Jack Hill and Roger Corman present this stock car crash-o-rama!

Jack Hill’s Pit Stop is set in the world of stock cars and figure-8 racing. Filmed on real figure-8 tracks, the races were closer to demolition derby than contests of speed. A low-budget Roger Corman film intended to play in the drive-ins of the South where racing was popular, Jack Hill wrote and directed Pit Stop. Following up the director’s cult Spider Baby, the 1969 film is a crash-fueled ride of spectacular action and compelling characters. It is one of Hill’s lesser known films but one that still echoes today with its themes.

Rick Bowman (Richard Davalos) is a young drag racer with some potential as a race driver. Businessman Grant Willard spots his talent and quickly introduces him to figure-8 racing. Circling endlessly on a closed figure-8 course, it’s a death-defying race where more cars end up in crashes than cross the finish line. This is the world that Rick Bowman begins to thrive in with his reckless attitude and daredevil driving skills.

The king of this strip is currently Hawk, a crazy driver with a few screws loose. Hawk is played with manic energy by Sid Haig. Bowman as the young buck wants to topple Hawk from the throne. It’s a conflict driven by Willard for the sake of his racing profits. Willard is in the business to make money and he pits the two drivers against each other at every turn. Bowman is warned not to cross Hawk and his violent temperament.

Hill gave each character enough development that Pit Stop works beyond its action scenes and car races.

The competitive Bowman is quite cocky and has the talent to back it up. He starts winning and meets Jolene (Beverly Washburn), a girl that hangs around the track. Bowman has his eyes on a bigger prize, jumping to the level above figure-8 racing. He’ll do anything he can during the race to finish first. A young Ellen Burstyn (here under a different name) plays another woman that crosses Bowman’s path on his journey to the top.

Pit Stop is an interesting film tremendously helped by the realistic racing footage and stunning crashes. Hill gave each character enough development that Pit Stop works beyond its action scenes and car races. Bowman is a strange hero to build a film around. He’s a protagonist that wins on the track but doesn’t elicit much sympathy from the audience, even when another character nearly beats him to death. His casual dismissal of Jolene’s feelings and lack of remorse nearly turns him into an early anti-hero, an archetype that wouldn’t get fleshed out in cinema for decades.

Corman wanted a film made about stock car racing but got something so much more. Pit Stop delivers a nice combination of fiery crashes and an emotional complexity lacking in most exploitation fare.

Movie ★★★★☆

Pit Stop Blu-ray screen shot 12

This might be a first in the Blu-ray era. Within weeks of each other, Arrow Video and Code Red will release competing versions of Pit Stop in the United States. Apparently the rights to the film are tangled between Roger Corman and Jack Hill. Arrow Video released this director-supervised 2K film transfer from Hill’s original answer print, while Code Red used the camera negative from Roger Corman. It’s an interesting comparison that will surely lead to much discussion around the Internet. Pit Stop is a gritty film that looks and sounds like it should be playing in a drive-in movie theater.

Arrow Video lists this information in the included booklet about their transfer:

Pit Stop is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 with 1.0 mono audio. All work was overseen by James White at Deluxe Digital Cinema – EMEA, London. The filmmaker’s own 35mm answer print was transferred in High Definition and graded using the Nucoda Film Master colour grading system. Thousands of instances of dirt, scratches and debris were carefully removed frame by frame.

Arrow’s transfer looks solid given the film elements they were given to work with by Jack Hill. An answer print is one generation removed from the negative and this particular one appears to have suffered some damage over the decades. Despite Arrow’s restoration, some vertical gate scratches and other film problems remain in the 1080P presentation. The presentation is film-like without undue processing, laden with a thick, appropriate grain structure for the vintage b-movie. The unfiltered detail wavers in quality, which can be chalked up to the erratic film elements.

The definition and clarity are better than expected, all things considered. Pit Stop won’t be anyone’s paragon of Blu-ray quality in those terms. This is a stable print with firm black levels and moderate contrast. The highlights are slightly blown-out at times. The monochrome cinematography isn’t especially sharp, exterior shots are softer than interiors for some reason. Arrow Video’s 2K restoration probably represents a small miracle in bringing these elements up to snuff for Blu-ray video quality. They continue their recent practices with a quality AVC video encode on a BD-50.

Video ★★★☆☆

West coast psychedelic group the Daily Flash contribute a moody, almost rockin’ instrumental score that adds a lot to Pit Stop as a film. This mono PCM soundtrack sounds excellent in nearly perfect fidelity. The dialogue is a bit thin in spots but hangs nicely in balance with the occasional song or instrumental piece. The Daily Flash’s beats provide a steady presence to the action, heard here with solid bass and fine dynamic range. I’ve heard far, far worse in terms of recording quality and mastering on low-budget fare from this period. This is a heavy sound that works perfectly for the film.

Optional English SDH subtitles appear in a white font.

Audio ★★★★☆

Arrow Video has become the best label in the business at packaging their releases with superior art design and a nice package of special features. Pit Stop includes a very informative, focused commentary from Jack Hill. The interviews are all new and shot in HD. They include clips and other press shots as the interview runs. Actor Sid Haig remains as relaxed as I’ve ever seen him in his interview.

Like most of their releases these days, this is a combo package that includes the film on a region-free Blu-ray and region-locked DVD. The reversible cover is a nice touch in their trademark clear plastic cases.

Choosing between this Arrow Video edition and the competing Code Red BD is a tough call. Die-hard fans will likely want both since Arrow includes nicer packaging and different special features. The Code Red disc does include a transfer from slightly better elements.

  • New audio commentary with Jack Hill – Moderated by his biographer Calum Waddell, Hill talks at length about many different topics in this discussion. Waddell points him in directions that don’t necessarily deal with Pit Stop, expanding the talk to cover other aspects of Hill’s career.
  • Crash and Burn! (15:31 in HD) – Jack Hill on the making of Pit Stop. The director recalls the film’s initial genesis and how it developed.
  • Drive Hard (16:48 in HD) – Actor Sid Haig speaks about his experience of acting in Pit Stop.
  • Life in the Fast Lane (11:36 in HD) – Producer Roger Corman on the genesis of Pit Stop and how he was involved.
  • Restoring Pit Stop (03:53 in HD) – Restoration demonstration by Arrow’s technical supervisor James White.
  • Original trailer (02:04 in upscaled HD)
  • Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jay Shaw
  • Collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film by critic Glenn Kenny and musicologist and writer Gray Newell on the film’s soundtrack, illustrated with original stills and artwork.

Extras ★★★☆☆

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.