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Castrol History of Motorcycle Racing

Duke Video With Castrol
Produced by David Wood
DVD ($24.95 each). Format: NTSC DVD
Vol. 1: How It All Began & The TT; 62 minutes
Vol. 2: Birth of the Grand Prix & The Japanese Arrival; 73 min.
Vol. 3: The Other Champions & Pressure, Money and the Need to Win; 65 min.
Available From:  Duke Video USA  |  Duke Video UK

There’s a three-foot-high stack of motorcycle books and videos staring me in the face and since the weather has been way too cold lately for riding, it’s time to put on the sweats, curl up on the couch and dig in.  Who said you can’t have fun with motorcycles in 12 degree weather?

Although I have to admit that I saw an incredibly brave (or foolish) soul out the other day at, believe it or not, 5:20 a.m.  I looked down at the temperature gauge in the car and it read 20 degrees (F).  The rider was on an unfaired bike and he was merging into the early morning rush hour traffic, so here’s to ya’, mate! I said, as I clicked the seat heater up one notch higher…

Back in the office, I dug through the pile to find “The History of Motorcycle Racing”, a very interesting set of three DVDs produced by the renowned David Wood (of on-bike TT fame) with help (and funding) from Castrol.

The videos were first released in 1992 and they cover the entire history of motorcycle racing, from its very beginnings at the turn of the century (20th Century, that is) until about 1990 or so, the beginning of the modern era.  They are, of course, European focused, so don’t expect much about U.S. motorcycle racing history, although there are a few brief glimpses here and there.

Duke must still has a boatload of these videos left, or maybe they’re just so popular that someone ordered a second pressing; I’m not sure.  But all of a sudden I’ve been seeing advertisements for the set of three, so I went online and ordered them at Duke USA.  And just in time for what’s turning out to be one of the coldest winters on record in the Mid-Atlantic region.

I’m very partial to the first volume in the series, “How It All Began & The TT”.  I’m sure you’ve seen some photos of those really, really old timers on their half-bicycle/half-motorcycle machines, but I’ll bet you’ve never actually witnessed one of those contraptions being ridden, much less raced.

It’s a real thrill to see those ancient-looking machines at speed.  Castrol and David Wood have some incredibly old film going way, way back to the very early 1900’s, and although (of course) the quality of some of the film isn’t all that great, it’s amazing to think that 100 years ago at the dawn of internal combustion, enthusiasts just like me and you were out there having fun and racing on tracks that were definitely better suited for grazing cows.

After covering the beginnings of motorcycle racing, both on and off road, Vol. 1 is heavily focused on the Isle of Man TT, which makes sense because it was the premier world motorcycle racing event for many years.  Segments of an interview with old-timer Stanley Woods are interwoven throughout the history and were filmed at the National Motorcycle Museum in England.  Even at his advanced age, he has some pretty interesting stories to tell about the early days of racing.

It’s also nice to see the old bikes and the riders with their devil-may-care riding clothes and accessories (and attitudes).  One rider is wearing a pair of low white street oxfords while going for a speed record on a cool-looking J.A.P. racer, and it wasn’t until much later when motorcyclists in general seemed to take riding gear seriously.

Races in those days could be on bumpy old dirt tracks, on closed street courses or just about anywhere else, and it wasn’t unusual for a motorcycle race to be more like an endurance run of 200 to 300 miles, with 10 to 20 mile laps.  The scenes of the Brooklands track in England are fantastic — there’s absolutely nothing like it anywhere today.

The three videos are full of segments covering the most famous racers of the day, including great riders that are fading from our memories, like Georg Maier on his BMW.  There’s even a brief segment showing Maier’s restored BMW being ridden around the track in what appears to be the 1980’s; it sounds very cool indeed.  Unfortunately, the sounds of the very early bikes are not available, obviously.  High-quality recording still isn’t widely available today and a very small (but growing) percentage of modern televisions even have stereo speakers.

Volume 2 is entitled “Birth of the Grand Prix & The Japanese Arrival” and it covers just that, illustrating the evolution from those old dusty dirt tracks to the modern road courses that were the forerunners of today’s MotoGP and World Superbike racing.

This volume also goes through each year in a somewhat processional style, but towards the end we see and hear from modern-day racers like Giacamo Agostini, Eddie Lawson and Kenny Roberts, all looking very young.  The beginnings of World Superbike racing are also covered in this volume.

Volume 3, “The Other Champions & Pressure, Money and the Need to Win”, covers some of the lesser-known motorcycle racing series, like the 50cc bumblebee racers that can reach 100MPH; 125cc and 250cc bikes; sidecar racing and other production and classic racing series.  There’s some overlap with Volumes 1 and 2, but this volume includes more coverage of the modern racers, with features on Schwantz, Sheene, Spencer and Gardner.

All three videos are narrated in a slightly subdued fashion, which can be a bit boring at times, especially with the “In 1938…In 1939….In 1940…” format.  Volumes 2 and 3 also spend some time bringing the viewer up to speed with the history that had been covered in the previous volumes, so there is some overlap to be aware of.  Any single volume stands on its own though, but if you can only buy one, get the first of the series.

Nevertheless, this three-volume set is a wonderful series that does an excellent job at covering the entire history of motorcycle racing up to the late 1980’s.  It would be perfect for new motorcycle racing fans but there’s also a lot of good information included for long-time fans, especially regarding the early days of racing.

Castrol should be commended for helping to produce this collection.  Other than a few seconds spent on showing their logo at the beginning and end of each video, there’s no other Castrol advertising or promotion.  Without their help and the guidance of David Wood and Duke Video, who knows what might have happened to this important piece of our history.

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The wBW “Flaming Helmet” Book Review Rating System  |  Video Reviews Home  |  Book Reviews Home  |  All Reviewed Books Ranked by Rating  |  Review Date: February 2007

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