Their dads were riding shotgun

Special to The Times

Everybody always thanks their moms at awards shows and after Super Bowls. But where are all the people motivated by dads?

Refreshingly, they can be found on both sides of the camera for the film “Dust to Glory.”

The documentary, due out Friday from IFC Films, covers the 2003 Tecate SCORE Baja 1000, the longest nonstop, point-to-point motor race in the world. Started in the late ‘60s, the race through Mexico’s Baja peninsula covers roughly 1,000 miles of merciless terrain, on an open course of paved and dirt roads. Hundreds of contestants race motorcycles, dune buggies, million-dollar trophy trucks and even old VW Beetles. The film’s footage of the race comes from dozens of cameras, and puts viewers amid the grit and silt and exhaust. This is one seriously dirty movie.


But for all the clouds of dust and testosterone, the film also captures a number of strong familial bonds among the racers.

We see great motorcyclists like JN Roberts, racing at 62 with his son Jimmy. (Racers typically trade off riding stints, relay style, for the 18-plus-hour trek.) Three generations of the McMillin family drive a trophy truck: young Andy, his father, Scott, and grandfather, Corky, still competing at 73. Motorcycle racer Andy Grider has his father, Neil, looking out for him in the pit. And Mike “Mouse” McCoy, who’s both a star and one of the producers, has the watchful eye of Mike McCoy Sr. from above, literally. McSenior, as he likes to be called, served as a spotter from one of the helicopters as Mouse attempted to be one of the few to race the Baja 1000 solo.

Mouse wasn’t the only filmmaker whose dad helped out.

Director Dana Brown’s father, Bruce, served as a creative consultant on the film, although Bruce insisted he was “just a cheerleader.” Even as such, he brought a wealth of experience to the project. In 1968, Bruce covered the Baja race for “Wide World of Sports” and went on to make two classic documentaries -- “Endless Summer” (1966), about surfing, and “On Any Sunday” (1971), about motorcycle racing. (McSenior, another great racer, appeared in the latter.)

Producer Scott Waugh’s father, Fred, was also put to work -- behind the lens. When Scott asked his father, a longtime stuntman and aerial cameraman who is now 73, what job he wanted on race day, he didn’t hesitate. “He said, ‘I want to be in one of the birds,’ ” Scott recalled. “I said, ‘You got it.’ ” Fred hung out of the side of a helicopter, filming, for 12 hours.

“He’s the best. He got great shots,” Scott said, sitting with Dana and Mouse over beers at a Melrose Avenue restaurant.

“We couldn’t have made the movie without having the dads that we have,” said Mouse, whose father bought him a motorcycle for his first birthday. “They taught us what we know, and we owe it all back to them.”

Dana said the father-son theme wasn’t anything he anticipated when they first got to Baja, but it became impossible to ignore as filming continued. So he embraced it, glad to debunk the hoary old stereotype of the macho rebel biker, going it alone against the world -- a type often featured in movies. In reality, the biking world is just the opposite, Dana said. “It’s more family-oriented than church.”

The paternal ties jump bloodlines as well. About halfway into Mouse’s race, he crashes, then continues riding on a flat tire for miles. The first pit he reaches belongs to competitor Andy Grider. Nonetheless, the crew fixes his bike, while Grider’s father Neil gives Mouse -- who by this point is physically battered and mentally fried -- a pep talk.

“He took that role of my dad,” Mouse recalled, “saying, ‘You’re doing great, it’s only half over.’ ” And at that point in the race, “Andy was just a little bit ahead of me; I could have beat him if he had a problem. So their working on my bike was something that really moved me.”

That kind of camaraderie is a part of the Baja experience. Fathers and sons don’t just reach out to each other, but also to Baja itself. Malcolm Smith, a six-time 1000 winner, came down with his son Alexander that year just to watch the race, but they let the film crew tag along to the orphanage that they’ve been visiting and supporting for years.

Scott called Malcolm Smith’s involvement with the orphanage a representation of the mentality of the racers.

“They respect the land so much, and on top of that, they’re always trying to give back to the community,” he said.

So what about the stereotype of racers tearing up the land?

“Guys who go down there and act all macho, who don’t respect Baja, they get eaten up” by the terrain, said Mouse. “It’s like the Bermuda Triangle.”

Dana said he hesitated before taking on the Baja story because he knew it would look to some like he was following a bit too closely in his father’s footsteps. Making the surfing documentary “Step Into Liquid” had already brought up comparisons to his father’s “Endless Summer.” “Dust to Glory” would certainly travel some of the same territory of “On Any Sunday.”

But the story was too enticing to pass up.

“If it’s a good movie, it stands on its own,” Dana said. “If it’s not good, and you really are trying to coattail your pop, well then that’ll come out in the wash too. And I’m proud of my dad, so there’s another part of me that says why would I run from that? I like his movies.”