Commentary

We have racing movies on our mind

Originally Published: May 29, 2010
By Hampton Stevens | Special to Page 2

Sunday is not only the unofficial start of summer, it's the biggest day in motorsports.

Gearheads get to gorge on two massive events; the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600. (Or, for those of you on the metric system, the Indianapolis 804.67 and Coca-Cola 965.6.) To get you psyched for the fastest day of the year, Page 2 has a list of motorsports movies -- besides "Days of Thunder" and "Talladega Nights" -- that deserve a spin in your DVD.

"Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies" (1969)

Period comedy set in the 1920s about the Monte Carlo Rally -- a 1,500-mile race across Europe -- with lots of winks and nods to '60s counterculture included.

What to watch for: Dudley Moore and Peter Cook at their bone-dry finest.

What to ignore: Some of the "vintage" Duesenbergs and Rolls-Royces look suspiciously like modified station wagons.

"Death Race 2000" (1975)

Roger Corman-style, racing-as-bloodsport movie set in the far distant future -- the 21st century. David Carradine, hot off "Kung Fu," stars as the driver of a ridiculously awesome, heavily modified 1970 Chevrolet Corvette.

What to watch for: Pre-"Rocky" Sylvester Stallone as "Machine Gun Joe Viterbo."

What to ignore: The year 2000 didn't turn out to be nearly as exciting as they thought it would.

"Le Mans" (1971)

Steve McQueen's labor of love is almost as well-known for the chaotic production as for the film it produced. A stunt driver lost a leg. The first director, John Sturges, walked off the set, infuriated by McQueen's insistence on realism. Ferrari pulled support from the film after finding out that a Porsche wins, forcing McQueen to personally beg and borrow many of the cars used in the race scenes.

What to watch for:The best in-car race footage ever caught on film.

What to ignore: The total lack of plot. "Le Mans" feels like a documentary, and character development is pretty much an afterthought. The dialogue is incredibly sparse, even for a McQueen movie, with no one even speaking for the film's first 37 minutes.

"Gumball Rally" (1976)

The least ridiculous of the many, many movies based on a real series of illegal cross-country races in the 1970s -- the Cannonball Baker Sea-to-Shining-Sea Memorial Trophy Dash, organized by Brock Yates of Car & Driver Magazine.

What to watch for: Pre-crazy Gary Busey and a very young Raul Julia. The real stars, though, are machines -- probably the single greatest collection of golden-era muscle cars ever caught on film, including the Shelby 427 Cobra, Ferrari 365 GTS, rare Dodge Polara and a Porsche 911 Targa that will leave you drooling.

What to ignore: The ending. Spoiler alert: It's lame.

"The Cannonball Run" (1981)

The most ridiculous of the many movies based on the Brock Yates races -- and the most fun. Nobody ever said a great movie had to be great art.

What to watch for: Madcap antics from when "madcap" wasn't a dirty word. If movies were judged solely by the amount of fun the actors had making them, "The Cannonball Run" would be universally recognized as the greatest film of all time. Try not to think about how many of the mega-famous cast members are dead now.

What to ignore: "The Cannonball Run II." Stay away from "Stroker Ace," too.

"Grand Prix"(1966)

James Garner and Eva-Marie Saint have a romance against the backdrop of 1960s-era Formula One -- when race cars had no onboard computers and stunt cars were actual vehicles, not CGI.

What to watch for: Supposedly, British director John Frankenheimer didn't think the crowd of extras looked concerned enough during the big finale. To get the reaction he wanted, Frankenheimer waited until just before a scheduled tea break and blew up the catering trailer. The shock and fear you see on fans' faces is really a bunch of Brits mad about missing their lunch.

What to ignore: The soapy, sappy love story.

"The Wild Ride" (1960)

Jack Nicholson in a very early starring role -- he had hair. The cultish black-and-white film tells the story of a beatnik rebel who spends his days dirt-track racing and his nights committing all sorts of nefarious deeds.

What to watch for: Nicholson trying desperately to give his awful lines dignity.

What to Ignore: The awful lines.

"Spinout" (1966)

Elvis, fast cars and Shelley Fabares -- what's not to love?

What to watch for: "Speedway" was a marginally better movie, but "Spinout" has the 1965 Shelby 427 S/C Cobra Mark III owned by the King himself -- arguably the single sexiest car ever built.

What to ignore: The songs, weirdly. Other than "Stop, Look, and Listen," they're a mostly forgettable bunch.

"Driven" (2001)

There is nothing funnier than a movie that takes itself seriously and fails. The Sylvester Stallone vehicle about F1, directed by Renny Harlin, is the kind of monumentally awful film you can't stop watching. We're talking "Anaconda"-level bad.

What to watch for: Drivers walking away unhurt from crashes that would be instantly fatal in real life, seeing a car (driven by real-life racer Max Papis) jumping 50 feet in the air over another, Dukes of Hazzard-style, for the pass.

What to ignore: How dirty you will feel after watching it.

Hampton Stevens is a contributor to Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. He also has written for Playboy.com, Maxim, Atlantic Online, the Kansas City Star and many more publications. He lives in Kansas City, Mo., with his girlfriend and two dogs.


Back to Page 2


• Philbrick: Page 2's Greatest Hits, 2000-2012
• Caple: Fond memories of a road warrior
• Snibbe: An illustrated history of Page 2
Philbrick, Gallo: Farewell podcast Listen

Hampton Stevens is a contributor to Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. He also has written for Playboy.com, Maxim, Atlantic Online, the Kansas City Star and many more publications. He lives in Kansas City, Mo., with his girlfriend and two dogs.