Following work on a couple of Francis Ford Coppola films, directing a couple of cheapie's for Roger Corman, and the delayed but supremely stylish Spider Baby (made in 1964 but unreleased until 1968), man-of-many-talents Jack Hill turned his attention to figure eight racing for Pit Stop, aka The Winner. The subject repulsed the director, but Corman insisted and, during his research, Hill became fascinated by the attitudes of the death-wish men behind the wheels. So, although the topic is pure exploitation, Pit Stop is character- driven, following the exploits of the stoic Rick Bowman (a brooding Richard Davalos) and his increasing obsession with the thrill of the win and the dance with death in every race. As racing promoter Grant Willard (Brian Donlevy) says, a suicide is born every minute.
Shot in grainy black-and-white, Hill employs European, guerilla- esque tactics to film the movie as effectively as possible, squeezing as much out of its obvious budget limitations as possible. It helps achieve a neo-noir atmosphere, heightening the gloom yet amping up the style. Modern racing films tend to be sleek and shiny, but Pit Stop is pure grit. The racing scenes, which consist mostly of footage of real figure eight racing, are insanely entertaining, with every crash, flip and slide unhindered by editing, special effects or stunt work. It puts movies like The Fast and The Furious (2001) to shame, as although said franchise is entertaining in its own right, as a movie depicting the sheer thrill of the race, Pit Stop puts it to shame.
The performances are effective too. Davalos proves to be a charismatic "I play by my own rules"-type, hesitant at first, but eventually unable to resist the lure of the competition. Donlevy, Hammer's Quatermass, delivers reliable support, but the screen is inevitably chewed up and spat out by Hill regular Sid Haig as outlandish racing champion Hawk, putting his usual obnoxious redneck shtick to effective use. This being a Corman production, it often resigns itself to underdog genre tropes, but Hill's direction and screenplay means that there is always something more existential and cynical lurking beneath the surface. It may be one of Hill's lesser known works when compared to his exploitation classics Coffy (1973), Foxy Brown (1974) and Switchblade Sisters (1975), but it is certainly one of his best.