For some local motorcycle racing enthusiasts, 1971 was a vintage year in Lake Elsinore.
Forty years ago, the iconic documentary film “On Any Sunday” was shot on location here. It chronicled motorcycle racing and the , both of which were still in their infancy.
Filmed and directed by then 33-year-old Bruce Brown, and financed by his friend and legendary screen actor Steve McQueen, Oscar-nominated “On Any Sunday” left a lasting impression on the city and millions of moviegoers.
On the eve of this weekend’s Lake Elsinore Grand Prix and the 40th anniversary of “On Any Sunday,” Brown spoke to Patch by phone.
He said the idea to make “On Any Sunday” was his. He had a series of documentary surf films under his belt that culminated with the classic “The Endless Summer” (1966). But he wanted to do something on motorcycle racing, a sport he participated in, so he consulted with fellow rider McQueen.
“I talked to Steve and he decided he wanted to ride in it (the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix),” Brown recalled. “He was so supportive.”
Making the movie was uncomplicated by today’s film making standards. There weren't any special permits required by the city or county.
“I don’t think we talked to anyone,” Brown remembered.
When he arrived in Lake Elsinore, “underwhelmed” might be a good description of his initial impression.
“The whole area was sort of depressed,” he said. “It was a sleepy little town -- it wasn’t a resort town. The water was about a foot deep. It looked like a lost lake.”
By contrast, this year’s race had to be rerouted because the lake level is so high.
But Brown said the focal point of the film wasn't about the city, the lake or any of the other locations.
“We were focused on the racing,” he explained.
The year after Brown made “On Any Sunday,” he returned to Lake Elsinore to ride the Grand Prix.
“I had such a good time filming it, I decided to ride in it.”
The 1972 event attracted about 250,000 people, many no doubt inspired by their movie-going experience.
Brown said he’s proud of his film’s impact.
“Back then, it was much maligned,” he said of motorcycle riding. “People looked at it as a bunch of losers … Hell’s Angels. (The film) gave the sport dignity."
Brown is now 73 and lives in Gaviota on California’s Central Coast. He’s retired, but has helped his son and grandson in their film endeavors.
Brown was a surfer and a motorcycle rider back in 1971, and he still does both today.
“I just don’t go as fast,” he said.
Lake Elsinore Mayor Pro Tem Bob Magee remembers watching “On Any Sunday” as a kid.
“It was so cool,” he said of the experience.
The movie inspired him to ride, but there was a major roadblock: “Motorcycles weren’t something my parents supported -- at all."
Forty years later, Magee will be in the field at the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix on his old 1995 Honda XR250. He’ll be wearing number 41.
It won’t be Magee’s first Grand Prix showing. He “participated” in the 2009 race.
“I can’t say I compete, I participate,” he said, explaining that he’s just looking to finish this year without breaking any bones. If he’s feeling up to it, Magee will also be in the lineup for a buggy race this weekend.
Unlike his parents, Magee introduced his son to riding. In 2004, his then-teenager placed seventh overall in the Lake Elsinore Grand Prix.
Magee said the event and racing are good family fun.
It's a far cry from the “maligned” sport of some 40-plus years ago.
The Lake Elsinore Grand Prix runs Saturday and Sunday. Parking is at The Diamond Stadium. Race times begin at 7:30 a.m. each day. for more info.