Flat-Out Fantastic: World's Fastest Indian
'racetracks as holy ground'
by dean adams
Friday, February 03, 2006

I had an opportunity to see an advance copy of the new film World's Fastest Indian last night and while I was quite skeptical that the movie would be worth watching—Hollywood's track record with bike racing isn't worthy even a lowly Brainerd trophy—I found the film charming and not in any way insulting to the dyed in the wool race fan. I enjoyed the film in a big way.

World's Fastest Indian is the story of a 1960s New Zealand man who spent 25 years preparing a 1920s Indian for a run at the Bonneville Salt Flats here in the US. The story details more of his journey from New Zealand to Bonneville than how he prepared the bike, which is initially disappointing but in the end it's fine because that story is told so well.

I won't spoil the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it, but these points have to be made:

  • Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of the crusty, feisty, driven and charming rider/bike-builder Burt Munro is spot-on and he will be easily recognizable to anyone who has been around club or national racing in nearly form of motorsport. An accurate portrayal of a fellow who 'pays himself with his own enthusiasm', as Kevin Cameron has written. Guys like Burt Munro love racing and have more respect for the act of racing than all the paid riders on the grid of a Superbike race.

  • If there were an Academy Award given for "Accurate Portrayal of a Pain-In-The-Ass Tech Inspector" the two actors playing tech inspectors at Bonneville would win the award hands-down. If you've club raced, you know of these cats—beyond anal-retentive and so proud of their own fiefdom, while showing a protectiveness of their exalted rule book it's like they're guarding the writings of Christ himself. It's always surprised me that more PITA tech inspectors aren't just punched out. Or, maybe they are, and just I never hear about it.

  • The film includes a few nice, period motorcycle racing touches, from decals to helmets, but the best is that the writer included none-other than racer Rollie Free in the cast of characters Munro meets while at Bonneville. Free, a motorcycle racer from the early part of the twentieth century, remains the subject of one of the most famous motorcycle racing photos of all time—he's the fellow who did the Bonneville run on a Vincent, clad in only his underwear (he was actually wearing Ed Kretz's swimming trunks). Moreover, the film includes a veteran fast guy character that has to be based upon Mickey Thompson.

    While the film does an excellent job of capturing the camaraderie of the club-racing paddock, possibly the best scene of the movie happens when Munro is asked if he isn't afraid that he'll get killed while racing, a common question motorcycle racers of all types are forced to endure when dealing with the non-racing public. Munro brushes that idea away by saying something to the effect of 'There's more living in five minutes flat-out on a bike than some men have in an entire life'.


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