WHEN Kevin Magee started riding a bicycle at six years old he was instantly hooked to the adrenaline rush of picking up speed and having the wind blow through his hair.
His family moved off a farm at Dooen in the late 1960s – the property had become unprofitable due to the drought.
Moving into town, the Magee family went from 1500 acres of land to a quarter-acre block.
“When you go onto a small block like that from a farm you are just going nuts,” Kevin Magee said.
“I was six and you just want to do something. I had just gotten my first push bike and then my middle brother Damian was at the Horsham Tech school.
“Damian got an old engine from the farm and built a mini bike – it wasn’t a huge success but it worked. That was how we got into it.
“We used to go down along the river with barbecues and we were just riding our bikes all weekend.”
In 1978 Magee followed his older brother Tim to a motocross race at Edenhope.
“My older brother Tim moved to Naracoorte and did a few races and I was probably a little more quicker than him and also more stupid to put my bones on the line,” Magee said.
“Tim told me to come along to this race at Edenhope on May 5,1978. I won two races and came fourth in another one.
“We had no goggles or anything, I wasn’t expecting to win there. So then I thought I’d have a crack at this.
“I was always the little child who was told I wouldn’t be able to do it, so I wanted to have more of a crack at it.
“That was around the time the Dooen course was starting up because the Horsham Motorcycle Club needed somewhere for the children to go ride their mini bikes.”
While doing some work experience at Dooen, Magee met Phil Niewand who introduced him to road racing.
“Phil told me to come road racing when I was about 17 and I got a new 125cc, used my sister’s helmet and Phil got some leathers from a mate,” Magee said.
“We went to Mount Gambier and I loved it. You returned home and everything wasn’t wrecked and you weren’t full of mud.
“A couple of months later I got my license and my Mum loaned me some money so I could get a bike, and I did end up paying her back.”
From then on it was quite clear Magee had a talent for road racing. He started to win some races and was being noticed from Melbourne.
“I started to win races quite quickly, and I was only doing it for fun because I liked riding bikes,” Magee said.
“Instead of riding by myself like I had done for a few years because my brothers had all moved away, I liked racing against other guys and seeing if I could beat them. It just went from strength to strength.
“Bob Brown from a Ducati shop in Melbourne offered me a ride and I did that for a couple of years. Then I had an opportunity to go to Japan for the Suzuka 8 Hours.
“That was the first one I did and it wasn’t a great success – I crashed in some oil and sprained a wrist. I came home and was working as an apprentice mechanic at the same time on Wilson Street in Horsham.”
In 1987 Magee won the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race.
“It used to be the biggest and best thing you could ever win,” he said.
“It was 37 degrees and 98 per cent humidity. I did more than five hours in the seat.”
A year later Magee was racing near Madrid in Spain in only his sixth Grand Prix. Against the best racers in the world, Magee went on to win what would be his only Grand Prix victory.
“It was pretty unreal to win that Grand Prix,” he said.
“When I was doing my apprenticeship, Freddie Spencer in 1983 who was six months older than me won the world championship.
“So I thought I was no chance and I would just keep doing it for fun. All of a sudden I’m racing in the Grand Prix and winning in my sixth one.
“It was all very foreign for me being in Spain. To go to Europe from Horsham and experience all the diversity there it was very strange – I didn’t know where I was.
“It was actually quite bewildering. As long as I could get to the track and sit on the bike I knew where I was. The rest of the time I was lost.
“It was a great win. I was going head to head with the best guy in the world at the time in Eddie Lawson. It was all looking pretty good but then it just didn’t all work out.
“That was an era where you would get flown high in the air if you got it wrong.”
In 1990 while racing in America Magee did ‘get it wrong’ – he crashed around a turn and ended up in a coma for two weeks.
“I was in and out of consciousness for a few days,” he said.
“When you come out of a coma you don’t wake up thinking you have to go to work. I wasn’t scared of dying I was scared of being paralysed.
“I had a massive pain in my back and I couldn’t move my toes or talk. On the third day I lifted my thumb up and indicated to my family around me that I knew I was okay and knew what was happening.”
Magee sat out of his bike for almost a year following the accident. He would never get another full-time Grand Prix contract.
“I had brain surgery and some people were telling me to get off the bike but I knew I wanted to keep going,” Magee said.
“I had to sit on a couch basically in cotton wool waiting to get better. I came back to Australia weighing 47 kilograms. I weighed 77 kilograms before. Everything just wasted away. Despite that I never considered stopping.
“I came back to racing 51 weeks later at the Japanese Grand Prix. I had some wildcard entries for a couple of Grands Prix. After that I won the World Superbikes and I got going again but the powers that be told me I was a bit risky, so I didn’t get a full-time Grand Prix career back. The crash stuffed some things up.”
By the end of his career Magee became the only Australian motorcycle rider to win a race in each of the world championship series – Grand Prix, Formula TT, World Superbikes and World Endurance. Formula TT is now a defunct series, so he will forever remain the only Australian motorcycle rider to do so.
In 1995 Magee had to retire due to a knee injury and went straight into commentating for Fox Sports.
“Commentating was the last thing I thought I would be doing,” he said.
“It seems to be suiting me well, I’ve been doing it for 23 years and have had no complaints. Bikes are what I think about from when I wake up to when I go to bed, and I get paid to go to work and talk about them.”
A few years ago Magee was presented with a new challenge on two wheels.
“I was asked by Ben Felten to help him break the world land speed record for a motorbike ridden blind,” he said.
“We broke that this year in March on Lake Gairdner in South Australia. I was behind him telling him where to go and turn.
“It’s a bizarre feeling when you’re going so fast you can barely see where you’re going and you’re telling a blind guy where to go.
“It’s fine when you’re on your own, but when you’re following a guy who can’t see a thing there are a whole lot of other factors. You have to keep him out of trouble.”
Magee and Felten’s speed is awaiting ratification but is believed to be a world record at a speed of 266.685 km/h.