Everyone's a privateer once.
"Everyone's a privateer once." The name "Privateer," at least in the parlance of motorcycle racers, is not lost on the producers of this video, and the build-up to the battle between the club racing heroes and the big factory squads attempt to take the form of a "war" documentary. While this video doesn't exactly reach these heights, but it does give a decent perspective on what it's like on a privateer race team.
Shot entirely at Willow Springs, California, arguably both the fastest and crummiest track in the west, this video focuses around the efforts of local fast-guy Frank Aragaki and his team as they prepare to take on the might of the factory teams. A David v. Goliath showdown is hinted at throughout the movie, with scenes showing Frank's typical club weekend. Great race footage, including some on bike camera shots and one or two crashes, make up a large part of the video. There are also interviews with some local racers, including well-known paraplegic racer Stewart Goddard. In contrast are the big name factory stars, all looking relaxed and confident as they talk about the upcoming race, their huge factory rigs rolling in like an invading army setting the stage for the showdown.
Frank shares the goal of every privateer when he says: "What I hope is to be able to load the bikes up at the end of the day and say I had a race I can be proud of." Once the race begins you get to see a new perspective of racing in the premier class. As usual the factories win this battle but the war continues to be fought. At every track there will be more privateers taking on the big guys, trying to break into their ranks, because, to quote the video sleeve, "Everyone's a privateer once." What's at stake is not victory but respect. Aragaki's closing statement sums up the elusive nature of respect, as well as the bittersweet pill of racing against the well-supported pros: "It was a lot of fun. I guess it was a lot of fun."
"What I hope is to be able to load the bikes up at the end of the day and say I had a race I can be proud of." -Frank
This almost hour-long video does an admirable job of exposing fans to the other side of road racing, giving them a decent insight into what it's like to be a privateer, not a factory star. It is essentially two videos in one. The first, and the strongest part of the video, is more like a documentary focusing on the racing at the club level. However, when it switches gears to the 1998 Superbike race weekend, despite it's attempt to create drama, it at times feels like one long promotional video. A few reasons are clear: Aragaki isn't actually overcoming any significant hardships other than funds and, perhaps, talent; we know he ain't gonna win and it's clear he isn't even going to finish in the top ten let alone avoid eventually being lapped, so why should we care? This feeling is heightened by the fact that Aragaki is the only privateer covered, even though local hero Curtis Adams finished 10th and at least six other privateers finished higher than Frank. This is not meant to take anything away from Aragaki, it's just that at this point the sense that this video is a documentary covering all privateers, some of whom may have more inherently compelling stories to tell, is lost.
The cheesy, old-school hard-rockin' music distracts from the drama of the race, reminding you that you are indeed watching a smaller-budget, direct-to-video production. There isn't enough focus on the technicians and mechanics, who are as important as the racer and are for the most part M.I.A. from this video. Worse, at least in one staff member's opinion, are what seem like product pitches to placate sponsors. We listen to Aragaki discuss his bike's set-up and performance while framed against a huge Dunlop banner that takes up the entire top eighth of the frame. And a Dunlop representative is quoted early and often. Coincidence? Perhaps. But this leads to questions. Is this video about privateers in general or one privateer in particular? If so to the latter. then is Aragaki's personal story interesting enough to hold our interest? Is his experience universal enough to make him representative of most privateers? Or is this a thinly-disguised promotional video? Not that anything's wrong with that but the subtle and noticeable shift toward self-promotion lessened any inherent conflict and drama, changed the video's direction and tone video and left us wondering what we were watching.
Still, it's a good looking, relatively well-produced video that at the very least attempts to show motorcycle racing from outside the officially sanctioned OEM-AMA lens. We recommend it for the far too brief slice-of-life presentation of racing at the club level, the good videography and cool on-board video, although we can't recommend it as a documentary, yet watching Aragaki get lapped by an insanely hard charging Gobert is alone worth the price of the video. Still, despite it's flaws, "The Privateer" gets *** stars and we recommend it to anyone who wants to see a different point of view of motorcycle racing other than the one filtered through the lens of the manufacturers, the AMA and the large magazines.
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Motorcycle Online Rating: ***