As full disclosure; I really don’t know my Ru Paul from my, erm, Ru Paul when it comes to identifying key figures in the illustrious history of drag racing, but I’m always happy to be educated. Turning up on Amazon Prime, Danny Miguel’s short but engaging documentary addresses its task with some speed and welcome brevity; it mixes archive footage and fresh interviews to tell the story of two brothers who have drag racing ‘in their blood’.
James Dean was part of the culture which made drag racing a cultural phenomena in the US circa the 50’s and 60’s; street racing was popular, but dangerous, and the construction of Wilmington’s Lions Club racetrack Los Angeles was designed to keep wayward kids off the street and give them a sense of purpose. Growing up in West Long Beach, Alfred “Fred” and Enrique “Rick’ Esparza had uncertain futures ahead of them (one gets beaten up and the other beats people up) but together they found a shared identify in the garage for car construction, and at the Lion’s Club race-track where ‘funny car’ championships and other attractions draw a crowd.
Miguel wisely lets his subject speak for themselves, although the cars do too; vehicles like a 1942 Willy look pretty smart, and the art of fusing plexi-glass and tubing is something to behold. Mexican Express takes it name from a specific car, but the title is also a useful centre for the narrative; at an all-white school, the Esparza brothers were up against it socially, but ended up rocketing forward in terms of popularity and being the toast of the town.
With a funky soundtrack and a small, positive story to tell, Mexican Express is a neat little doc that doesn’t try to change the world, but preserves for posterity a story of fast friendship and even faster cars. Obviously it helps if you know about how difficult it can be to get a dry shaft made, but while Mexican Express should play well to the converted, even drag-race novices like myself should have no problems getting their motors running here. Maybe if I’d had a Lion’s Club track near me, I would have turned out better; it certainly did wonders for the Esparza brothers on this evidence.