“THE LAST RACE”

Find out how one community on Long Island is staving off developers in order to preserve its past.

Aired on December 6, 2019. 

TRANSCRIPT

RIVERHEAD RACEWAY IS A RARE BEAST.

FOR DECADES IT'S HOSTED SHOWDOWNS BETWEEN LOCAL RESIDENTS WHO BRING THEIR MAD MAX-STYLE CARS TO DO BATTLE ON A QUARTER MILE TRACK WITH PASSION SPILLING OUT OF THE COCKPITS EVEN AFTER THE RACE IS DONE.

ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WERE OVER 40 TRACKS ON LONG ISLAND WHERE STOCK CAR GLADIATORS COULD VIE FOR GLORY.

TODAY RIVERHEAD IS THE LAST ONE STANDING, STRUGGLING TO HOLD AS NEARBY REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT FIGHT FOR SURVIVAL.

ACCLAIMED PHOTOGRAPHER MICHAEL BRETT FIGHTS TO SAVE CULTURE.

WITH ALL THE TRACKS, 99% OF THEM ARE DEFUNCT.

THEY'RE GONE.

THIS PIECE OF PROPERTY IS WORTH MILLIONS OF DOLLARS.

BUSINESS COMING IN THIS WAY, THIS WAY, IT'S GOING TO SQUEEZE THEM OUT.

IS GOD WAVING THE CAUTION FLAG IN YOUR LIFE?

IS HE SAYING I'M TRYING TO GET YOUR ATTENTION.

JUST A QUESTION OF TIME BEFORE JIM AND BARBARA PASS ON AND THEIR KIDS ALLOW US TO DEVELOP THE PROPERTY.

WHEN RIVERHEAD GOES, THAT WILL BE THE END OF RACING ON LONG ISLAND.

MICHAEL BLEKT JOINS US NOW.

WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

IT'S A FASCINATING FILM.

HOW DID THIS FILM EMERGE OUT OF YOUR HEAD?

ARE YOU PART OF THIS?

WERE YOU EVER PART OF THIS COMMUNITY?

I WANTED TO BE, I WANTED TO BE A RACE DRIVER.

WHEN I WAS YOUNG, I WAS RAISED IN A TOWN CALLED BELLMORE AND I WOULD GO WITH MY BROTHER AND PARENTS EVERY TUESDAY AND SATURDAY FROM WHEN I WAS 3 YEARS OLD UNTIL I WENT AWAY TO COLLEGE.

THAT'S WHERE MY HEROES WERE.

I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A RACE DRIVER.

THAT TRACK WAS CLOSED AND REPLACED BY COSTCO AND EVENTUALLY ALL THE TRACKS WERE CLOSED AND THERE WAS ONLY ONE LEFT.

THAT'S WHY I DECIDED TO MEMORIALIZE THIS RACE TRACK, FIRST WITH PHOTOGRAPHY WHERE I SPENT FIVE YEARS MAKING THAT TRACK MY STUDIO AND THEN FIVE MORE YEARS AFTER THAT WORKING ON A FILM BECAUSE I REALIZED --

YOUR FIRST FILM.

MY FIRST FILM.

I THOUGHT IT WAS EASY.

WHO ARE THESE HEROES?

WHO ARE THESE MEN WHO PARTICIPATE IN THIS KIND OF -- IN THIS RACE, IN THIS SUBCULTURE AND THE PEOPLE AROUND THEM?

WHO ARE THEY?

THESE ARE WORKING CLASS PEOPLE.

THESE ARE MECHANICS AND TOW TRUCK OPERATORS THAT WORK REALLY DIFFICULT JOBS DURING THE WEEK, BUT AT NIGHT, EVERY NIGHT, THEY WORK ON RACE CARS.

THEY GET HOME FROM WORK AND WORK ON THESE CARS.

IN THE SUMMER IS RACING.

IN THE WINTER THEY WORK EVERY NIGHT FOR A CHANCE TO COME TO THE RACE TRACK ON SATURDAY NIGHT AT 6:00 TO RACE IN FRONT OF 2,000 FANS THAT WEAR THEIR T-SHIRTS WITH THE HOPE OF WINNING A TROPHY AND HAVING SOME DIGNITY.

YOU NOT ONLY CAPTURE THESE GUYS' PASSION FOR THE RACE.

