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In The Name of The Father - The McQueen Family

Interview -

By Alex Boyce /

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 motorcycles 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 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 motorsport racer. He was fortunate enough to be around as film and popular history was being made with his father Steve McQueen. He witnessed the popularization 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 race clothing, helmets and sports gear.

Chad was full of energy and interest. He spoke openly about all his experiences in motorsports and showed us some important memories and mementoes of his history starting with a picture of him with his father in his office.

When we asked how it was seeing these things when he was a child, Chad replied, “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. 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, 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 the two fingers 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. Troy and Chad have spent many hours developing a Tory Lee Designs helmet and clothing line that represents the image that Steve McQueen represented.

Chad is very knowledgeable about motorcycles and race history. 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.

He continued to show us around his lounge, showing us pictures of bikes and cars.

In itself, the 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 - it was clear he was a real racer.

He almost lost his life when he had an accident racing cars in Daytona. 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 the hospital where he was read his last rites a few times. But despite the seriousness of the incident, he recovered.

Chad started racing motorcycles when he was 9 years old. He would ride with many of his and Troy’s friends, who are now Hollywood producers and race organizers.

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 a 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 is when he filmed 'On Any Sunday' with Bruce Brown, the iconic film maker who is also responsible for 'The Endless Summer,' a classic surf movie. Brown even asked Steve to help with the funding of the 'On Any Sunday' and get it off the ground. The movie became one of the 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, saying, "You know where my dad got the 'Racing is life' saying from? The tightrope walker guys the Welinder brothers. 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 for the Troy Lee Designs / Lucas Oil / Honda Team, Chad was ready to answer a few more questions.

Where were you born?
Los Angeles.

Has your whole life been all about 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 on motorcycles - whats the greatest thing you've done?
My biggest achievement was winning my class, On the World AMA GP in 1972. My dad made me quit to try other things. 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 motorcycle 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…

Are your kids following your 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 as well. 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. Dome days I hurt and I need to jump in a softer car. 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 go to the Boys Republic.

What's the connection with the Boys Republic?
We take something, we give something back. My dad always credited the Boys Republic home for turning his life around. He had no father and 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. When he passed away, he left a good chunk of money to the home, which they built a recreation center with, and it’s turned into a pretty big deal. We have have always continued giving support and I give what I can personally, and now we have a car show every year which generates money for the Boys Republic. We also 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 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 Indians and Harleys. I have got some more in the garage - 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.

Fuel here in America is not so good, too much alcohol in it. So if you let fuel sit the the carburetor 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 carburetor versions.

Do you still strip them down and do rebuilds?
No way. I’d cut myself. 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 vintage Porsche 911′s, gave an insight in a small way from their use in the films Steve McQueen made. He had influenced popular culture and brought a lot of the cool factor to motorcycles 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.

See the original story and photos here.

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