The people that thrilled us are still here. And, still as fabulous.
Australia has a wonderful record of motorcycle racing. We may well never see the like of it again. You see, there’s an entire generation of racers that rode production motorcycles at stupid speeds, on tracks and circuits that never had safety as a consideration, on rubber that was nothing like what we get today. It was death-defying stuff.
Most of these blokes are still kicking around, doing normal jobs, unrecognised. In some ways it’s like their feats of derring-do never happened.
We see them from time to time in classic racing and some are still actively punting things around these days. Blokes like Robbie Phillis. Anyone that has ever met Robbie will tell you what a nice bloke he is.
There simply isn’t a more genuine fella on the planet than Robbie Phillis.
But take a moment to remember that Phillis finished third in the World Superbike championship for seasons 1991 and 1992. He could have done even greater things with a little more luck and timing.
One high-end team manager who would really know told me without a hint of doubt that “Phillis had every bit as much ability as Doohan”. Take a minute to gather the gravity of that comment.
Of course, to race as long and as wildly competitively as has Phillis comes at some cost. He somehow finds humour in that.
“I’ve had 200 big crashes, so I reckon I won’t die wondering,” Phillis told INFO MOTO.
“It’s like jumping off your roof 200 times. Jesus, if Covid-19 gets me, who cares after that?”
Son Alex (above at left) still wins on the very 1980 GSX1100 on which Dad took the 1981 Australian Superbike title. Alex is the reigning champ when it comes to the Island Classic. That’s the Mecca these days. Win there and they take notice in the close-knit Post Classic world. Dad is full of quiet pride about that.
Phillis is a walking look into Aussie bike racing’s halcyon past. How does he rate the MotoGP heroes of today? For Phillis, it’s all about mental toughness.
“Marquez is a great rider, but fair dinkum, the fuss over him riding with that arm. I rode World Superbike at Brno with a broken wrist and finished 11th. I bent an alloy flat bar and Elastoplasted it in. That way I could stand the braking pressure,” says Phillis.
Let that sink in. At the top level of bike racing on the planet, next to GP, a front-running Phillis was bending scrap metal and taping it into his gloves to just keep racing. Tough. You think?
Robbie has been a little absent from track in recent times following a gnarly crash atop Lukey Heights at frightening speed in 2015 at Phillip Island, damaging a rotator cuff and breaking a few bits and pieces, but the brain haemorrhage he suffered was the most worrying aspect.
“I guess you could say I’m retired, but It’s never over. That last big one knocked me about a bit,” Phillis says.
Asked genuinely if he’s out of racing for good, Robbie said, “I’ve never had enough.”
And thank Christ for that Robbie, because we certainly will never be able to get enough of you.
Snag’s career in motoring journalism spans 29 years with stints at major bike mags Australian Road Rider, Motorcycle Trader and AMCN along with contributions to just about every other outlet worth a hill of beans. He was editor of Unique Cars magazine and hosts his legendary podcast ‘Snag Says’ when he gets off his date.