In The Name of The Father – The McQueen Family.
A short while ago we had the opportunity to visit Troy Lee Designs in California and met one of Troy Lee’s friends Chad McQueen. Chad is the son of the late Steve McQueen one of the most famous Hollywood actors of the 60’s and 70’s. He also happens to love riding bikes and and motorbikes and of course racing cars. Unfortunately his car racing days are over due to a life or death crash in 2006. However he still manages to get out on his mountain bike, as he really has to keep moving as part of his rehabilitation efforts and maintain his fitness.
We meet Chad at his winter home in Palm Desert a few hours from Los Angles. The drive up through the mountains looked like it had many MTB descent lines just waiting to be ridden.
The whole area being a freeride and motocross heaven with endless lines visible on the surrounding mountains.
Chad McQueen was among many things a movie star, appearing in such films as the Karate Kid, foremost though he was a motor sport racer. He was fortunate enough to be around as film and popular history was being made with his father Steve McQueen, he witnessed the popularisation of motocross and also key moments in motorcycle and car history within Hollywood.
Chad has a family name that is part of history, he is a passionate racer himself. He is one of the last links back to a time in film making history when racers were always on the edge, with the cars they drove which were truly rare and often objects of fantasy for the normal person. During his life he was lucky enough to grow up around some of the most amazing vehicles made for racing.
We meet Chad with Troy Lee one of the leaders in racing clothing and sports gear. Chad was full of energy and interest.
He spoke openly about all his experiences in motorsport. Chad showed some important memories and mementoes of his history starting with a picture of him with his father in his office.
How was it seeing these things when you were a child?
“I will tell you something, The day I graduated from school my dad was already in Le Mans filming, and the day I got there there were ferrari 512’s lined up on the side right before the indianapolis corners and on the other side porsche 917 k’s, long tails, short tails, Lola’s, and many others. Stuff like that as a young kid burnt something into my heart.”
There in the corner of the room were his first leathers, above his desk a poster from one of his father’s movies, and on his desk some classic Persol sun glasses.
On the floor framed and signed photos marking important moments for him, plus just out side a signed framed photo from all the drivers from the making of Le Mans.
In the picture outside his office from, Le Mans is a 917 and his father Steve McQueen showing two fingers.
Chad explained that it was the English rebellious salute to the french from hundreds of years ago showing them they hadn’t captured them as when they did, they normally cut two fingers off.
Chad spends lots of his time now making sure that anything with the McQueen name on it is used in a suitably decent way, with Troy they have spent many hours developing a Tory Lee Designs helmet and clothing line that represents the image that Steve McQueen showed.
Chad is very knowledgeable on motorbikes and race history and he and Troy discussed making a custom bike based on a lowered Honda 450F to be used in Baja California.
Chad noted, “Troy is a keeper of the flame.” Holding one of the special Steve McQueen helmets in his hand.
“There I am driving the 908, number 48, the one from the picture where I was standing next to my father, I drove it at Daytona. It was the most fun race car I ever drove in my life.”
He continued to show us around showing pictures of bikes and cars, in his lounge.
In itself he lounge was special similar to a museum, with classic Indian motorcycles up to 100 years old and the jacket and jersey worn by Steve McQueen in the Hollywood movie Bullit.
Then he pulled out his X-rays, quite a shocking negative, showing his neck and how many pieces of metal are in it, now it was clear that some of the experiences went beyond just making movies and it was clear he was a real racer, he almost lost his life when he had an accident in Daytona racing cars, another racer hit him after they lost control, sending Chad into the wall, it took 2 hours to remove him from the car and many life or death moments in hospital where he was read his last rites a few times, but despite the seriousness of the incident he recovered.
Chad turned around, pointing at another photo,
“There is my dad with Mike Hailwood. He was a motorcycle racer first.”
Was it motorcycles or cars that is the most important thing?
“For me I started racing motorcycles when I was 9 years old, I raced and it was a big part of my life.”
Chad would ride with many of his and Troy’s friends, who are now Hollywood producers and race organisers.
Chad then showed how he hurt himself again, ” I hit the wall so hard and you know.” Talking about his crash at Daytona again, underlining the impact it had upon him.
Chad picked up a new prototype helmet design from Troy, he was interested in how mixing historical designs with modern updates for the younger rider kept the market moving forward. Chad was also interested in how McQueen was perceived in Europe and how people would react.
“He left such a big mark, it has been 30 years since he passed.”
Chad and Troy discussed an evening out in Los Angles at an event and quoted one of the guests, “Steve McQueen represented what America is.” Troy then recalled how he watched him race as a boy when he was at motocross races with his father. Chad then paused for a moment and talked about his impact,
“If you think about the film work he did, the stuff he did on films like The Great Escape…”
Chad passed a book over, with Steve on a motorcycle in the film, it was shot of the point where Steve McQueen tries to jump a fence to escape the German army chasing him.
