By David G. Firestone
Most movie fans haven’t heard of Jack Hill. He is an exploitation director, who made a number of films, including Foxy Brown, The Big Doll House, City On Fire, and Spider Baby. He is credited with discovering Pam Grier, Sid Haig, and Ellen Burstyn. Quentin Tarantino has gone so far as to call Hill “the Howard Hawks of exploitation filmmaking”.
At some point in the late 1960’s, Hill went to a figure 8 stock car race. A figure 8 track is in the configuration of an 8, and the cross is where a lot of wrecks happen. Hill as so enamored with this kind of racing, that he made a movie about it. Origially titled “The Winner” it had to be changed to “Pit Stop” to avoid confusion with the Paul Newman racing film Winning released that same year.
The movie starts with a clearly tricked out car pulling into a parking space. Even though the movie is called “Pit Stop,” The Winner title card is still present. Two more cars drive and park nearby while the opening credits roll. More and more cars pill up in the middle of the street.
While the group admires the first car, a man walks over to one of the other cars, and discusses a racing bet. While the man in the suit watches, a street race takes place. Engines rev, and the race starts. One car hits a spilled can of Schitlz, and drives into the side of the house. The other driver, the main character, and tries, but fails to evade the police.
The man who made the bets drives to the police station, where the driver is released. The man who made the bet, Grant Willard, played by Brian Donlevy. The driver is Rick Bowman, played by Richard Davalos. Rick clearly doesn’t trust Grant, but Grant reveals that he is involved with real racing.
Grant takes Rick to a figure 8 race at Ascot Park. As the announcer says last names, he mentions Curtis Turner. The racing action is intense, with a series of wrecks, and mangled cars. One car is racing with the hood blocking the front windshield. Rick is freaked out by the on-track action, and Grant asks he wants to try it. Rick states that he “…would rather go back to the joint.” Eventually, a winner is crowned, and the crowd hates him. The driver is Hawk Sidney played by Sid Haig.
After the race, Rick, Hawk, and Grant meet up at a bar. Grant introduces Hawk to Rick. Hawk gives Rick a speech, and he reminds me of Cutter from House of 1000 Corpses, also played by Haig. After the speech, Grant asks Rick if he wants to race, to which Rick responds with “where can I get a car?”
The scene shifts to a junkyard car dealer, who shows Rick a car, and they discuss racing, and Grant. The two agree on a deal for the car. Rick takes the car back to the track, and enters his first race. As with the last scene, the action is fast, and Rick and the driver who wrecked him get in a fight. As he got wrecked, he how has to work at the junkyard , until the car is paid in full. In the junkyard, Rick works on cars, while Hawk combs the yard for a car.
Hawk decides to tease Rick as he works on a car. As Hawk leaves, Rick meets Jolene, played by Beverly Washburn. The two talk about the fight at the track, and then she leaves. The scene shifts back to the track, where Rick and Hawk race. Again, the racing action is great. Rick gets wrecked, and has to end his race early. Rick meets and old mechanic, and it’s revealed that Grant told Hawk that Grant would give Hawk’s car to Rick if Rick beat Hawk. More of the same follows at the junkyard. Mixed in with the junkyard are sequences where Rick gets a series of tips on how to improve his racing.
Another race is shown, but Rick is in the crowd for this one. Here, Ed McCLeod is introduced. Hawk shows up with a custom car, and he makes it clear that he will cause bodily harm to anyone who messes up his car. Rick convinces Grant to a deal where if Rick beats Hawk, Grant will sponsor Rick at Phoenix International. Rick is more aggressive with his racing. Rick ends up wrecking Hawk to take the win. As the track crew sprays Hawks’ car with a fire extinguisher, they spray him in the face. Hawk is clearly enraged.
The scene shifts to a club where Jolene and Rick dance with each other. Rick and Jolene, go outside, and sit in a car. Rick is clearly drunk, and the two start to make out. They stop, and the two go for a drive. The two agree to go to a motel, and decide to get some more booze. A drunk Hawk stalks the two. Hawk crashes into Rick, and beats both Rick and his car, to Jolene’s horror. Rick fights back but Hawk continues the beatings.
