» 2017 » April

Congratulations to our 24-Hour War talking head and beloved racing legend A.J. Foyt. On April 6, he was honored with the prestigious Spirit of Ford award at the Road Racing Drivers’ Club dinner in Long Beach, California.

The award, sponsored by the Ford Motor Company, recognizes the most influential and skillful racing champions in the sport’s history.

Also on hand at the ceremony was another 24-Hour War featured speaker: NASCAR driver Dan Gurney. Dan helped commemorate the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Le Mans landmark win, which was detailed in our documentary. He and A.J. teamed up to score the only victory at Le Mans by an All-American team with all-American drivers.

That’s A.J. on the right and Dan on the left, back in the day.

A.J.’s historic 24-Hour War acheivement is only one milestone along an impressive track. He’s won the the Indianapolis 500 four times, 67 wins and seven championships in the Indy Car series and seven-time winner in the NASCAR Premier Series, including the 1972 Daytona 500.

A.J. was presented with the award by Edsel B. Ford II, the great-grandson of founder Henry Ford. Ford told Fox Sports, “A.J. was one of my heroes in racing when I first followed the sport. When looking back at his magnificent career, the question isn’t what did A.J. drive, but more what didn’t he drive and win in? His passion for driving and his commitment to the sport since his retirement have made him more than worthy for all the halls of fames he is part of.”

As A.J. and Dan discuss in the doc, the Ford versus Ferrari rivalry at Le Mans is one of the most famous battles in racing history. To take on Ferrari, Ford engineered a revolutionary racecar called the GT40. The battle takes place at the most famous race in the world, The 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ferrari had reigned supreme there for decades. In the 1960s, only two teams ever won Le Mans, Ford and Ferrari — cementing dynasties that would last for generations.

We’re intensely proud of A.J. for receiving this notable honor.

Get a closer look at one of the many achievements that led to A.J.’s Spirit of Ford Award by screening The 24-Hour War.

 

Speed Racer’s name matches his occupation, which goes it one better than any dentist named Dr. Stanley Smiley. The puzzlement, of course, is that he wears a “G” on his never-changed shirt and an “M” on his crash helmet, which we’ll owe to cultural confusion and lazy translation.

He’s as competent, loyal and true as a Boy Scout, and is so obsessed with car racing that you never see him doing anything else, not even eating or bowling or digging some new phonograph records.

In most cases, he doesn’t even sleep, despite the endless protests of his friends and family, who beg him to rest before a Big Race. But there’s good ol’ unflappable Speed, burning the midnight oil, turning a socket wrench underneath the car, his anime eyes wide with concentration. Either Speed is just simply supercharged and super pumped about tomorrow, or Speed’s on speed.

Living in a quasi-dream of a netherworld that is not quite Japan and not quite America, Speed is, quite literally, driven. It doesn’t seem to be the thrill of the race that motivates him, even though there are still thrills a-plenty that hold up surprisingly well (check out the DVD). You’ll be amazed at how powerfully these compelling stories still grip your heart and get your blood — uh — racing, even though you are no longer seven-years old.

Simply, Speed seems to be intensely focused, deeply stoic and fiercely determined, which is how we like our non-silly cartoon heroes. It’s his weighty one-dimensionalness that keeps us glued to his adventures. We learn from him that winning isn’t everything, or even the only thing – it’s how you get there and how many opportunities you are awarded to help others (aww!).

Of course, Speed has an exciting (though deadly) career, and perhaps if he were employed in the auto department of a Walmart or working Bay #3 of a Pep Boys, he wouldn’t be as enthused and more apt to snooze.

Even though his family is slightly dysfunctional, they are tremendously, almost alarmingly, supportive. There’s his crusty-but-lovable pop (Pops), who arrogantly and illogically leaves his cushy job with a large engineering firm in order to perfect his marvelous wonder car, the Mach 5.

Pops is a total fascist to his family, but they tolerate him because he’s got the engineering goods in his whacked-out head – the Mach 5 is their ticket to ride. Unlike, say, the 1989 Ford Escort, the Mach 5 comes standard with rotary swords for cutting trees (great for forest driving!), grip tires, an underwater oxygen chamber, special illumination, a periscope, and that all-important homing robot for sending for help when you are being held at gunpoint or kidnapped. No Sirius, though.

Pops almost “blows a gasket” when he first learns his son is racing in this precious super machine. However, Speed Racer and the Mach 5 take to each other like STP to an engine; once Pops sees the income the boy could net from winning tournaments, he quickly changes his warped mind. And this is years before NASCAR.

