Ben Younger may be just the person needed to bring two-wheeled racing action to the mainstream public. He’s directed such films as Boiler Room and Prime, and he’s also a true motorcycle enthusiast.
Ask anyone remotely into motorcycle road racing and they will say that when it’s good, there’s little that rivals the edge-of-your-seat excitement it’s capable of producing. Knee on the ground at 140 mph with an elbow hovering millimeters off the tarmac, the rider’s body directly in harm’s way as he pushes his machine closer to the edge, lap after lap. Road racing is as awe-inspiring of a sport as they come and whether you’re a motorcycle enthusiast or not, one glance at this 100 mph ballet and most are in complete awe. Yet in spite of its action-packed, made-for-TV nature, road racing in the U.S. remains a niche sport, lacking a popular voice. But there may be hope. What our sport needs is a major motion picture; a feature film which appeals to enthusiasts and the general public alike. And there’s a man on a mission to make that happen. His name is Ben Younger.
Younger, a die-hard motorcycle enthusiast and regular trackday rat who also writes for Motorcycle-USA.com (check out his multi-part trackday feature here), is a successful screenwriter and film director in his “day job.” And with movies like Boiler Room and Prime to his credit, the 38-year-old New Yorker may just be road racing’s White Knight. Why? Because he has devoted the past decade of his life to bringing the thrill of road racing to the big screen. Younger has written and now hopes to direct a feature film about the Isle of Man.
An amateur road racer himself, Younger hopes to generate mass appeal with a movie about the Isle of Man TT.
“Someone showed me a video, a DVD of Joey Dunlop. I think he just hat-tricked it in 2000 and I heard about this 50-year-old guy that won three races, which had never been done before I think, and I saw a video of the race itself and I instantly thought it was the craziest and wildest thing I’ve ever seen,” says Younger about how he first came to learn about the annual Tourist Trophy races. “It’s just controlled insanity. So, I immediately went out and ordered all the DVDs I could. I thought it was amazing.”
Having recently switched careers into the film industry around this time, Ben saw more than manic speeds and carnage on those English roads; he saw a movie waiting to be made.
“There was something about this insane form of racing that grabbed me,” he continues. “I think cinematically it was a big part of it. I had already decided what I wanted to do for a living and it seemed so incredibly cinematic. More so than the short circuit racing I had previously come to understand and know, this just seemed like, ‘wow, this is a movie.’”
That’s when Younger knew it was time; he needed to make the famed pilgrimage to the tiny island off the coast of the United Kingdom and witness a TT with his own eyes.
“I met somebody from Honda of UK over there and they gave me a Fireblade (CBR1000RR) and I just rode around the island,” says Younger. “And the fact that you can watch this race with all these incredible racers and heroes and then when they are done with their race or practice session you can get on your bike and ride on the track that they just came off of – there’s nothing like that. Imagine if after the Indy GP everybody just piled in their cars and started doing laps at 140 mph in their Volvos. It’s that’s crazy!”
“There’s a real literary quality to it, too. It has got that romantic Hemmingway kind of feel to it, where men can still be men,” he adds. “It’s not homogenized or pasteurized, it is so raw and there was something about that which really grabbed me.”
So what exactly is the basis for Younger’s screenplay? “It’s about a 37-year-old man who can’t hack it racing in the AMA anymore because he’s too old, so he goes to the one place on earth where it doesn’t matter if you have a factory ride or
Ben Younger (bottom right) was immediately captivated by Isle of Man racing and firmly believes the larger public would also.
how old you are,” Younger explains. “You can start 40th at the Isle of Man, but it’s all about your time; if you complete your laps at a faster time than the rest of the competition you are going to win the race. You can start dead last, it doesn’t matter, and there’s a parity that I really like about that, a real fairness to it.”
But making a mainstream movie about a sport so highly technical and focused presents a great deal of challenges. This is where someone like Younger, who regularly takes his race-prepped Suzuki GSX-R750 to the track and recently spent a month touring India on a Royal Enfield, will need to merge the world of general appeal to that of factual continuity. He aims to do this by combining his own knowledge of all things two-wheeled as well as studying the racing movies that have come before.
“I’ve learned a lot from watching racing movies over the years,” he says. “Most have not been well done. They usually run from the melodramatic, the truly melodramatic like Driven, the Stallone racing movie, to more rarely, but it happens, a really technical piece like Le Mans, which is so technically proficient that it’s a bore to anyone that doesn’t love prototype car racing. The idea needs to come somewhere in the middle.”
Younger (left) believes motorcycles make for a much more exciting cinematic experience than car racing.
“And I think Isle of Man is right there in the middle,” Younger continues. “I think anyone who is a diehard fan will be appreciative of the research and authenticity the script holds and hopefully the movie holds. And I think at the same time someone who’s not a fan at all is still going to be thoroughly entertained. There are some very real characters and some very real relationships and you don’t have to be into motorcycles to enjoy it.”
Plenty of people have made car racing movies, but motorcycle racing is uncharted territory. And the way Younger sees things, motorcycles lend themselves to the big screen far better than cars.
“In a car you have someone sitting in a carbon fiber tub that can’t move their head an inch and you can’t even see their bodies,” remarks Younger. “And then our sport is ballet at 160 mph; you’re hanging off the bike, you’re not attached at all to the bike, you can really see the person’s body movement – it’s more akin to horse racing than it is car racing – and it is cinematically so much better than cars could ever be.”
There’s one major issue standing in Younger’s way, though, and it’s a big one: Hollywood’s resistance to stepping outside the norm and spending money on such a niche sport. If a movie isn’t guaranteed to make money these days, studios just plain won’t take the risk. But there’s another way. Attach a big-name actor to the script and all of a sudden getting the green-light becomes a whole different story.
Younger is currently being held back by Hollywood studios hesistant to invest in a niche sport. His solution: attach an A-list star to the lead role so studios will give the green light.
“None of the main studios have read the script and we are just trying to come up with a strategy because we know it’s a tough sell,” says Younger. “So what we are trying to do now is attach a piece of talent; if we can go in with a movie star attached the studio is going to have a much harder time saying no.”
But Younger is extremely passionate about this project and after talking to him it’s clear that even if it takes him the rest of his life, he will get this movie made. “I feel like, if you put me in a room with anyone so I could explain to them what the Isle of Man is like or just show them a couple of videos I could get somebody onboard,” he adds. “Unfortunately, it’s not that simple.”
Here’s to hoping it’s sooner rather than later. With MotoGP coming to the United States twice a year as well as World Superbike, plus the sheer number of motorcycle enthusiasts in America, the time is right for a movie of this magnitude to really put road racing on the map.