Archives: Racing Against Time to Preserve History

Larry Lawrence | March 12, 2019

Archives: Racing Against Time to Preserve History

Hall of Fame filmmaker Peter Starr wants to preserve history and, quite frankly, he’s running out of time. At 76 years of age Starr is still going strong, but he’s seen too many of his contemporaries in motorcycle racing pass away in recent years, some having never had the opportunity to tell their story on video to be preserved for future generations. Starr wants to keep that from happening to our past racing stars who are still with us – for their sake and ours.

Archives: Racing Against Time to Preserve History

Gary Nixon, Dick Mann and Joe Leonard are just three of the 30 subjects of Peter Starr’s excellent Heritage Collection of interviews. Starr is seeking help to preserve these interviews for future generations and to gather more of them while some of these heroes of the past are still around.

Starr is hoping to build on what he calls “The Heritage Collection”, high-quality, in-depth video interviews with some of the greats of motorcycle racing. Starr sent me a small excerpt of one of his interviews with the late-great Joe Leonard, the very first AMA Grand National Series Champion. It was wonderful. Thank goodness Starr was able to sit down and get this interview with Leonard, because “Smokin’ Joe” was gone not many years later.

“Over the years I’ve been building up a collection of these interviews – except they are not just interviews, but kind of lifestyle experiences – with some of the greatest racers and industry icons there’s been.

“What I like to do is set up a video camera and just let them talk for an hour. It’s basically them talking in their own words about their life. I prompt them at times, when they come to a natural stop, but it’s not like a traditional question and answer thing because I want it to sort of free flow from them so you get an essence of their personality rather than their ability to answer questions.”

Being a longtime filmmaker, Starr knows what it takes to get the look and sound right for these projects and they will prove invaluable for future racing historians, writers, or just fans of motorcycle racing who would love to hear firsthand from the racers they grew up reading and hearing about.

Starr is seeking ideas on where his Heritage Collection might be put to best use and perhaps equally important, he’s looking for whatever entity may be interested in the collection to give him a commitment to continue gathering even more of these important interviews, now an into the future.

“I’m looking for a home for the ones I’ve done and in also I would like a commitment to continue this project of getting these types of lifestyle interviews of the heroes of our sport while they’re still alive.”

I can speak personally to the importance of capturing the stories of racing and industry legends. I’ve done it for years, but almost exclusively audio interviews, and these interviews have provided me a constant source of information that I and others can go back to better understand the history of our sport. Of course, many of the subjects I’ve interviewed over the years, have since passed away. I would have given anything to actually have long-form video interviews with all of these racers over the years, but those kinds of interviews require resources.

For a decade I was directly involved with the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, housed at AMA headquarters in Pickerington, Ohio. I served as biographer for the Hall of Fame for its first ten years, and I can’t tell you how invaluable video interviews of the Hall of Fame members would be to that organization. Unfortunately, the Motorcycle Hall of Fame was, and continues to be underfunded, or at times perhaps resources weren’t best used to thoroughly document the sport’s history. Whatever the case, I know firsthand that dozens of Hall of Fame inductees have never been interviewed on video. It would be wonderful if an entity like the Motorcycle Hall of Fame, Barber Museum, Wheels Through Time Museum, National Motorcycle Museum or other such institution would work with Starr, grab the ball and run with it!

Joe Leonard talks about one of his Springfield Mile battles against Everett Brashear and Dick Klamfoth in one of Peter Starr’s Heritage Collection Videos.

Starr envisions an industry sponsor perhaps stepping up to support his work to the benefit of all of these fine museums. “Maybe with the right sponsor, all of the museums could share these to their audience.”

The other possibility of the future uses of these interviews are documentaries, books, web and magazine features. All of these could benefit from high-quality video interviews of the legends of our sport.

Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the excellent documentary film Black Lightning – The Rollie Free Story. Audio interviews of Free done by author Jerry Hatfield nearly 40 years ago added a tremendous depth to that film. And hearing the words of Free from the old interviews was icing on the cake. Imagine if only Free had been interviewed on film all those years ago.

There are some efforts out there to capture on video the riders, crew members and industry leaders. Todd Huffman, of The Motocross Files fame has been doing an excellent job documenting the key players in motocross. There are a few independent efforts out there getting a few of the flat track stars of the past, but very little on American road racers, other than some work with past world champions. In other words, there is still a lot of work to do.

There is a vast source of knowledge out there in the stories of the legends of racing and the motorcycle industry. It’s vital to gather that knowledge and properly preserve it so that the current and future generations of motorcycle leaders can learn from both the mistakes and successes of the past. We should also simply just care enough about our heroes to make sure their stories are not lost to history.

If you have ideas on how to help Starr get the interviews he has preserved for future generations or are interested in helping him conduct more such interviews you can reach him by email at peter@starrfilm.com

Larry Lawrence | Archives Editor In addition to writing our Archives section on a weekly basis, Lawrence is another who is capable of covering any event we throw his way.

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