Moms Racer is the real curio. Her real name is most likely something like Carburatoretta. She’s a looker, a glamour-puss sashaying around in a tight pantsuit and a tiny apron with hearts sewn into them. Though the family is immersed in daily danger, she doesn’t seem to care about anything except serving oven-baked cookies. Call it her protection mechanism; most likely, this obsessive act is just her little way to suppress the horror of her own reality: her oldest son had run away from home and had never come back, her middle son (only 18) risks his life daily in a death machine, and her youngest is under age ten and under absolutely no adult supervision; he eats candy until his teeth rot and tends to stowaway on evildoer’s vehicles. P.S. —  his most intimate friend is a clothed chimp.

There’s Trixie, of course, Speed’s look-alike girlfriend, who is rather accomplished for a pre-feminist gal pal. She can fly a plane and a maneuver a helicopter; she can also give a wicked karate chop when confronted with evil. However, she remains perky and upbeat throughout — her trademark is to giggle and wink, never letting us forget that, through it all, she’s still a female girl. Mysteriously, her blouse sports the letter “M,” like a scarlet letter. We’re left to wonder why.

Racer X (who is originally referred to as “The Masked Racer,” but the narrator drops that after one episode), is really Rex Racer (Speed’s older, somewhat-normal-named brother). Years before, Rex left home in a hissy fit after a wicked argument with Pops. Of course, this seems to be a rather lengthy period to hold a grudge against your entire family, but consider the source. Also, it deepens and sentimentalizes the plot lines, as Rex, under the mask and estranged, keeps a watchful eye out for his younger brother.

Ironically, Rex had moved on to become the world’s best racing car driver (imagine that “Most Likely To” in your high school yearbook!). He is known to have bad luck follow him in every race he enters (namely, other racers die!). However, he consistently stumps the media by wearing a mask and, even though it’s obvious to anyone with an intuition, he gives no information as to who he is and where he comes from (put this into context: there was no Internet and no Matt Drudge at this time).

Every time Racer X enters a scene, we are clued in – the narrator will remind us, “Unknown to Speed, this is his older brother, Rex, who ran away from home years ago.” We wonder if this announcement starts to wear on Rex every time he makes his entrance, yet it doesn’t seem to bruise his ego that he is always referred to in the context of his younger brother. Nevertheless, it must be a drag at parties.

The real star of the show, of course, is the theme song. You know it — you love it, but you probably didn’t realize that it was written in one afternoon and recorded in practically one take. The original Japanese version (the show was called Mach Go Go Go!) was an un-zippy, over-long, marching-band style tune, and it didn’t make the scene. The American team westernized it, and viola: one of the greatest theme songs in the history of our civilization. The jazzy closing credits, featuring a mind-blowing illustrative history of the automobile, with actual models driven by the show’s characters, is download-worthy. We’re still waiting for those damned flying cars, though.

The voiceover talent works overtime, and the overlapping of characters’ voices is both painfully obvious and pleasurably corny. Former child model and struggling actor Peter Fernandez found his niche dubbing Japanese entertainment for American audiences (Astro Boy, Marine Boy, Ultra Man, and several Godzilla flicks). Not only was he in charge of the entire U.S. translation/production of Speed Racer (trickier than it sounds), he was the voice of both Speed and Racer X. Corinne Orr was the voice of Trixie, Mom Racer and Spritel (Speed’s younger brother). You may also know her as the voice of Snuggle, the fabric softener bear. Voiceover vet Jack Grimes played Speed’s friend Sparky and Spritel’s simian friend Chim Chim.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the voiceover talent, the series will turn you as Japanese as it gets. Characters gasp in unison, or exclaim a long, drawn out expression of “ahhh’s,” “awww’s” and “oooooh’s!” Evildoers get punched, karate chopped and knocked out, but they never die. They say unlikely things such as “Unhand me!” and “Now’s our chance!” and “If you don’t make this jump, you’ll fall a thousand feet into the river. Good luck.” And all evildoers have New York accents – just like in real life.

Speed isn’t exactly the “demon on wheels” that the awesome song makes him out to be, but we’ll agree to look the other way. You’ll also wonder how the cast can wander around the Alps in the middle of a winter storm without a stitch of warm clothing. As well, Speed’s insistence on wearing an ascot is distracting, but there is a lot you can forgive here. The original animators were in love with American culture; you can see how it was absorbed and handed back to us so lovingly and with such care. It’s exactly as bad as you remember it, yet somehow better than bad.

Go, watch this DVD. Adventure’s waiting just ahead.

Also, check out Chassy’s racing flicks: The 24-Hour War and Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman.

 

 

Looking for something to fun to do with your kids while watching Chassy Media’s The 24 Hour War? LEGO has come up with the perfect companion piece for the film.

Just released for sale last month, the plastic brick-builder’s 2016 Ford GT & 1966 Ford GT40 set not only looks cool, but should make for an enticing parent-child activity while you sit down to watch The 24 Hour War.