A classic moment in movie history on a motorcycle. When he filmed, On any Sunday. Bruce Brown the classic film maker also responsible for, The Endless Summer, a classic surf movie even asked Steve to help with the funding of the project to get it off the ground, the movie became one of the classic greatest Motorcycle documentary movies of all time with people constantly trying to replicate it in the modern day.
Chad then sat down and started to speak in more depth,
” You Know where my dad got the “Racing is life,” saying from, the tightrope walker guys the Welinder brothers, and I think one of the brothers said, walking the wire is life, anything that happens before or after… my dad just changed it around and tweaked it . Great huh!”
After discussing family, kids and the up coming race year with Troy about the Lucas oil-Troy Lee Designs-Honda Team, Chad was ready to answer a few more questions.
…Chad was still reminiscing with Troy, “Porsche’s are so fun to drive, a good S now costs quite lot now,”
Where were your born?
What have you been doing for your life? Racing cars and bikes?
“For 24 years, yes, I have done some movie projects along the way, but it’s all about cars and bikes for all of us, nothing better, I have been lucky enough because of my dad, that I have been able to drive fantastic race cars.”
Which race car gave you the best feeling to drive?
“They are all fantastic, every race car has it’s own quirks and nuances, and a couple can be really bad… but my best moment was driving my dad’s 917 from Le Mans. When i was a kid it was the first car my dad ever gave me a ride in, he sat me down on his lap, and I got to do that with my youngest son on my lap.”
What about motor bikes, whats the greatest thing you did?
“My biggest achievement was I won my class, On the World AMA GP in 1972, and then my dad made me quit to try other things, but I started riding at 6 and I stopped racing at 13, but I have always ridden until I got hurt, I have always had bikes, I still do, I like the older antiques now, of course bikes are a huge part my existence.”
Have you ever ridden a motor bike around the hills of Italy?
“No I haven’t, but if but if I go there one day, I am going to make a pilgrimage to the Ferrari factory.”
Where did your passion for motorcycles come from?
“Well growing up around it all, It’s addicting…”
Your kids are they following your path and your father’s path?
“My oldest son is on a television series called Vampire Diaries, he’s doing really good, and my youngest son is Kart racing, and doing good and my daughter likes pink cars and pink motorcycles at the moment, but she wants to act!”
As you are getting older has the style of how you ride or drive changed?
“It’s how I feel when i wake up, some days I hurt, and I need to jump in a softer car etc, yesterday I spent 3 hours up the 74 here driving the Porsche twin plug SD. Women have to decide what pair of shoes, we have to decide cars.”
How long have you known about Troy’s Day in The Dirt motocross event?
“Around 14 years, as the proceeds from the practice happy hour went to the boys republic.”
What about the Boys Republic?
“We take some thing we give something back, my dad always credited the Boy’s Republic home for turning his life around, he had no father his mother abandoned him, they were the only ones that took him in gave him guidance and showed him a direction, and he took to it, and when he passed away he left a good chunk of money to the home which they built a recreation centre with, and it’s turned into a pretty big deal, so we have have always continued giving support and I give what I can personally, also now we have a car show every year which generates money for the Boy’s Republic and we have a lot of support from car collectors and Ford, we have a lot of talented people helping and it is raising money for these kids. There is a lot of cool stuff there including old bikes, huskies, etc… it’s growing if you look at friendsofSteveMcQueen.com you can see what it’s about there.”
Do you go out to the home much?
“I go out there all the time, the staff there are great they know just what to do, I try and raise money and keep the program going as it has been there since 1906.”
Tell us about the bikes you have got around us.
“Well they are old Indian’s, and Harley’s, I have got some more in the garage, lets go check it out…this is my bike that my dad bought from Bud, you can see the old registration, Solar productions, Beverly hills, my dad built this for me when i was 16 so I could go ride with him,” Chad checked out the motor a few moments, and adjusted something, “Fuel here in America is not so good, too much alcohol in it. So if you let fuel sit the the carburettor too long it will get blocked, it’s a Triumph 650 TR6 1966. I have had this bike since the beginning after my dad bought it. Bud said these are better than the twin carburettor versions.”
Whilst in Chad’s garage he showed us a few bikes and cars.
Do you still strip them down and do rebuilds?
“No way, i’d cut my self I give them to someone else to do, I give them to someone who knows more than me.”
The motocross bike here and mountain bike are they yours?
“That motocross bike was mine but I gave it to my son, I have a place down here where I keep the rest. I like to ride my mountain bike everyday, it stops me from getting too stiff.”
Chad’s house and garage which also contained two of Steve Mcqueen’s Porsche 911’s of a very special vintage gave an insight in a small way from their use in the films Steve McQueen made, he had influenced popular culture, and bought a lot of the cool factor to motorbikes and cars. This influence can be seen heavily in the freeride bike industry, with the designs that Troy Lee chooses to use and the influences that he calls upon when putting together new projects.