The 30 minute documentary film on the early years of drag racing is concise and yet informative. The film begins by proclaiming how men have always competed for feats of speed, starting with horse-back races to later automobiles. It shows how drag racing came into being on the back of advancements in automobile technology and a booming American economy. I learnt there are many aspects to drag racing, prominently the commercial and technological facets to the sport. What follows is my response to the short documentary.
I learnt the reasons why Hotroders in the 40s and early 50s acquired a negative image. This is due to the twin hazard posed by them – that toward pedestrian passersby and that toward themselves. Indeed, statistics of Hotrod accidents during this time bears out the high number of casualties (some of which fatal) that the sport engendered. In my view, the documentary underplays this dark side of drag racing. If the annals of the sport’s history are anything to go by, there is even a degree of glorification of extreme risk-taking and an implied reverence for martyrdom. Indeed, some of the early pioneers of the sport lost their lives during the race.
The film illustrates succinctly how drag racing set the foundation for later day car-related sports. Formula 1, which has a world-wide following today, can trace its roots to drag racing. Although Formula 1 is much grander in scale and more technologically advanced, it succeeds for the same reasons of thrill, adrenaline and competition that hotroding represented. But the journey from rudimentary racing experiments in the 1940s to the high-tech spectacle of the Formula 1 is a long and arduous one. It involved plenty of sacrifice from numerous people. The early leaders of AHRF deserve special mention in this regard, for it is their vision and persistence that has developed the sport to what it is today.
I look at the phenomena of greater commercialization of drag racing from two angles. In one way, the sponsorship of big corporate names brought respectability and improved safety standards for the sport. On the other side, individual ingenuity, which was the hallmark of early hotroders was compromised. In other words, the systematization and scientific approach to competition took away some of its old charm.
While speed, thrill and pretty girls all generate consumer interest in the sport, its dependence on fossil fuel raises some ethical questions. In the documentary, this major issue is totally ignored. This makes the film come across as a promotion material and not objective evaluation of the sport’s evolution. More broadly, in my view, the documentary stands for the triumph of material indulgences over high culture. After all, America has gained a notorious reputation as a society drenched in consumerism. The widespread popularity of drag racing bears testimony to this assessment. We need to ask at what cost has this triumph come about. For a nation that is less than three centuries old and no long history or tradition to boast of, it is easy to fall prey to mindless pastimes like drag racing. This much is evident from the success of the sport at the cost of declining literacy and scholastic standards over the decades. It is a shame that American culture is best identified with McDonalds and Disney World. In comparison, the French are recognized for their rich artistic culture, the Germans for producing Bach and Beethoven and the Japanese for their resilience and industriousness. In my view, the craze for drag racing and the eschewal of refined pastimes speaks ill of a nation and its culture.
Slingshot! An American Hot Rod Foundation Film, retrieved from <wms.indstate.edu/ves/rPeters/TC-201c/slingshot!.wmv> on 10th June, 2014