THEY'RE REALLY SKILLED PEOPLE.

THEY ARE.

THEY'RE ALMOST LIKE PHYSICISTS.

RACING IS PHYSICS.

BESIDES BEING INCREDIBLY SKILLED MECHANICS AND DRAFTS MEN WITH THEIR HANDS, THEY ARE -- WHEN THEY GET ON A RACE TRACK, THEY'RE RACING AT 100 MILES AN HOUR ON A QUARTER MILE TRACK WITH 30 CARS, NOT EASY AND YOU'RE ALLOWED TO MAKE FULL CONTACT, SORT OF.

THEY'RE SMART.

EVERYBODY WANTS MEANING IN THEIR LIFE.

EVERYBODY WANTS TO FEEL LIKE THEY HAVE VALUE.

WHEN YOU'RE AT A RACE TRACK AND YOU'RE SIGNING AUTOGRAPHS, AFTER A RACE PEOPLE COME UP TO YOU AND SAY YOU ARE MY HERO.

THAT MEANS SOMETHING TO EVERYBODY.

NOT JUST THESE GUY, EVERYBODY.

WE TALK ABOUT THESE GUYS BEING DIGNIFIED AND INSPIRING.

TWO OF THE MOST INSPIRING CHARACTERS ARE THE RACE TRACK OWNERS, JIM AND BARBARA, THEY'RE IN THEIR 80s, MOVE AROUND WITH WALKERS.

THEY ACTUALLY LOSE MONEY.

A LOSING BUSINESS.

CORRECT.

YET, THEY SIT ON LAND THAT'S WORTH MILLIONS OF DOLLARS.

EXACTLY.

AND THEY REFUSE, TRY TO KEEP SOLDIERS ON.

WHY?

IT'S INTERESTING.

I FOLLOWED THEIR LIVES FOR THREE YEARS.

YOU SEE BARBARA AND JIM COMING FROM MANHATTAN ON FRIDAY NIGHT, 87-YEAR-OLD COUPLE, DRIVING ON THE LONG ISLAND EXPRESSWAY, SLEEPING IN HOLIDAY INN, WAKING UP AND CHANGING INTO NASCAR UNIFORMS.

THEY'RE PART OF THE GROUP.

BARBARA SAYS IN THE FILM, MOST OF MY FRIENDS WHO RETIRED THINK OF WHERE ARE THEY GOING TO HAVE DINNER OR PLAY MARCH JOHN, WE HAVE A LIFE.

WE'RE HOLDING ON TO YOUTH.

THE SHOPPING MALLS ARE ENCROACHES.

THERE'S TWO WALL MARTS, A COSTCO ACROSS THE TOWN.

STRIPPED THE FOREST DOWN.

ALL THE FARMLAND IS GONE.

AND THAT TRACK, THAT PIECE OF LAND IS WORTH $10 MILLION.

DEVELOPERS COME KNOCKING ON THE DOOR AND THEY SAY NO.

THIS COMMUNITY IS IMPORTANT.

WE FEEL RESPONSIBLE TO THE TOWN AND THE DRIVERS.

WE'RE KEEPING IT OPEN.

IF IT CLOSE, WHAT HAPPENS TO THESE PEOPLE?

WHAT HAPPENS TO THIS CULTURE?

THERE WERE 3,200 RACE TRACKS IN THE COUNTRY.

NOW DOWN TO 700.

IS ONE OF THE LAST IN THE COUNTRY TO RACE REAL STOCK CARS FROM THE '70s.

WHAT DO WE DO WITH PEOPLE THAT ARE BORED, PEOPLE THAT LACK DIGNITY IN THEIR LIVES?

THAT'S A BIG QUESTION.

THAT'S ONE OF THE REASONS I WANTED TO DO THIS FILM.

I WANT TO KEEP COMMUNITIES STABLE, NOT JUST IN RACE CAR DRIVING, BUT COMMUNITIES, A LOCAL COFFEE SHOP, A BAKERY, A SHOEMAKER.

YOU WANT VIBRANT COMMUNITIES INSTEAD OF RELYING ON SOCIAL MEDIA.

MIKE, A FASCINATING FILM.

THANK YOU FOR JOINING US.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

WNET

© WNET All Rights Reserved.

825 Eighth Avenue

New York, NY 10019