The set is just one of the latest to come from LEGO’s Speed Champions lineup and joins other drool-worthy sets for adults and children alike, such as the Porsche 919 Hybrid and 917k and Audi R18 e-tron Quattro .

This particular set features 366 pieces and in addition to the 2016 Ford GT and 1966 Ford GT40 car, the set includes three minifigures, and a victory podium that includes a mini LEGO replica of the 24 Hours of Le Mans Winner’s Trophy for a nice touch.

Overall, we love the attention of detail in this set. The modern Ford GT comes complete with its racing livery used in last year’s Le Mans (though sadly it’s not the no. 68 that won its class), while the 1966 GT40 features the distinctive black/gray/white color scheme and carries the no. 2 of the real-life car driven to an unintended overall victory by Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon. Even the minifigures sport different racing uniforms based on the car – from the modern Sparco-branded uniform to a vintage-inspired uniform synonymous with the Goodyear uniforms from the day.

The set is only $29.99 which is right in line with the price of other Speed Champions sets (usually $15 per car).

While it’s certainly a set designed for children, there’s no doubting that LEGO knows what it’s doing in making sure that parents can be just as excited to own one of these Speed Champions sets. So buy the set, get a copy of The 24 Hour War, make up a batch of popcorn, and enjoy a new kind of family night this week!

 

In 1969, two Paul Newman films were released (which is why they were called the good old days): Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Winning. As Blake Z. Wong noted in Road & TrackOne of those movies made him a legend. But the other made him a race car driver.

That’s a brilliant observation, and an understatement. Three years after Winning, at the tender age of 47, Newman officially immersed himself in the sport, earning actual accolades and respect, and sometimes even leaving his still-hot film career in the dust.

The original 1969 flick that started it all earned $6.2 million in North America; it was the 16th most popular box-office film of the year, and that’s saying something (other than Butch Cassidy, notable films included Midnight Cowboy, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Easy Rider, and The Wild Bunch) .

The 2016 Chassy documentary, Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman, chronicles his actual life in racing. It spanned 35 years, with Newman winning four national championships as a driver and eight national championships as an owner.

In the Chassy doc, the Sundance Kid, more commonly known as Robert Redford, complains of his lifelong best pal’s racing obsession: “He became so boring! Because that’s all he talked about.”

Yep. And nope. Newman’s passion made his fans — and the press – even more interested in him. And he became the most interesting man in the world. The culture watched — and rooted — as he pursued auto racing all the way to the end of his life, in 2008, at age 83.

The 1969 film, Winning, is both traditional and groundbreaking. It has the feel of an old-fashioned love story told in what was then modern-day music and film technique. Roger Ebert originally gave it a thumbs down, calling it dreary. However, his praise for Newman is solid: “Newman by now has transcended the stature of the roles he plays. He seems to exist beyond his characters.” Amen?

The stars of the film outshine the story itself; however, for racing fans, the footage is to be devoured. It was taken from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 1968 race (the intensely Sixties crowd is way more compelling to watch than the actual competition — wowee, there sure were a lot of white people back then); actual film of a spectacular, dramatic crash is eye popping; that’s captured from an earlier race, in 1966.

Cinematic music legend Dave Gruisin scored the film (Wait! He wrote the music for Divorce, American Style!). Put a flower in your hair — it’s as Sixties as film music can get — it’s ‘bo contemplative and dreamy. Fun fact: the opening moment’s of the movie’s main theme, “500 Miles,” was used as the theme for The Million Dollar Movie on WEWS in Cleveland during the Seventies and Eighties. Maybe Gruisin’s proudest accomplishment.

The story is as much about a dysfunctional relationship as it is about racing. Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward — married in real life — play a couple whose marriage is as doomed as it was meant to be (the real-life marriage was truly happy — they remained together until Newman’s death). The year before, they co-starred in the heavily dramatic, slow-moving Rachel, Rachel.

Here’s how Time magazine assessed Woodward’s performance in Rachel:  “It is in the transcendent strength of Joanne Woodward that the film achieves a classic stature. There is no gesture too minor for her to master. She peers out at the world with the washed-out eyes of a hunted animal. Her walk is a ladylike retreat, a sign of a losing battle with time and diets and fashion. Her drab voice quavers with a brittle strength that can command a student but break before a parent’s will. By any reckoning, it is [her] best performance.”

Holy shit! This next project — Winning — followed a hard act, but it changed things up a bit, gunning the accelerator.

In the film, Newman’s character is already a successful professional racer whose life changes when he meets Woodward. He’ll put her into the ride; she’ll become his off-track object of desire. The story begins in the small town of Redburn, in which Woodward observes, “People in Redburn talk just to have something to do.” Heavy.

