Stock car racing began on Long Island, New York in 1927. By the 50’s some 40 racetracks had existed on Long Island, today, there’s just one, Riverhead Raceway.
Filmmaker Michael Dweck captures the life and times of this unique last bastion of American blue-collar racing tradition as the modern world encroaches from all sides, primed and ready to take the land right from beneath the tarmac.
The owners of Riverhead Raceway are an old, eccentric couple: Barbara and Jim Cromarty. We don’t find out a great deal about the pair, which is a shame but it’s something you must get used to in The Last Race.
Dweck doesn’t delve deep into people’s stories in the documentary, choosing instead to race ahead (excuse the pun) with glorious shots, sounds of the mighty V8 engines intermixed with classical music and the occasional punch-up.
It would be remis of me to mention it though as it is the one thing that stops The Last Race from being a truly great documentary, it’s good, don’t get me wrong, but there are so many unanswered questions that stop it being better; how did the Cromarty’s come to own the racetrack? Why don’t their kids take it on? Is it sustainable ‘as-is’? etc, etc.
However, putting that to one side if you can, Dweck does deliver a truly stunning looking piece of work. The GoPros are placed wonderfully about the cars to capture some great shots and, obviously, some incidents to.
Dweck doesn’t shy away from showing the inevitable side of racing at this level either, as tempers boil over and the air is turned blue and, on occasion, fists fly as drivers deem manoeuvres to be out of order.
Speaking of drivers, we have all manner of people on display, although primarily white men of around middle age, we also have a 16-year old and a woman, who one driver in particular doesn’t exactly jump for joy when he’s told she’s racing today.
Because the documentary was filmed over a long period, and because Dweck was already known around the circuit, he manages to capture the drivers at their best and, in some instances, worst.
We see them going about their daily lives, gardening, removing bees nests, as well as the outpouring of emotions when they do well in a race. You can see clips from The Last Race, including intros to the drivers, over on our YouTube channel.
Dweck also captures life outside the racetrack as Riverhead goes from small, sleepy town, to modern, commercially driven, shopping mall hell.
We meet Marty Berger who, pardon my French, is an absolute twat of a real estate developer who revels in telling us that acres and acres of woodland has been “cleared in a matter of days” to make way for some god-awful Wal-Mart or other such pointless crap.
Excuse the rant but seeing this man on the golf course talking about how it’s just a “matter of time” before the Cromarty’s sell to him and he can turn it into some other generic outpost for the masses, makes my blood boil.
Anyway, as the film progresses you come to realise that the Cromarty’s aren’t up to running this racetrack for much longer. Both get around, slowly, with the aid of walkers and a golf cart and Barbara has had a spell in the hospital.
Inevitably, the couple decide to sell (where are the kids?), but as we fade to black, Dweck informs us that they sold to someone who hasn’t bulldozed the track but has kept it open, and it’s still going strong today.