These cars make Judge Paul Corupe's AMC Pacer look like...well, like an AMC Pacer.
"They put nitro in their cars sometimes instead of the fuel that's intended to be in the cars, so that the cars will go faster. And they do. For five or ten laps. Then they blow all to hell."—Evel Knievel, Viva Knievel
Nitro Diggers is part of a series of new DVD releases from Lightyear featuring the talents of renowned drag racing filmmaker Dean Papadeas. Papadeas's award-winning films have made his videos popular among dragstrip fans, and this particular release, Nitro Diggers, will be of particular interest to those who with an interest in the formative years of the sport.
As opposed to the other episodes in this series, Nitro Diggers is not a compilation of footage from various sources, but a complete racing competition peppered with interviews. That's right, buckle yourself in for the "2001 ADRA Front-Engine Drag Race" from Fallon, Nevada, a four-round event hosted by drag racing legend "Big Daddy" Don Garlits.
The cars running this race are front-engine dragsters, also known as "rail dragsters" or "slingshot dragsters." Popular in the 1960s, they have since fallen under the banner of "nostalgia racing," but remain favorites for fans and drivers alike. Slingshot dragsters are long, slender racers with the front wheels attached to a long rail protruding from the driver's seat. They get their name the way a driver, perched behind the rear wheels, feels like he is about to be shot forward in a slingshot. Oddly enough, it was show host Garlits himself who played a role in the extinction of the front-engine dragsters. A constant innovator, Garlits won the very first race that he ran with his motor relocated to the back of his car, starting a lasting trend.
The competition itself is fairly typical in most respects, and resembles a Speed channel broadcast any night of the week. Expect color commentary, superimposed graphics of driver names and times, and lots of technical jargon. No doubt the main way in which Papadeas's videos differ from most racing footage is his ability to really get behind the scenes. Tight close-ups and slow motion engine rumblings add immeasurably to the experience and truly put the viewer on the sidelines.
One of the nice things about this whole series, and Nitro Diggers in particular, is that it offers a balanced, respectful look at the role of women in the sport. This episode features an enjoyable interview with Shirley Muldowney, a popular female drag racer who has been out on the track for longer than any other woman driver.
Like Papadeas's Wacky Wheelies DVD, this presentation was originally an episode of a syndicated hot rod television program called Nitro Warriors, hosted by Garlits and motorsports artist Kenny Youngblood, as well as once being available as a 45-minute VHS tape called "The FEDS." To increase the running time to an hour, this DVD finishes with a heavily-cut second episode on "Hot Rods from Hell," modern alcohol altereds with classic bodies that are also classified as "nostalgia racers." As with Wacky Wheelies, I'm reasserting that scenes that play as part of the main feature running time do not a "special feature" make, despite the claims on the back cover.
Unfortunately, poor quality video and sound tarnish Nitro Diggers. Unstable colors, artifacts, and a general fuzziness make this release look closer to a VHS tape than a DVD. A harsh stereo track makes the nitro-spitting engines sound more like flatulent popcorn makers. On a few occasions, the roar of a pass completely overlaps the narration, rendering it indecipherable.
With a more leisurely look at one event instead of clips from several different, Nitro Diggers is a nice showcase for the camerawork of Papadeas despite the slightly more typical raceway competition. You get a sense that everyone involved in this nostalgia race is having a good time, and that certainly translates to the viewer.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Lightyear Entertainment
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