Leno says Peter Starr is the Speilberg of motorcycle movies

By Marissa Baecker

He may appear unassuming when you meet him but in the world of motorcycles and media, it is fair to say that Peter Starr is a big deal. Whether in music, radio, television, film and now the literary world, Starr has left his mark with every project he undertakes.

His journey through his various careers started with a bite from the motorcycle bug at the ripe age of about 16 – it was 1957 in England where the bikes were a dream and not attainable to all – Starr’s friend allowed him ride his BSA Bantam, a 125 cc two-stroke produced by the Birmingham Small Arms Company.

“Highly illegal at that time in England,” recalls Starr, “but I got hooked on that one experience.”

By 1960, Starr was working for Triumph motorcycles and then found his way to the race track.

“I did four years in England as a club racer, then as a national race and then as an international racer,” said Starr. “I raced all over Europe and that brought me to America to race extensively in Daytona.”

Daytona Beach during bike week was quite something. I was just a child when I went the first time.

His English accent in America didn’t go unnoticed and one night, his accent would catch the ear of a radio personality.

“I had a very thick English accent back then,” recalls Starr. “Much thicker than it is today.”

As the conversation went, Starr was asked if he knew England’s up and coming rockers The Beattles or The Rolling Stones.

“I couldn’t understand why these people were so enamored with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. For us [English] this was a day to day thing in England. I didn’t know them but I certainly knew their music and what they were up to.”

His international appeal would eventually land him on the air and in Vancouver on CKLG – now known as CFOX.

In and out of radio – Starr began to dabble in record production for United and MGM before he explored filmmaking and returned to the world of motorcycling.

Through the years, Starrs accolades would evolve to 40 motorcycle racing films between 73 and 93 and has now become a book “Taking it to the Limit – 20 years of making motorcycle movies” titled after one of his films (Take it to the limit).

The original feature film starred top racers of the time – Barry Shene, Kenny Roberts and Steve Baker just to name a few. The film focuses on what it took to win in the early days not only features incredible historic race footage and interviews but also the music of Foreigner and other bands of the time.

Having just released the 30th Anniversary DVD of the film, Starr returned to his roots, took it one step further, and spent two years filming an accompanying documentary about the original making of the film.

“I went back and re-interviewed everyone in the film that is still alive,” says Starr. “The only ones that were no longer living were Barry Shene and Mike Hailwood.”

America’s first road racing World Champion, Steve Baker, had since become Starr’s friend and joined him during Vintage Night at the recent Vancouver Motorcycle Show in an open seminar. Together, they reminisced about the days of dirt track ovals, the Yamaha factory team, the early days of Daytona and the Motorcycle Hall of Fame to which Baker was inducted in 1999.

After 52 years on two wheels, Starr says not much has changed for him.

“I still enjoy fast riding,” he says. “I don’t take anywhere near the kind if risks I would have ten years ago. It’s self preservation. I’ve noticed my physiology changing. I am not as strong or I don’t’ respond as quick as I used to.”

Starr admits that he prefers two wheels over four. He continues to ride daily around town and will choose his bike over his car most days.

“Riding a motorcycle keeps me sharper than driving my car,” he laughs.

Starr happened to watch a video of several men in a similar situation making its rounds on the internet. A group of Taiwanese riders (search Dream Rangers or Grand Riders on YouTube if you haven’t seen it) who rebirth themselves on motorcycles. Seeing the video, Starr decided he wanted to ride with these men and in October, flew to Taipei to do just that.

“As we get into our senior years, we should promote living,” says Starr. “Most guys retire and prepare to die. These guys, the oldest being 94 and the youngest 75, one didn’t even learn to ride until he was 83.”

“I want to take some Americans back there this year to start what I hope will become an international event, of encouraging all the people to continue riding or to learn about the joys of motorcycling no matter how old they are.”

As for Starr, he continues living life to the fullest. Having ridden all over the world, Starr admits that despite travelling extensively throughout Europe, Norway has escaped him. As for the rest of the world, New Zealand is on the top of his list as well. One, however, will be crossed off his list this November as he plans to go riding with an old friend, 1982 Daytona 200 winner, Graham Crosby.

Speaking of old friends, a new book and watching videos, check out Peter being interviewed by Jay Leno who calls Peter the ‘Steven Spielberg of motorcycle movies’. You can watch the video on www.jaylenosgarage.com.

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