Rick is taken to the hospital, where he is diagnosed with a concussion. He is told to get bed rest. Rick goes to a pay phone, and calls Grant, who is discussing a new car with a custom car maker. Rick asks Grant where he can find Ed McCLeod Grant jokes with Hawk about Rick, but Hawk’s demeanor strikes Grant as odd.
Rick walks into a random store room, where the lights are oddly flickering, which is caused by a welder. The welder is Ellen McCLeod, Ed’s wife, played by Ellen Burstyn. Eventually, Ed meets Rick. They discuss beating Hawk, and racing at Phoenix. Ed doesn’t believe Rick isn’t cut out for real racing. Rick convinces Ed to watch him at a race.
Another day, another figure 8 race, and more great racing action. Rick is getting his car ready, and has Jolene break his arm cast with a hammer. Hawk is also racing, and for some reason, has STP written on his hand. This would be a great time to mention that the announcing for the races is amazing, on par with Dorf Goes Auto Racing. Hawk and Rick avoid wrecks, and the race continues. Hawk gets spun out, and Rick wins. Ed admits that Rick is good “…for a rookie.”
Jolene congratulates Rick, and Hawk approaches menacingly. Hawk offers to buy Rick a beer, then apologizes. The scene shifts to the club, where Hawk dances, and Grant, Ed, and Rick discuss business. An idea comes across to bring Hawk along to Phoenix to win the race.
Rick goes back to his motel, drinks, and smokes. Jolene is all over him. They talk about the idea of him winning at Phoenix. The discussion turns to religion, and Jolene babbles for a little bit. Back at the shop, the cars are coming along, and Rick is enamored with Ellen. The group goes off-roading in the desert. The desert hill climbing scene is very well shot, and is great.
That night, a friendly sing along near a fire happens. Jolene is really into it, dancing around, where others are talking about their cars. Ellen decides to take a walk in the desert. After asking if there is any place left in the world without empty beer cans, the two make out.
The scenes shifts to the race track, where Sonny Simpson, the new antagonist,is introduced. Hawk decides to tease Sonny. Hawk qualifies better than Sonny. Sonny is easily riled, and Hawk is trying to get in Sonny’s head. Rick qualifies well, and then Ed qualifies. Ellen and Ed discuss the upcoming race at the Oasis Motel. Ed and Ellen decide to take a real vacation. Ed also tells Ellen that if he wins, they will start a family.
The scene shifts to Jolene taking a shower, while Rick reads Hot Rod. Jolene tries to get Rick to notice her, but he keeps reading. The two begin arguing. Rick is stressed because of the race, Jolene is upset because Rick keeps getting mad.
Race day begins at Phoenix. Rick makes an adjustment to his car, while Grant looks on. Grant tells Rick that he doesn’t car who wins the race, so long as one of his drivers wins. The race begins. Hawk eventually takes the lead. Sonny isn’t going down quietly, and the two battle for the lead. Hawks engine eventually gives out, and Rick starts moving up the lead. A dejected Hawk looks over his car. Sonny is now in the lead, and is rapidly lapping the field. Sonny gets spun out, and Rick is in second. Ed and Rick are first and second in the race, coming into the checkered flag, and Ed is spun out and hit. Rick takes over. Ed climbs out of the car, and is placed in an ambulance. Rick goes on to win the race.
After the race, it’s revealed that Ed has been taken to the hospital. Rick makes his way to the hospital, and eventually finds Jolene, who tearfully tells Rick that Ed has died from his injuries. As Rick walks into the hospital room, Grant, Ellen, and Hawk give Rick looks. Though Grant tries to reassure Rick that nobody blames Rick for what happened. Ellen breaks down into tears, while Grant and Rick leave to discuss Riverside. Rick asks Jolene to come to Riverside, and Jolene responds with “I don’t like you anymore.” Grant pulls up in his car, Rick gets in, and the movie ends.
I’m going to give this movie an A. I really can’t complain. The acting is amazing, especially Sid Haig. The story is good, the characters work well, and the music is awesome. I really can’t say anything bad about it.
Next week, I revisit a non-racing topic.