Racing With Steve McQueen | The Nitro Kid and the King of Cool

By Kurt Markham, Photography by Kurt Markham Archives

By now I was riding so far over my head that it was only by the grace of God that I was still upright. I was braking so late into the corners, I could barely hold onto the bars as the fork twisted and rattled and bottomed out from the punishment. I only backed off the gas long enough to keep from punching a hole in the fence—but I still couldn’t get away from McQueen.

I couldn’t go any faster—but neither could he. Something had to give, and on the last lap it did. Running flat-out in fourth gear down the fastest part of the track, my front wheel found a giant hole, and the bike instantly went into full-endo mode, pitching violently forward. I saved it just in time to see McQueen pass me in a shower of ugly brown dirt.

I began to take suicidal chances to catch him. I full-throttled jumps that I would have normally treated with fearful respect. I found new, fast lines—and it was paying off. With three turns left to the finish, I was 20 feet behind and closing fast…

With the final turn in sight, I moved to the outside and held on. I would rather crash than fail! McQueen heard me on the outside, so dove deeper toward the inside of the corner and squared it off.

And then it was over: He beat me by a couple of inches at the checkered flag. I didn’t slow down even after we crossed the finish line.

I was taking off my boots when my dad came by, carrying a folded yellow piece of paper. It was the sign-up sheet from the day’s races. I turned it over, and written on it was, “All the best, Steve McQueen.”

I had ridden harder and faster than I ever had before, and maybe McQueen had, too. We beat the hell out of each other for 30 laps, and only a millisecond separated us at the finish line. No amount of money or fame could have bought him his placing today; he earned it with his skills, determination and courage. I still have that piece of paper—and a vivid memory of racing against the King of Cool.

By Kurt Markham
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Great article.  Thanks.
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