She plays a divorced Avis Rent-A-Car counter girl. Like Avis, Woodward tries harder, and wins the dream hunk of the 20th century. In fact, they marry, just like that. Back then, it was called a “whirlwind romance.” Today, it’s called “reality.”

The motivation: she’s lonely/he’s freewheeling. In fact, he so freewheeling that he free wheels her straight to the Pacific Ocean.

Newman quickly makes Woodward forget Floyd, her first husband (this is not difficult for Newman to do, ever). Fun fact about Floyd: they honeymooned in Milwaukee because he hoped that she would acquire a taste for beer. Classy move, and nice try: Woodward laments, “I never even acquired a taste for Floyd.”

With Newman, of course, she finally acquires a taste for beer (Pabst Blue Ribbon), and, symbolically, of life. She’s still a woman, after all, with needs, and he’s Paul Newman.

More about this needy thing later – the neediness becomes a damn problem.

Despite the spontaneity, Woodward comes with baggage: a son. At first, Newman assumes that he’s probably a precocious little boy, but he’s only half right. They boy turns out to be Richard Thomas, who later played John-Boy on The Waltons. Snagging John-Boy for this film is apparently a big deal: he scores an “Introducing Richard Thomas” credit in the film’s opening credit sequence.

Because Newman is a mensch, he becomes a father figure to John-Boy, teaching him all about racing and life, which, to Newman, is basically the same thing.

At first, the family dynamic is cozy. Woodward observes that her son is “as happy as a kid with a new dune buggy.” High praise.

Richard Thomas, in his film debut, earns his money; he’s great in reaction scenes during races, exhibiting all the feels: anticipation, relief, exhilaration. Other than that, he’s sensitive, cagey, clingy, needy, and nervous as a cat. In its review of the flick in 1969, The New York Times called him, “the most appealing teen-age lad in a long time.” And that’s not even fake news.

Everybody’s feeling groovy, until Woodward gets it in her head that she’s being neglected by Newman. It doesn’t take long for her to realize that, although she’s a fine girl, Newman’s life, his lover, his lady, is racing.

He’s just doing his job. She had no job – there doesn’t seem to be an Avis rental center within miles.

“I figured we’d do some strange, exotic thing like go out to dinner together,” is the jab she throws at him while he’s preparing for the Big Race. Really, girlfriend?

What’s a girl to do? Probably not what Woodward does here: she takes up with Newman’s best friend and fellow racer, a swinger played by the dashing Robert Wagner. This Wagner character is a real snake in the grass. While Newman and Wagner are busy out-handsoming each other, Wagner swoops in on the lady. What’s worse: Newman walks in on them during sexy times. It’s extremely awkward.

Get it? He’s winning on the race track, but not on the race track of love. This may affect his performance (on the race track, that is) – Wagner’s too. Both men are filmed with faraway, dazed, contemplative, handsome faces as they race against each other in the flick’s climactic race.

Newman broods, Woodward grieves. Both chain smoke. This does not affect John-Boy in a healthy way – he’s a total mess (acting school version — maybe even overacting school version). Newman continues to act too, as his surrogate father, introducing him to life and livin’ and ladies and lager.

“I don’t feel so good,” John-Boy says after a drinking binge.

“That’s the price, swinger,” says Newman, making with the tough love.

Woodward’s character is the most problematic in the film, and not just because in one scene she sports a pixie-like Mia Farrow do, and then in every other scene, she’s back to the longer, standard-issue Sixties do.

She treats us to a series of reaction shots during the climactic race: biting her fingernails, looking hopeful, looking grateful, looking concerned, looking relieved, trying unsuccessfully to light cigarettes (symbolic?). The rest of us, though, have wiped our hands and our asses of her. She’s made her bed, and Newman ain’t in it.

The other big red flag is Robert Wagner, who we really don’t get to know, especially why he would do Woodward – his best friend’s wife – when Sixties chicks are fawning all over him. It’s a puzzlement, but it moves the thin plot along.

Here’s a piece to the puzzle: Wagner says to Newman, “It must be nice to wake up to somebody you recognize.” That Sexual Revolution must have really been something.

Quentin Tarantino? Not a fan. About the original Newman flick, he famously said, “I’d rather saw my fingers off than sit through that again.” He even ranked it below LeMans, with Steve McQueen. Burn!

Nevertheless, if you love racing, you’ll be screening this joint. Maybe watch it on a Sunday, a day of rest for everyone but Newman, according to Woodward.

“Even God took a rest on Sunday,” Woodward had reminded him before the shit hit the fan.

“I’m not God, that’s my problem,” Newman says.

The jury, though, is still out on that one.

 

Click here to devour this Paul Newman joint.

Click here to screen Winning, the Chassy original doc on Newman’s racing obsession.