An Autobiography from Motorcycling's 'Man of Film'
Behind the scenes of the author’s 20 years in making 40 films about Motorcycle Racing.
Coffee Table Book & DVD
TAKING IT TO THE LIMIT
20 years of making motorcycle movies
‘Taking It To The Limit’ is a book about the 40+ films Peter Starr made in the 20 years from 1973 to 1993. The most famous of his movies, Take It To The Limit won prime awards at the Chicago and Houston International Film Festivals contributing to his fourteen Film Festival awards.
Taking It To The Limit features stories about filming some of the greatest racers of the 70’s and 80’s including Mike Hai/wood, Kenny Roberts, Barry Sheene, Wayne Rainey, Eddie Lawson, Steve Baker, Roger Decoster, Marty Smith, David Bailey, Russ Collins, Jay Springsteen, Bubba Shobert, Ricky Graham, Mick Andrews, Freddie Spencer, Jeff Ward, Mike Bast… to name but a few.
This is a book about two decades of magic, as far as motorcycle racing is concerned. Every racing enthusiast can recall what to them is their ‘golden era’. This for so many was their ‘golden era’ and Taking It To The Limit, with its 280 pages and the accompanying DVD, encapsulates it for all time.
“A fascinating insight into an area of motorcycling that you do not normally get a chance to see as told by one of the greats”
– Ian Kerr M.B.E. Author
“An extremely insightful perspective on an important era in motorcycling, plus a history lesson on the evolution of filming motorcycle racing – an amazing work by an amazing person”
– Chris Jonnum, Road Racer X Magazine
“Peter Starr’s book is a time-capsule of motorcycling history that deserves a place on any moto-buff’s shelf.”
– Clem Salvadori, Rider Magazine
“Peter Starr has been there, done that. Now thanks to his book, we get to go with him.”
– Paul Carruthers, MotoAmerica
“Taking It To The Limit” the phenomenal story of a pioneer in the motorcycling film industry is accompanied by one of the greatest collection of on and off track photos I have ever seen. Something for everyone!!!”
– Burt Shepard/ Silver Shutter
Five-time World Superbike Champion Jonathan Rae with his copy of Peter Starr’s Book.
Forward by Kenny Roberts:
Looking through Peter Starr’s book and its many photos has brought back good memories of my early career. It is interesting that Starr first filmed me at Ontario in 1974, captured me winning the INDY Mile in 1975, convinced me to be the color commentator at the first of the Stroh Miles at the “fastest dirt in the world” in 1984, then encouraged my racing return to the dirt at Springfield in 1985 . The Stroh Miles, which Starr put together, are still remembered as one of the highlights of American dirt track racing. He filmed my last race in Europe (Donington Transatlantic Challenge 1984) and my farewell to the American fans at Laguna Seca in the same year. And almost as if coming full circle produced a film about my son and me following Junior’s World Championship in 2000 called “Like Father, Like Son”. I wish Starr had been in Europe to film my three World Championships in 1978,79,80. As much as Starr has done for motorcycling with all his films I still think his crowning glory is Take It To The Limit where you can see the extraordinary 1975 INDY race and a piece of filming at Riverside where my friend Skip Aksland added to the challenge of “on the edge” filming! Starr’s work and this book is an important document of motorcycle racing history. Enjoy!
20 years of making motorcycle movies
the race at bad rock
From Dirt to Track
the all american race
The birth of a feature film
all hail mike hailwood
take it to the limit
daytona and the superbike era
the motocross era
the evergreen trailride
taking it to the limit, Part 2
television comes of age
the movie starr years
Chapter 5: Mike Hailwood's Return to the Isle of Man, September 1977
Chapter 3: The Indianapolis Mile - 1975 Kenny Roberts and the four cylinder dirt tracker.
