Comedian Adam Carolla is a huge car buff and has been putting his talent where his passion is by co-directing documentaries about motorsports.
With his partner Nate Adams and a production company called Chassy Media, he directed last year’s “The Racing Life of Paul Newman,” about the late actor’s enthusiasm for fast cars and the race track.
Now, Carolla and Adams have brought fans “The 24 Hour War,” a recounting of one of the most famous stories in motorsports: the clash between Ford and Ferrari at the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in the 1960s.
The title comes from the length of the race, which is run every spring, starting on Saturday and concluding 24 hours later. In between, men and machines are broken.
The Ford-Ferrari rivalry is well-known and has been covered extensively on various media. Ford’s legendary 1-2-3 victory in 1966, after Ferrari rebuffed efforts by Henry Ford II to buy the Italian Le Mans stalwart, took on new significance in 2016, when Ford returned to Le Mans with a new car, the Ford GT, and celebrates the 50th anniversary of the ’66 victory with a new win, once again besting Ferrari.
Corolla and Adams explore that outcome, but “The 24 Hour War” is really about racing in the sixties, a time when the sport had just found a global following thanks to television — but was still spectacularly dangerous by today’s standards.
“It was a crazier time, a more interesting time,” Carolla said in an interview with Business Insider. “Great risk and possible death ups the ante. Tennis may be exciting, but nobody dies during the matches.”
That’s one of the biggest takeways from the film, which contains horrifying crash footage, as well as interviews with current Ford executives (including Henry Ford III, the founder’s great-grandson, now the head of marketing for Ford Performance), iconic drivers such as Mario Andretti, Dan Gurney, as well as Piero Ferrari, who is the only surviving offspring of Enzo Ferrari.
One of the big challenges with documenting the history of a race as storied and bloody as Le Mans is dealing with the allure that all the danger provided 50 years ago while acknowledging how much safer the sport has become, after the efforts of fed-up drivers like Jackie Stewart.
“We’ll never go back to those days,” Carolla said, comparing mid-century motorsports to World War II-style military aerial dogfights.”
He called the Le Mans racing of the sixties something that’s “forever locked in history” — but “much more exciting” because of it.
He noted that when you check out the race cars of the periods, the Fords and Ferrari’s that battled at Le Mans, you’re struck by “little to no time was spent on safety.”
“It was all speed,” Carolla said.
I spent a year following endurance racing in 2015-2016 and watched Ford win Le Mans this past June. For me, the spectacle of gas-engined race cars roaring around a circuit in rural France, with actual drivers at the wheel, represented a pushback against some of the high-tech enthusiasm for all-electric cars that can drive themselves.
That could be why the 50th anniversary of Ford’s 1966 win attracted so much attention this year — because even the much safer version of men (and women) and machines pitted against each other at terrifying velocities might be entering an end-phase.
Nate Adams considered that possibility when we spoke, recollecting the hardcore American hotrodding culture that provided much of the engineering talent for Ford in the sixties, including the legendary Carroll Shelby, the crusty Texan who oversaw Ford’s 1966 victory.
“I do see there being a stitch of that fabric going away,” Adams said. “That part of the society that wanted to build and rebuild their own vehicle. I’m not sure if a lot of millennials doing that.”
Adams, like anyone else who has followed the history of fast cars in competition, understands that the biggest change in a century could be upon us. “We are moving to a brand new place in autos where there aren’t gonna be drivers in ten years,” he said.
But for now, there are still drivers, and there are still fast cars.
And there are movies like “The 24 Hours War,” to remind us of what that combination was all about, at its peak.
The documentary is available at Chassy.com and on iTunes. Check out the trailer:
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