Drag Racing Week: Drag Racer (1972)

Editor’s Note: This review ran on December 12, 2020. We’re bringing it back for our tribute week to the funny cars and rails of drag racing of the ’60s and ’70s

Image Courtesy of Vecteezy.

“(A) versatile and underrated B-movie Renaissance man.”
— IMDb, about actor-director John “Bud” Carlos.

That’s the understatement of the century, ye IMDb database scribe. Look at that short — but hit-packed director’s resume: Kingdom of the Spiders (we need to review that one!), The Dark! The Day Time Ended! Mutant! Gor II: Outlaw of Gor! (well, they’re hits for the B&S About Movies crowd). Then there’s Bud’s cable and VHS potboilers that star friggin’ Ernest Borginine, Robert Vaughn, Oliver Reed, and Herbert Lom in the sam friggin’ movie: Skeleton Coast (1988), and Act of Piracy (1988) with Gary Busey and Ray Sharkey kicking ass. Then there’s Bud’s acting resume with Al Adamson and the films Hells Angels on Wheels (1967), Psych-Out (1968), The Road Hustlers (1968), The Savage Seven (1968), Killers Three (1968; starring Merle Haggard and a very young Lane Caudell of 2020’s Getaway), Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969), Satan’s Sadists (1969), Five Bloody Graves (1969), and Hell’s Bloody Devils (1970).

After entering the annals of Bikerdom with his third acting gig in Hells Angels on Wheels (he had support roles in 1965’s Deadwood ’76 and Run Home, Slow), and paying attention on all of those Al Adamson sets and Roger Corman AIP productions, Bud Carlos transistion behind the lens for the blaxploitation-spaghetti western (Uh, oh. Here we go again with the genre mixin’: Hey! Harry Hope and Harry Tampa of Smokey and the Judge and Nocturna fame, hiya!) with The Red, White, and the Blue, aka Soul Soldier (1970).

And the burgeoning, becoming “hot” and “trendy” drag racing genre was next on Bud’s resume with the youth-oriented (as were all of the ’60s racin’ flicks that simply substituted asphalt for sand) action-drama starring John Davis Chandler?

“Who?”

Seriously? The dude is iconic in a Richard Lynch-amazing kind of way.

John Davis Chandler January 28, 1935 – February 16, 2010

Now do you know him?

Let’s not even get into his extensive ’60s and ’70s television resume . . . just look at the movies: John Frankeheimer’s The Young Savages (1961; a more violent The Blackboard Jungle, if you will) with Burt Lancaster. Sam Peckinpah’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973) with Kris Kristofferson, James Coburn, and Richard Jaeckel. Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josie Wales (1976). Across 100-plus credits, JDC was everywhere, and he was nowhere. No truer “dark man” actor was he.

Courtesy of NHRA.com

Here, John Davis Chandler stars alongside Jeremy Slate (Do we really need to get into is resume?) and beach-snow flick bunny mainstay Deborah Walley in this not-a-Frankie-Avalon-Fabian racing flick that stars Mark Slade alongside (as you can see by the drive-in flyer, above) the nation’s top drag racers. (Mark has too many ’60s and ’70s TV series to mention, but by 1967, starred for three years on The High Chaparral; before that, the McHale’s Navy rip, The Wackiest Ship in the Army; he got his start as co-star on Gomer Pyle: USMC.)

Drag Racer is simple tale: Mark Slade is a young man who dreams of tearin’ down the quarter mile with the big dogs that, while it has (it must have) romance, there very little of that dramatic yakity-yak that bogged down the likes of Red Line 7000, Thunder Alley, and The Wild Racers. As with David Cronenberg’s lone non-horror film, Fast Company, Drag Racer is about gritty realism that puts the actors into the pits to mix it up with the real racers (Bill Schultz, John Lombardo, Norm Wilcox, and Larry Dixon) at famed West Coast racetracks Irwindale Raceway, Lions Drag Strip, and Orange County Int’l Raceway.

Is the acting a bit rough in spots? Is the editing and cinematography amateurish? Sure. (It adds to the film’s realistic, documentary quality.) This is one of those films that was once embraced by UHF-TV in the early ’70s (watched it twice), temporarily embraced on VHS (watched it once), then jettisoned. Considering Bud Carlos’s pedigree, this one — is in desperate need — of a full restoration (and not just a rip n’ burn) to DVD. Hint! Kino Lorber, Arrow Video?

This is a classic must-watch for racing fans — even with a muddy, washed-out blurred print. It really is one of the best drag flicks out there. And whadda ya’ know: You Tube comes through again — and with a VHS and not a TV rip! Sweet!

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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