On Any Sunday | Forty Years Later, It’s Still Every Motorcyclist’s Favorite Movie

By Stuart Barker, Photography by Bruce Brown Films, LLC

“The cameras probably weighed about 4 lbs., so we had to put a counterweight on the other side of the rider’s helmet. We used a big helmet, not knowing that racers were all little guys, so it was way too big for them. They had to wear about five stocking caps underneath to make it fit!”

The film covered a lot of miles from desert racing to ice racing during shooting, and was filled with challenges. In the desert, the crew never knew if they’d be able to film the action at exactly the right spot. With only a few cameras covering so many miles, they were afraid of missing the whole thing. Costing $313,000 to make, On Any Sunday ended up grossing $26 million.

The effect on the public was astonishing, and even the participants in the film felt the difference. Brown remembers one such incident: “Mert’s grandma had never seen him race. He was like the black sheep of the family, and they had no respect for him. But his grandma went to see the movie, and at the end she stood up in the middle of the theater and shouted, ‘That’s my grandson!’ That was great.”

There were more personal results for the stars, as well; lifelong friendships born on that set. While McQueen was best known as an actor, he was also known for his passion for motorsports. “He could get out there and mix it up with everybody. He was a good rider and super-competitive. If you ever beat him it would piss him off to the max.”

But it was a Mutual Admiration Society between McQueen and the racers. “Steve admired them and they admired Steve,” Brown says, “but they were all just friends. Mert got his hand severely hurt one time, and Steve drove him down from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and took him to a hand specialist he’d found out about, who did a major operation. Now, Mert’s got full use of his hand, which he wouldn’t have had if Steve hadn’t done that.”

While riding motorcycles in a helmet and goggles offered McQueen a sort of anonymity he didn’t enjoy in much of his world, the exposure of the movie allowed the other racers to establish security and careers connected to the motorcycling and film industries. But for Brown, the film was a personal victory, as well as a professional one. Much as Endless Summer did with surfing, On Any Sunday brought his unique vision of racing to the public. “I’m just grateful that the movie came out good and that people liked it,” Brown says. “To this day, motorcycle people come up to me and say, ‘Thank you so much for making that movie.’”

By Stuart Barker
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