Lightyear Entertainment // 2004 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Paul Corupe (Retired) // June 26th, 2004
This entry in the Lightyear's series of Dean Papadeas-produced drag racing DVDs focuses exclusively on "wheelstanders," a specific type of exhibition car that races solely on its back wheels, its front axle proudly hoisted into the air. Wheelstanders were briefly featured in another entry in this series called Track Extreme, but this time, they get their own disc, which looks at the different types of wheelstanders that have been mainstays as the tracks for more than twenty years.
Wheelstanders and other exhibition cars represent the entertainment portion of a night at the local drag strip, filling the often-long breathers between the main event races. Spewing enough smoke and fire to choke a Formula One fan, wheelstanders are monsters capable of full quarter-mile wheelies at speeds approaching 150mph. Added metal bars attached to the back of the cars even kick up crowd-pleasing sparks that lead to an unforgettable pass.
The emphasis is clearly on the thrilling dragstrip footage in Wacky Wheelies, but this release does offer enough context and information for dragstrip neophytes. After a brief history of wheelstanding, the show goes over exactly how these custom-built machines are made to "wheelstand," and the way they must be driven. A few interviews with professional drivers are tossed in, as well as some commentary from famed drag racer and co-host "Big Daddy" Don Garlits.
Along the way, a few legendary cars are featured, such as the "Hemi Under Glass," a Plymouth Barracuda with a powerful 426 Hemi dropped in the trunk. The car gets its name from a glass window built into the car floor so the driver can still see the road when wheelstanding. Also here is some vintage footage of the very first wheelstander, "Little Red Wagon."
Most of the footage in this release was previously available as a 45-minute VHS tape called "Wacky Wheelstanders," which itself was an episode of a syndicated hot rod television program called Nitro Warriors, hosted by Don Garlits and motorsports artist Kenny Youngblood. Because the original show runs less than an hour, the DVD has been extended with a tacked on ending -- a heavily-edited second episode on other type of exhibition cars, jet funny cars and jet dragsters-vehicles with unwieldy jet engines strapped to their chassis that hit speeds approaching 300 mph. I'm going to have to disagree with the packaging, and pronounce that this segment does not qualifies as a "special feature," since it plays as part of the running time and only really serves to bring the main feature on the DVD to a still meager 60 minutes.
While watchable, the quality of this release is certainly below average. For what essentially amounts to a television show produced in the last five years, the video is much softer than it should be. Colors are insufficiently rendered and the video is prone to both compression and source artifacting. The stereo sound is frankly terrible, both tinny and cramped. Too bad, as the gut wrenching roar of jet engines and screeching burnouts really would have benefited from a full-sounding track.
As far as the presentation of the subject matter goes, this is a generally well-made, attention-grabbing hour of dragstrip action. It's nicely paced and edited, offering some fantastic looking wheelstander footage. Although the changeover from the wheelstanding episode to the jet car ending will seem jarring to most viewers, the main problem with this DVD is that it is too focused on what amounts to a fairly thin topic. While they do please crowds when seen between much less flamboyant Pro Stock and Top Fuel heats, watching wheelstanders zipping across your screen on two wheels for the length of the video gets a little tedious. The only variety comes from the look of the exhibition vehicles, not from their act. As a result, the aforementioned Track Extreme, which even has a little overlapping footage with this release, is probably a better value for anyone but the most die-hard wheelstanding fan.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Lightyear Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated