it was great while it lasted!

Modern bikes are brilliant

The Suzuki RG500 has to be the best race bike I ever rode - I still own three of them - but they just can’t compare to modern machines. After I’d retired from racing, I got an opportunity to ride Valentino Rossi’s Yamaha YZR-M1 for 10 laps around Jerez, and it blew me away. What a piece of kit!

From two wheels to four

I retired from racing in 1986 and switched to managing the Loctite Yamaha team in British Superbikes. It wasn’t a difficult move to make, because I’d been my own manager up until then. Basically, Suzuki or Yamaha would give me a bike and a budget, and me, my girlfriend and a mechanic would drive to all the circuits in a transit van, towing a caravan. Although we won three championships, by 1991 I was at a crossroads, because I missed being on the podium. Barry had started racing trucks in the late 80s and, being competitive, if he did something, I wanted to do it too! Like motorcycle racing, you have to be smooth, but for slightly different reasons, because you’re wrestling 5 tons of metal around a track at 100 mph. One big bonus is that you make fewer hospital visits.

I’ve always collected weird vehicles

I happen to have an assortment of unusual cars and vans in my garage, including an ambulance, an armoured car and a fire engine. They often come in handy. For example, if I need to pop to the bank in town, I can park outside on the double yellow lines if I take my ambulance. A few years ago Genesis were playing at Knebworth, which is close to my home. I wanted to see them, but tickets cost an arm and a leg and they’d sold out quickly. So I called up a few mates, we all dressed up as firemen, and headed off for the gig in the fire engine, loaded up with beer and wine. When we arrived at Knebworth, security waved us through, past the queue of cars, right to the front of the stage, where they parked us next to the St John’s Ambulance. We had the best seats in the house, although I’m mightily relieved there wasn’t a fire that night!

The next stage

For the past 10 years I’ve been appearing in theatres around the country on my Mad Tour and it’s time for a change. I met Henry Cole at the TT a few years ago and we hit it off straight away. We’re both a bit whacky and like to collect odd bikes, cars and trucks. Plus we could both talk the hind legs off a donkey. So this year we decided to do a tour together, to give people an opportunity to get to know the man behind the TV programmes up close and uncensored. It’s been a hoot and every night turns out different.

You can find out more about Steve’s incredible adventures on his website at and in his autobiography; PARRISH TIMES – MY LIFE AS A RACER.

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