When Mike Dunn played himself in the 1974 drag racing movie Funny Car Summer, he was shown drag racing a bicycle complete with a parachute.
It was much like the parachutes that would slow him from 300 mph runs later in life when he became a successful NHRA drag racer.
But now in his 10th season as ESPN’s drag racing analyst, Dunn can look back on the movie, which was a documentary about his father, drag racer “Big Jim” Dunn, and relate it to his current passion for bicycling.
“I’ve always had a love affair with bicycles, even when I bicycle drag raced as a kid,” Dunn said.
“But I never got into it to the extent that I am now.”
“Into it” is an understatement.
Retired from racing since 2001, the fit and trim Dunn is in the best shape of his life thanks to the more than 4,000 miles a year he rides on road and mountain bikes.
Introduced to the sport by fellow drag racers Larry Dixon and Whit Bazemore in 1996, Dunn really stepped up his involvement after stepping out of a race car for the last time.
“I retired from driving and started doing TV,” he said.
“I didn’t have any hobbies and I had more time off than I did when I was racing, so I took up cycling and it just kind of built.”
Dunn rides with friends in the mountains and hills of Pennsylvania where he lives, and has other friends in drag racing who ride with him when they are traveling for races.
ESPN’s production truck carries one of Dunn’s bikes from city to city on the NHRA schedule — the next event is the Aug. 18-21Lucas Oil NHRA Nationals in Brainerd, Minn. — and he often meets up with fans and rides with their local groups.
And when the NHRA makes its annual western swing, the mountain bike comes out for rides near Seattle and Denver.
In three attempts, he has made it once to the top of Mt. Evans near Denver, a 26-mile ride to 14,300 feet above sea level on the highest paved road in America. Once he was two miles from the top and had to turn around due to sleet.
In addition to enjoyment, cycling is fitness for Dunn, who hates other forms of working out.
“I learned from some guys I ride with that you don’t ride to look better, you exercise to feel better,” he said.
“Once you feel better, then the rest of it will come. So now it’s to the point that I feel so much better when I ride.
“I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever done a ride where I went out and said I wish I hadn’t done that.”