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Laramie Movie Scope:
Dust to Glory

An insane off-road race

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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May 14, 2005 -- “Dust to Glory” is like something out of the wild west. It is a documentary about a no-holds-barred cross-country car and motorcycle race that is open to all comers. There are no limits on engine size, no age limits, and certainly no speed limits. There is no dedicated track for the race. Ordinary drivers are using these public roads with the racers, sometimes going the wrong way, while the race is under way. Spectators run back and forth across the course, sometimes almost being hit by the race vehicles. In other words, you have to be nuts to even enter this race, and it isn't all that safe to be a race spectator, either.

The race is the Tecate Score Baja 1000 race in Mexico, the longest point-to-point race in the world, and the wildest. Cars ram each other to get slower lead cars to pull over and let the faster cars pass on the narrow sections of the course. Motorcyclists can disappear in deep troughs of fine talcum-like dust called silt pits. The terrain is so rough that engines and transmissions fall off of vehicles, some cars literally break in half under the strain. Director Dana Brown (“Step Into Liquid”) uses a multi-camera approach to cover the race, combined with a number of interviews to give the viewer a flavor of the Baja race experience. A variety of stories emerge as a number of the racers are profiled and their progress in the race is followed. Helicopter cameras are used, along with in-car video cameras and microphones. Motorcycle helmet cameras are also used.

The in-car and helmet cams show just how insane the speeds are in this race as the drivers often cannot see where they are going because of hills, blind corners, dust, traffic and other problems. The course is so long and so rough that almost all of the race teams use multiple drivers. Motorcycles, especially may have up to five riders, but one tough guy, Mike “Mouse” McCoy, decides he's going to try to complete the race by himself. He's one of the racers rigged with a helmet camera. One of the motorcycle riders, J.N. Roberts, winner of the first Baja race in 1967, is over 60 years old. Another rider of a souped up dune buggy-type vehicle is only 16 years old. Vehicles range from high-powered custom-made vehicles costing upwards of $1 million, to ordinary, unmodified Volkswagen Beetles.

The film follows the racers, then sidetracks to stories of the pit crews, owners of businesses along the way, and other stories that reflect the flavor of the race and the area. One of the stories details how some of the racers have donated money to a school for orphans. The film argues there is a deeper connection between the racers and the locals than one might expect. Another story has to do with a man known as The Weatherman, a ham radio operator who for years has volunteered to coordinate communications for the race. The Weatherman sets up his equipment on a mountain overlooking the race course.

Overall, the movie is somewhat like the televised coverage of a triathlon. You profile the competitors and then follow them through the competition. The race coverage is also a bit like coverage of the Tour De France. Like the tour, spectators get onto the course to take pictures, wave at the riders and yell encouragement to them. It is harrowing enough on the tour, where rider-spectator interactions sometimes cause accidents, but in this race it is worse because the vehicles are going so fast and they are always on the verge of going out of control. It is all a big accident waiting to happen. Spectators crowd right to the edge of the road as the cars speed by, just barely under control. One scene in the movie shows a spectator running as fast as he can to get out of the way of a race car that has gone off the course, out of control. This is one of the wild west aspects of the race. Only in a place like Mexico could you get away with this kind of uncontrolled, chaotic danger and devil-may-care liability.

The resulting images from this wild race are spectacular at times. There are two scenes showing a motorcycle racer deviating from the standard course to zip along the ocean beach at over 100 miles per hour. The ocean, the surf and the breakneck speed of the bike make for memorable images. Infrared images taken at night show spectacular crashes. One such in-car camera shot shows a car fly off the road and end upside down. The driver's voice, caught by an onboard microphone, says matter-of-factly to his partner that it appears the car is now out of the race. The film features archival footage of two famous amateur racers, James Garner and Steve McQueen, who participated in the race. There is also onboard footage of the great Mario Andretti trying his hand at the course. Famed racer Robby Gordon is shown participating in the race. It is worth seeing, for its spectacular race images, if nothing else. It rates a B.

For more information on this film, including vehicles, racers, downloads and production notes, click on this link to the official home page of Dust to Glory.

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Copyright © 2005 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)