VIDEO ARCHIVES WEEK: American Nitro (1979)

VIDEO ARCHIVES NOTES: This movie was discussed on the January 17, 2023 episode of the Video Archives podcast and can be found on their site here.

I have no idea how this site has had a recap of drag race docs and a week of drag race movies and this doc never made it in. How many drag racing movies did the 70s have? How many did it need?

Directed by Bill Kimberlin, an Industrial Light and Magic visual effects editor, this was shot at Fremont Raceway and really has a lot of great footage of that era’s racers, as well as an interview with Ed Pink about the oil fire incident that claimed the life of John “the Zookeeper” Mulligan at the U.S. Nationals in 1969.

Drag racing used to be such a big thing in the 70s. I remember commercials for it and getting beyond excited. There was even a 1977 arcade game called Drag Race and the Activision game for the Atari 2600 Dragster. That’s how much people loved it. Just look at all the films on our list above. While I’m not a fan of the sport, it was fun to take a spin through its past.

I always think of the term “nitro burning funny cars” and hear the screaming voice of the monster truck ads of my youth. These guys literally strapped themselves to a Korean War-era jet engine and spat in death’s literal skull face.

This also has Jungle Jim and Jungle Pam in it. Russell James Liberman took on the Jungle Jim name after starting drag racing right out of high school. He and Pam Hardy came from West Chester, Pennsylvania — the hometown of Suburban Sasquatch — and after he took her away from college and small town life, she made sure his car was lined up, that his parachute was packed and his oil was all topped off.

Sadly, all that fast racing didn’t end well. Jim took a curve too fast and hit a bus head on in his Corvette back home in West Chester and it took two hours to cut him out of the car. He didn’t make it. Jungle Pam was never part of the sport again.

But here, in American Nitro, we can see them as flies in amber, as Jim waits for the tree to count down, to go faster than any human being can or should, all while Pam rocks out her knee high boots, young and alive and free forever in the drag strips of our minds.

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