November 28, 2018 – When I think of racing, the kind of racing seen in this movie is the kind I think of first. This is old school, build-it-yourself stock cars made from old parts in a back yard or garage, driven by local heroes in front of their families and friends at a local racetrack. Noisy, dirty, rough and tumble racing. It is definitely a contact sport.
This movie about a fading way of life is centered on the last car racing track in Long Island, New York, the Riverhead Raceway. This documentary film opens with this statement: “Stock car racing was born in 1927 on Long Island, New York,” the same year Charles Lindgergh took off for his famous solo trans-Atlantic flight from a nearby airstrip. “In 1956 that airstrip became America's first shopping mall. By then, there had been 40 racetracks on Long Island. Today, only one remains.”
There is no narration in this film. The images speak for themselves. Eighty-Seven-year-old Barbara and Jim Cromarty, owners of the race track are thinking about selling it. They have operated the raceway for over 35 years, but they are in declining health and are tempted to sell it. When the raceway was built in 1949 next to a country road, it was surrounded on all sites by farmland and forests. Now, it is surrounded by shopping centers and big box stores. The land is worth over $10 million.
Land developers want the property for more retail businesses, restaurants, movie theaters and other commercial developments like those that surround the old raceway. Land developers appear in the film, along with race car drivers young and old. We see men taking cars apart and putting them back together with lots of extra reinforcements to protect the driver. The doors are welded on, so you have to get in and out through the window.
Races at the track are shown from a wide variety of angles, from inside the cars and from outside. One scene shows the track announcer, Bob Finan, working a race. Other cameras are aimed at the drivers themselves. One tough-looking driver is moved to tears when he wins the race. In another scene, we see a local minister preach a sermon based on the yellow warning flag used in car racing.
During one race, shown from the point of view of the rear bumper, we see cars repeatedly bump into each other. I wondered if that led to arguments and fights. It does lead to anger later in the film. We see angry drivers yelling at each other. Fists fly in another scene. Footage included in the film shows a car burst into flames, and a driver with his clothes on fire. He said later that he was burned so badly he could see his own shin bones. Another driver talks about a crash in which his airborne car struck a light pole.
One driver, Blaise Walkowiak, looks to be too young to be driving a race car. Others are middle aged and beyond, who are still passionate about racing, building race cars, repairing cars and tuning cars. This is old school car culture, not much different than it was in the 1950s.
A man who has shot race videos at the raceway for 25 years distributes what he calls tapes (actually DVDs) to racers, showing highlights from their last race. He seems to be the only person in the film who is aware of the camera filming him, and he arranges poses for the cameraman. This is real, raw Americana. It shows average people who are passionate about their cars. What could be more American than that? This film rates a C+.
Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.