Kim Newcombe went to the gentlemen at race control. What had initially been a genial reception turned frosty when they learned the true nature of his visit.

Soon a frumpy man in his late 50s bustled into the room and coolly stared at Newcombe.

He knew what Newcombe wanted but had no intention of acquiescing and placing straw bales on an unprotected part of the race track.

Railway sleepers would greet anyone unfortunate enough to come off at 160km/h at Stowe corner on Silverstone. Newcombe wanted something done about it. Instead, Vernon Cooper threatened Newcombe not only with expulsion from the race meeting but future events in the UK if he tried to interfere further.

That also went for anyone else "foolish" enough to get involved. Newcombe left incensed.

The following day, a lanky rider in yellow leathers rode wide of the track at Stowe corner and on to the grass. He fought to regain control of his bike, his legs flailing as the bike bucked for nearly 200m. He very nearly rejoined the race but, as the bike lost speed, he fell off and struck an unprotected wall of railway sleepers. It looked an innocuous incident.

Three days later, Kim Newcombe was pronounced dead.

The continental circus was a circus in almost every respect.

It was a circus in the way the riders were treated and in the fact riders and their support teams were effectively gypsies travelling and living together in caravans as they followed the world 500cc grand prix series.

They camped in paddocks next to the racetracks where conditions were often spartan. The financial rewards were slim, certainly nothing remotely close to what today's rider's earn, and the risks great.

Kim Newcombe entered this environment in 1972. The young Kiwi had ventured to Europe in 1969 to ride and develop bikes and had proved a remarkable rider.

In 1971, he received his licence to race on the road. In 1972, he endured a frustrating first season of grand prix racing, marred by an accident when he broke his neck, which put him out of a number of races. In 1973, the year he was killed, he finished second in the world championships.

It was just one of the reasons why author Tim Hanna wrote Kim: The Kiwi on the Konig and is putting together the final scenes of a 90-minute documentary on Newcombe.

Hanna, who also wrote John Britten and the No 1 best-seller One Good Run - the Legend of Burt Munro, spent six years writing Newcombe's story.

Few New Zealanders outside of the motorcycle fraternity know much about him, let alone have heard of him, but Hanna found it a compelling process.

"I believe this guy belongs up there with Ed Hillary," Hanna says.

"I really do. I think he is one of our greatest sporting heroes and he's a huge example of what you can do if you back yourself, which was one of Kim's favourite expressions.

"He was incredibly, intuitively talented in almost anything he did.

"When he was given a crack in Australia on a speedway bike, the first night he threw his leg over it, he won four races.

"People who race speedway will tell you it takes several years before you really get up to speed.

"And even then, if you don't have some innate talent, you won't be any good at it. But he won four races that night. That's unheard of. He was the same on the road."

Newcombe was a similarly talented mechanic. He designed, built and raced his own bike. He teamed up with German Dieter Konig, widely recognised as one of the world's best designers of outboard motors.

The Konig motors were established winners in powerboat racing. Konig had also piloted many of his hydroplanes to a number of world championships. The combination of Kiwi Kim and the Konig was a spectacular and successful one.

Newcombe led the 1973 world 500cc grand prix series for large parts of 1973 against more established manufacturers and riders such as Phil Reid and Giacomo Agostini.

People couldn't help but notice the impact Newcombe was making and he was doing it at the same time as he was building and servicing bikes for regular customers.

"Talking to Phil Reid, who won [the world championship] in '73 and was an established GP star, he was utterly amazed when he learned Kim hadn't actually been road racing since the 1950s like him," Hanna says.

"So you've got this guy who comes out of nowhere on a bike that comes out of nowhere that suddenly is really fast and people begin to notice it.

"To come second in 1973, the first year he was full-time on the circuit, was an astonishing achievement."

What he might have been able to achieve will never be known. Newcombe would have gone away at the end of the 1973 series and, together with Rod Tingate, an Australian mechanic, would have built a faster and better Konig bike for the 1974 championships.

Hanna is convinced Newcombe could have won the series that year, despite the emergence of a stunningly good Yamaha bike.

Newcombe's real dream was to retire from racing and become a GP manufacturer. He knew the risks and loved the thrill of racing but it was generally accepted among racers that you didn't expose yourself to the risks any longer than you had to.

This was especially true in the 1970s, which was arguably the most dangerous time to be a motorcycle rider in the history of the sport. Safety measures struggled to cope with the developments in technology.

"If he had become an established GP manufacturer, he would now be in his 60s," Hanna muses. "Who knows? He probably could have been one of the grand, old men of GP."

Newcombe was a pioneer, not only as a rider and designer. He mobilised other riders to insist on improved safety, helping create the Riders Safety Association and organising a petition seeking improved safety measures from race officials who seemed to care little for the safety of riders.

He and his wife Janeen, and their pre-schooler Mark, were also the soul of the Continental Circus. They brought a cohesion to the wandering band rarely experienced before and since.

Newcombe won one 500cc race, the 1973 500cc Yugoslavian Grand Prix, and finished on the podium on six other occasions.

He is best remembered in Germany, where a Kim Newcombe fan club still exists and where 20,000 Germans were said to chant his name when he raced there. The Konig engine is revered and his win in Yugoslavia is the last time a German bike won a grand prix.

Newcombe's son Mark was just four when his father died. He has some memories of his father, the most vivid being when he was given his first motorbike as a three-year-old.

Other memories are hazy and he's not sure if they are true or etched in his mind because the stories have been told so often.

"I feel I know more about him now than I ever have," Mark says. "More than anything, I'm surprised how much his memory is still alive. He's still so highly regarded by so many people. I have met many of the guys he raced against and they are all so passionate about that era. It gave me a feel for what my Dad would be like if he was alive today."

As the racing concluded at Silverstone, Vernon Cooper asked what happened to the "silly bugger" who fell off at Stowe corner.

"I believe he was carted off to hospital with a bump on his head," one of his minions replied.

"It might be best to put some straw bales in front of that damn wall, after all," Cooper said. "You'll find plenty in the storage area and, if you grab a couple of marshals, it won't take more than a few minutes. Then you can join us at the bar."