Not satisfied with the speed of his vertical twin Yamaha in combating the dominating Harleys, Kenny Roberts unveiled a new radical concept for a dirt track race bike. Everyone was amazed, some even shocked. Many simply stood in silence and shook their heads. What emerged from Robert’s van was a four-cylinder TZ750 Yamaha road racing engine in a Champion dirt track frame. The bike had been designed and built by Doug Schwerma, a long time builder of dirt track frames and motorcycles.
Going against established convention, this bike had 30 more horsepower than the Harleys and a very narrow power band common to two-stroke road race bikes, and this, most people thought, would make it impossible to ride on the dirt. No one expected anything out of the 120 horsepower hybrid, least of all Springsteen, Beauchamp, Scott and Keener. Nonetheless, Roberts qualified the bike and started the 20- lap main event from the back of the pack.
Rex, Corky and Jay, the “Michigan Mafia”, as they became known, were running very close and changing the lead several times a lap. Either one could have won and might have, except for two things. Rex came to a dramatic stop when his rear piston collapsed on the 17th lap, locking up the rear wheel, and Kenny Roberts blew past the remainder of the Harley wrecking crew on the sprint from turn four on the last lap to snatch the victory in a photo-finish. This was the one and only time a four- cylinder motorcycle had ever won a dirt track national and as far as I can recall, the first time an untried machine ever won a national race. Later, I was to find out that the bike was still being built in the back of a van on the way to the racetrack! Roberts, who had flown to INDY, had never laid eyes on the bike until he prepared for qualifying. His mechanic/mentor, Kel Carruthers, sat Roberts on the bike, adjusted the handlebars and sent him out to qualify!
I can only imagine the rancor of Yamaha’s race department in trying to come up with a competitive dirt track mount to compete against Harley Davidson on the mile tracks. Certainly Yamaha was competitive on the (short tracks with their Schwerma (Champion) framed 250cc two-strokes, the TT with their 750cc vertical twin……… and they could even stretch that to the half mile tracks……. but on the mile tracks they were out-gunned by some considerable margin. Yamaha needed to give Kenny Roberts all the help they could to ensure a three-peat of his Grand National Championship. But it was a force from outside the yellow-peril’s headquarters that brought the TZ750 to life. Yamaha Canada’s Bob Work and ace rider Steve Baker had collected a TZ750 from the Anaheim motorcycle show where it had been on display and on the way back to Canada, they stopped off to see their old buddy Doug Schwerma. Schwerma was the grand wizard of dirt track frame building under the name of Champion Frames. Doug measured the TZ750 engine and soon built a dirt track frame to suit.
Chapter 2: 1974 - Broadcasting the Best Races and the Best Riders from Dirt to Track
In 1974 Decoster was everyone’s hero. He had won the World Motocross 500cc Championship three years in a row, had been voted “Sportsman of the Year” in his native Belgium and he was consistently motocross’ most successful athlete. In a phrase, he was “the darling of the sport… the man”. I was as apprehensive as could be as I arrived in rain-drenched Puyallup, Washington to film the first of three scheduled races starring Roger Decoster. I had made a deal with Suzuki, Bel Ray and Champion Spark Plugs to sponsor the television broadcast of a film about Roger.
I have lived in rain-soaked England, I have lived in drenched Vancouver, I have lived in deluged Seattle, the watershed of the Olympic Mountains, but I have never been stuck in water and mud like we were in Puyallup that weekend. WE WERE WET. I had hired four cameramen from Seattle thinking they knew enough about filming in rainy conditions. Roger Hagan, Bruce Wilson and Bill Jensen waded, waddled, and squelched through some of the worst filming conditions I have ever encountered. I remember the details today as I screen the film and look at the grime, mud and fine grit that stuck to DeCoster’s face as he struggled through the race, riding without goggles. After the first 50 yards his goggles were useless. Our cameramen felt the same way as they constantly cleaned the very expensive cameras and tried to protect them from constant mud splashes as the field of 30 riders manhandled their machines through the flooded clay and marsh. If you never looked at Decoster as a winner before this race, you would have had no doubt, had you been one of the few, brave, dedicated spectators clinging to the muddy hillsides in Puyallup.
