One year after the insanity of Spider Baby or, The Maddest Story Ever Told maverick low budget auteur Jack Hill witnessed a race on a figure eight track and thought it was so “crazy and so loony” he wanted to document it.
The result was Pit Stop or The Winner as it was originally and more fittingly titled considering there are no pit stops in the whole of the Black and White action drama which follows bad boy speed racer Rick (Richard Davalos from Cool Hand Luke) from street drag racing all the way up to professional races taking on the dangers of the figure eight track and the driven daredevil drivers who dominate it including Hawk Sidney played by cult horror icon Sid Haig.
Opening with a scene straight out of Fast and Furious circa 1969 Hill’s Pit Stop blends straight up car porn and crash fetishism with a sports movie structure throwing in an interesting angry young man element played perfectly by Davalos who evokes James Dean at his most rebellious, an easy feat considering he started in alongside him in East of Eden.
Although Hill seems at first only interested in the danger and violence of the race track with its immensely insane intersection as the film progresses we see it is more about Rick and devious promoter Grant Willard (Brian Donlevy) who pushes the success hungry anti-hero to see what he will do to win (hence the original name) and who he will betray and hurt in the process.
Caught up in Rick’s four wheeled plan is his immature girlfriend Jolene (Beverly Washburn who also starred in Spider Baby alongside Haig) and the wife of a more successful driver Ellen McLeod played by Ellen Burstyn in one of her earlier roles five years before The Exorcist.
The cast are all excellent especially Haig who surprisingly adds a depth and pathos to Hawk that could have easily been ignored as the script transforms his character from a Wacky Races villain to an enraged psychopath who destroys a car with an axe to a sympathetic team player taking the audience along with him.
Hill’s direction is excellent moving between slick shots and montages to a flurry of furious documentary style filming during the races in an attempt to evoke as much action and danger as possible.
Although filming in Black and White meant the movie was much less commercially successful it gives it a raw feel and weight especially in the dramatic scenes and Hill’s stark but effective script shines through all the way up to the ultra-dark ending that many may not see coming.
Hill is known for making cult exploitation classics like Spider Baby and Foxy Brown and although Pit Stop fits the make and model in its crazy subject matter, brutal action and anti-hero lead there is a lot more going on under the hood of this film than first appears.