“Racing is life. Anything before or after is just waiting.” ― Steve McQueen.
This year there are constant reminders of the legend that is Steve McQueen. The incredible Driver Collection from INHERENT that perfectly captures the essence of the man and his life combining performance with style… but also the 50th anniversary of inspiration - the release of the film Le Mans plus the ‘On Any Sunday’ movie produced by Bruce Brown.
November 7th marks the passing of one of the Hollywood greats. Steve McQueen. Taken from us in his 50th year after a characteristic fight against the odds… but boy did he cram a lot into those fifty years. Not least our shared passion for cars, motorcycles and racing.. oh, and Virgil Hilts - 'the cooler king’ - for me, made you the King of Cool. But that was before 1971 happened.
This is very much a personal perspective,
but let me start with reminiscences of myself as a young boy, born with racing in his blood but suffering illness and bullying, sitting in a cinema and enthralled by the opening sequences of a film that would influence his life - Le Mans. Often critiqued for it’s initial lack of dialogue the opening visual storytelling is exquisite for anyone with octane in their bloodstream… the beauty of the Porsche 911 cutting through the French countryside and memories playing through the man’s mind of the speed and danger that are key elements in the sport we are passionate about. Mesmerising. How many times have these same sequences run through my mind? And the depth of the thoughts these have triggered are more than I can say. Maybe only racing drivers fully appreciate it, I don’t know, but throughout my racing career I have had experiences that have given the films a resonance for me. The conflict of the desire to race over the dangers, the will to win over self doubt and the drive required to overcome adversity and competitors makes racing drivers a single-minded set of individuals.
McQueen also once said, “Am I an actor who races or a racing driver who acts?”
Is this hinting at self doubt? Or him seeking where his heart and inner fulfillment is? Who knows, but for a kid who didn’t have the greatest start in life he did remarkably well. And, apart from being a film star, fashion icon and racing driver, the man has inspired many to better themselves. He wasn’t alone as there have been others who have acted and raced (or raced and acted!) - Paul Newman, James Garner, James Dean and more recently Patrick Dempsey and Michael Fassbender who is now following his dream to race at Le Mans… in a Porsche.
McQueen’s racing was more than the hobby of an amateur racer… he was good... very good. On two wheels he represented the USA in off-road competition and competed at the highest level in some of the toughest races on earth. On four wheels, he raced successfully for many years with possibly his greatest racing achievement being his race to second place in the 1970 Sebring 12 Hour race with his friend Peter Revson driving his privately entered Porsche 908 while wearing a cast on his foot, having broken it in a motorcycle crash! He was only beaten by Mario Andretti in a Ferrari by 22 seconds after 12 hours racing - it could have been a film! His prowess on a motorcycle was evident in the movie ‘The Great Escape’ and his driving skills clear in ‘The Thomas Crown Affair’ and, of course, the greatest car chase in movie history in ‘Bullitt’.
Many years later I got to Le Mans
and drove those same roads in France. I stopped the Porsche I was driving at the very same spot as seen in the movie and took a moment just for me, to soak in the pre-race early morning atmosphere - the silence only broken by birdsong and the metallic ‘ticking’ of a cooling engine - A powerful and emotional journey that took me back to that sick little boy enveloped in the cinema’s darkness, transfixed by the big screen and his hero, dreaming of one day being there… of being him! I have been to Le Mans many times since, enjoyed that winning feeling with Porsche, and lived the dream that rooted itself in my soul all those years ago.
For that, thank you Mr. McQueen... to me, you are still very much alive.