There were many top European riders in Puyallup, including Hans Maisch, Bengt Alberg, Willie Bauer, Gerrit Wolsink and Lars Larsson, but most of the time they were just a supporting cast for Suzuki’s tour de force. Decoster stood alone. Merv Wright, Suzuki’s competition manager commented, “Off the race track he is unusual, he is not affected by it at all, incredibly cooperative, more so than lesser riders. Roger just gets up on race day with the thought in his mind that he just gonna go out there and do it to them and I think if he ever got up with any other thought in his mind he’d probably just roll over and go back to sleep. He’s just 100% determined, he never gives up trying.”
It was only a matter of minutes after hearing that, when we all witnessed proof of the statement. Decoster crashed off a jump while in the lead. His front brake had jammed due to all the mud and grit, and when he landed with a seized wheel, he high-sided. Undaunted and unaffected, he kicked the brake free, re-mounted the bike and continued the race. This crash was one of only a very few that Decoster ever experienced during a race. While winning all three of his World Championships (1971-73) he never fell off.
Chapter 7: The Daytona Premiere and the Superbike Era. The Movie 'Take It To The Limit' is Released.
All the times I had spectated at Daytona I had never walked up the 31-degree banking. I had driven around it, ridden around it, but never walked up it, and neither had Freddie. He was quite surprised at how difficult it can be. He gave us some insights into riding the banking at 160-plus mph, and we inserted our on-bike footage to illustrate his comments. A very youthful-looking Spencer — he was still only 19 — had no trouble showing all the other competitors the fast way around Daytona. Graeme Crosby of New Zealand, Wes Cooley, Spencer and Eddie Lawson led the charge, swapping places with apparent ease, and all was going well in the Honda camp until the initial pit stop. Mike Spencer was scheduled in first and he ran out of gas while on the banking, barely making the pits. Freddie came in right on the money and refueled quickly, but as the mechanics pushed his bike to get it started again, it back fired and caught fire. A huge flame shot out from the carburetors all over Spencer’s legs. Mike Velasco, one of Freddie’s mechanics, swatted the flames with a rag and it immediately caught fire. There was some very fast action with a fire extinguisher to get Freddie back into the race, but too much time had been lost, and fast as Freddie was, he could only manage third behind Wes Cooley and Graeme Crosby both on Suzukis.
Our production moved on to Loudon, New Hampshire, and opened up with a lap of the track with Roberto Pietri. If nothing else, Roberto was colorful. This Venezuelan had raced in Europe but liked America. In 1981, he was easy to spot on the track with his star- decorated Simpson “Darth Vader” helmet. A martial arts practitioner, Roberto believed in the power of positive thinking. Painted on the gas tank of his No. 88 Superbike was “Attack!” He lived his life the way he viewed his racing, competitively and with lots of revelry. Loudon was run in the rain, and Freddie, who led the first half of the race, slid off on a relatively slow corner. He remounted but could not regain the 40 seconds he had lost. Things were not boding well for our film: two races and no wins. Honda’s advertising department was beginning to question my talents as a visionary!
They did not have to question it for long. We moved on to Pocono and Freddie just smoked ‘em, even taking time to pop wheelies for our cameras. There is a little showboat in all of us, no matter how seriously we take our profession.
The Superbike trail crossed the country to Seattle International Raceway where Freddie and his arch rival, Eddie Lawson, had one of the best races I have ever seen. Side-by-side, sliding, thrusting and parrying, bouncing around on a bumpy track at unbelievable speeds and leaning the bikes at equally unbelievable angles, knee pads parallel to the ground like a beam attached to an outrigger, the knees making contact with the ground like a pontoon does with the ocean swell. After a race of swapping the lead many times, in a spectacular last- ditch move, Eddie rode around the outside of Freddie exiting the last corner, wheels clipping the dirt, sending up a cloud of dust. When it was all over Eddie beat Freddie by a wheel. To this day, that 1981 Seattle race is one of my favorite pieces of film.