MotorsportThe view from the stands

Blame it on Steve McQueen


I was already addicted to auto racing by the time the LeMans movie premiered. An image in a magazine ad I’d seen showed the 1-2-3 finish by Ford at LeMans in 1966. The legendary romance of that particular race were now etched in my mind forever. Forays ensued into the hobby aspects of racing, but until I  got into roadrace karting, also called enduro karting, did I experience what Steve McQueen so eloquently portrayed in the LeMans movie.

The start sequence. The countdown to the start and the rapidly louder thumping of the drivers’ heartbeats began as the French flag signifying the start began its journey toward falling. The sudden loud blast of starting engines and the fury of the off were all any red-blooded car racing fan needed to get crazy happy. If you had dreams of someday racing on the tracks of America or better, LeMans, this was a gateway drug.

How I learned to love LeMans starts

I spent two learning years on local kart tracks. I then went racing on the roadcourses of America, or at least the ones near the East Coast. One of the features of this kind of racing are the LeMans style starts and they are fantastic! The last standing start at LeMans had the drivers in their cars and buckled in, drivers able to start their engines only when the start flag fell. In karting, flags are flown at 60 seconds to go, 30 seconds to go, and then the start.

Heavy breathing and the excited thumping of my heart were clear in my helmet as I awaited the start. Giving a whirling finger sign to my pit man, he starts my engine with 30 seconds to go, the engine bursting into noisy life. The green flag falls, the loud blast of engine noise, karts taking off. A furiously fast, furiously drafting 100mph race around Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta, Mid-Ohio or Pocono for 30 minutes or more is on.

It was then that I began to see the LeMans movie in a different light

LeMans still stands up as the best portrayal of racing at speed ever seen, because McQueen was a racing junky. He wanted that passion realistically portrayed. McQueen wanted all to experience the glory, thrilling beauty and danger of auto racing. He succeeded in spades and I’ve been hooked ever since.

If you are up there listening, Thanks, Steve!

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