This morning, the world learned of the death of former Beatle George Harrison from cancer at age 58.
Harrison's accomplishments as a musician need no real introduction, he was of course a member of what is genuinely considered the best music group of all time.
As has been noted here before, in addition to being a wonderful musician, Harrison had more than a passing fancy with motorcycle racing. He enjoyed bike racing as a fan, and even sponsored a team in Grand Prix.
"George came to quite a lot of Grand Prixs in the middle 1970s, as I remember it," said legendary broadcaster and reporter Chris Carter this morning from his office in London. "He was introduced to Grand Prix, I think, by Barry Sheene who he was sort of mates with in the 1970s. He would come to the races with Barry and then later, with (racer) Steve Parrish. I recall him coming to mostly the Mediterranean rounds, Italy, Spain, and maybe in the UK. He had a house in France, I think, and then he'd come over to the Spanish and Italian rounds."
Carter, known throughout the world as the voice of the Daytona 200, recalls Harrison attending at least three GPs a year in 1976, 1977 and 1978.
"I think he was into the people more the bikes, as I seem to recall. He liked racing in general. You'd see him at F-1 (car) races, but I think he found F-1 a bit stuffy and aloof. Motorcycle racing was the everyman sport then, and was of course much more exciting than F-1, so he tended to like the bikes more."
After Sheene exited the scene, Harrison hooked up with Brit racer Steve Parrish, who was Sheene's team-mate, and the former Beatle actually (partially) sponsored Parrish's 1978 racing efforts.
Reached at his home in the UK this morning, Parrish remembered his old friend and sponsor Harrison warmly. "He came into racing with Barry Sheene and then sponsored me on my RG500 in 1978," said current racer and WSC broadcaster Parrish. "He co-sponsored me in 1978 with his two record labels, Harri-Songs and Dark Horse Records. He bought my RG500."
"He was just a lovely man," Parrish recalls, "and this was, of course, in 1976, when he was perhaps more famous than he was in modern times. And even then he was just one of the nicest and most easy-going guys, not pretentious at all. A very happy-go-lucky man who liked to come along and spend a day at the track. He wasn't a superstar when he came to the racetrack, he was just a guy who loved speed, racing and the people of motor-racing."
Parrish remembers Harrison being a fan of both the bikes and the people of motorcycle racing. "Like a lot of people who don't do it, George was just fascinated by motor racing. He loved the buzz and the people who were in motorcycle racing."
In the recent Beatles book by the then three surviving members of the band, Harrison included a photograph of himself as a lad sitting on a presumed Manx Norton. It was taken at the British racetrack Aintree, located just outside of Liverpool, in the 1950s, showing he was a fan of motorcycle racing for most of his life in one capacity or another.
Racing needs no justification or celebrity endorsement to rationalize why it is done, or why fans are drawn to it. It is men on machines doing what to many seems impossible. But, the fact that a talented artist such as Harrison, who wrote While My Guitar Gently Weeps, was drawn to motorcycle racing because of what racing is at its essence, and that he didn't stand at the side of the pit wall and say 'these guys are crazy' but instead was awed by it and spent his own money to further it, shows the sport truly is for every man.