MONTE DUTTON - A GREAT RACING FLICK
I didn’t know Friday the 13th could be a week, but this one has been unfortunate – I’m positive you don’t want to know the details because I’m certainly in no mood to write them – and I needed something to raise my spirits.
Going to see Ford v. Ferrari wasn’t a bad choice.
What has that to do with NASCAR, you ask? Not much. Holman-Moody participates in the Ford effort to win Le Mans. It’s harder for Carroll Shelby, Ken Miles and unmentioned co-driver Lloyd Ruby to win because the legendary stock-car partnership brings a NASCAR pit crew to pit its Ford GT in Daytona Beach, Fla., a familiar place for such crews. What few NASCAR mentions there are seem a bit condescending, left turns only and all that.
Lip service to NASCAR notwithstanding, Ford v. Ferrari is the best racing movie I’ve ever seen. It’s juiced up to make amazing deeds seem more amazing, but that’s Hollywood’s stock in trade. Days of Thunder compressed a decade’s worth of real-life incidents into one glorious Tom Cruise season.
Talladega Nights was just silly fun, not that I’m against occasional silliness. Talladega has no night races, and not even the movie has a ballad of Ricky Bobby.
I went in knowing what was going to happen. I followed the Ford GT with as much attention as an 8-year-old ever has. I remember watching satellite coverage – that was a miracle in 1966 – and I knew Miles – as well as a minor character in the movie, Walt Hansgen – was killed testing the experimental Ford J-Car, which was never raced. One minor error in the closing scenes was that Miles climbs into a GT-40, not a J-Car, before his fatal crash. This is understandable. Apparently there is only one operating J-Car on earth now.
Another mistake was in the early laps of the 24 Hours, when, as best I could tell, Miles never strapped himself in after dashing across the track, cranking up his GT-40 and engaging in an opening lap that could have been a long and winding Talladega.
In the opening scenes, Miles is depicted as a Dale Earnhardt of the desert road course at Willow Springs. This was not his reputation behind the wheel.
But what the heck. It’s a movie.
As a boy, I watched many NASCAR-themed B movies at the Broadway Theater. I was sorely disappointed with Red Line 7000, starring James Caan, which was a crummy movie even though directed by Howard Hawks. In my opinion, by far the best NASCAR movie was
The Last American Hero, which starred a young Jeff Bridges and Valerie Perrine. I saw them all, though. Frankie Avalon in Fireball 500. Elvis in Speedway. Rory Calhoun in Thunder in Carolina. Robert Blake in Corky. Thunder Alley with Fabian. Marty Robbins in Hell on Wheels.
I didn’t care if the movies were bad. I just wanted to watch the racing.
I never met Carroll Shelby, though I was about 50 feet from him once. I was never much on the “hi, Mr. So-and-So, I’m a big fan of yours” bit because it’s unseemly for a sportswriter and watching it embarrasses me.
Nothing ever shot on a low budget in Wreck Rock, Alabama, was as bad as the idiotic Indy-car movie Driven. I always liked Paul Newman in Winning. I’ve seen James Garner in Grand Prix 50 times if I’ve seen it once. The most authentic racing movie was Steve McQueen’s Le Mans, which, unfortunately, had about as much plot as a line at the drive-through. I’ve probably seen Bonnie Bedelia in Heart Like a Wheel a dozen times.
Then there were Stroker Ace and Six Pack and all the Disney Love Bugs.
I thought the best racing movie was Rush, the story of the Formula One rivalry between James Hunt and Niki Lauda.
Until Ford v. Ferrari. By the standards of racing movies, it’s Citizen Kane. It’s because I like racing movies and always have.