World War II Camera Gives New View of Motorcycle Racing

February 11, 2004

Heart of Speed, the TV segment covered in this story, airs on National Geographic On Assignment at 7 p.m. ET/8 p.m. PT on Thursday, February 12, on the National Geographic Channel.

When James Siddall wiped out on the racetrack in 1994, his racing career skidded to a halt. Another rider, after tumbling from his bike while rounding a turn, struck him head-on, smashing Sidall's pelvis, legs, and ribs. Siddall nearly bled to death on the track.

As he was airlifted to the hospital, one thing was clear: James Siddall would never race again.

But, defying the odds, he has returned to the racetrack as one of the country's top coaches. His teams have won the American Motorcyclist Association national championships in 1999, 2000, and 2001. Now he trains the Graves Motorsports Yamaha factory race team, based in Van Nuys, California.

Sam Burbank, a producer and correspondent for National Geographic On Assignment, used to race with Siddall and wanted to tell the story of his disastrous accident by using a recreation. The challenge was how to do this tastefully.

"Re-creations tend to look and feel cheesy, with these halo effects," Burbank said. "I knew if we were going to do this, we have to shift the look and feel from the rest of the piece. Film seemed like an obvious choice, because it would feel older and keep the quality very high."

For the re-creation, Burbank wanted to use a real racing bike—he wound up with a monster.

"When it was raced a few years ago, the thing was so fast no one could catch it. It was very heavily modified, and other teams complained, eventually getting it banned from the racing circuit," said Burbank.

Vintage Camera

The bike, the fastest Yamaha R1 on the planet, is plastered on the cover of the February 2004 issue of Performance Bikes. With nearly 200 horsepower it can hit at least 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour) on the track. "It's an absolutely terrifying machine," Burbank said.

The remaining question was how to film Burbank while on the bike.

Film cameras are notoriously heavy, bulky items that could be dangerous if rigged to the rider or bike. The solution to the problem came from San Francisco-based cameraman Tom Chandler.

Continued on Next Page >>




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