As every film buff who's been following Quentin Tarantino's programming of the revitalized New Beverly Theater in Los Angeles knows, he's got a great stash. This week, it's a double-feature that's up our alley: The McQueen classic Le Mans and a seldom-seen 1970 documentary that follows the motorsports exploits of film and TV legend, James Garner: The Racing Scene.
The Racing Scene was a collaboration between motorsports writer William Edgar and film and ABC's Wide World of Sports director Andy Sidaris, and Garner himself — who had starred in John Frankenheimer's seminal racing movie Grand Prix in 1966. They shot it during the 1969 racing season, while Garner's team American International Racers (AIR) was fielding cars at Le Mans, Daytona, and Sebring endurance races and in the SCCA's Formula 5000 series at Lime Rock Park in Connecticut and Canada's St. Jovite.
The documentary is also known for cementing Garner's connection with off-road motorsports events, showing him racing at the Baja 1000 in Mexico with co-driver Scooter Patrick in a very bad-ass Ford Bronco (top).
The clip here shows a lap with Scooter Patrick in his Surtees TS5 Formula A/F5000 car in St. Jovite 1969. Edgar writes about the shoot in the article "The Making of The Racing Scene," published in the March/April 2011 issue of Vintage Motorsport magazine:
Our first outing of cameras, cast and crew at the end of January was the 24 Hours of Daytona with Garner's two Lola T-70 coupes. Jim's Ed Leslie/Lothar Motschenbacher car finished 2nd and his Dave Jordan/Scooter Patrick driving duo came 7th. Not a bad start for AIR and our film, we all agreed. Then, in March, at the 12 Hours of Sebring, we took our first really hard knocks.
The film was not all about closed course racing. Garner himself had run the grueling Baja California off-road race the year before and done well. We used that 16mm action and aerial footage to build our split screen opening segment of The Racing Scene, inserting 35mm scenes of Jim and his co-driver Scooter Patrick as they wrestled with their Ford Bronco.
On Sunday September 7th at St. Jovite we finally got the Surtees running in top form, with Scooter Patrick at the wheel. But the spectacular and fully filmed first lap pile-up that included Scooter would take us out for good. There would be no more races for The Racing Scene. What we did have in the can was a real film on real racing, and a spot-on picture of what it was to run a racing car team – the whole truth of it, all the Good and the Bad.
Anyone who's followed Garner's acting career, and his status as the everyman's Steve McQueen of motorsport, will want to check this out. Also, As Tarantino told LA Weekly, "It has this car crash in it that you can not believe. One of the most amazing pile-ups — it's really wild."
The Racing Scene is playing this week — October 14, 15 at The New Beverly Cinema, 7165 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA. 7:30pm. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, or in advance through Brown Paper Tickets.