I first met Speedo in the late spring of 1999, during a visit to Long Island’s Riverhead Raceway, a tiny quarter-mile track about two hours from New York City.
I had gone to the track to watch the demolition derby, a sport which, legend has it, was born on Long Island at the now-defunct Islip Speedway. I spent a few hours before the race talking with some of the drivers. In the pit area, I met Speedo, and talked with him about my fascination with demolition derby and the ritualized violence and intense rivalries that define the sport.
Speedo was a whirling dervish, a bundle of frayed nerves and manic energy. As the demo began, I watched with wonder and a small amount of horror as Speedo pulverized his opponents on the track. The belching smoke, bursting radiators and smell of burning rubber were overwhelming, but intoxicating. After the race, Speedo invited me to visit the garage in Garden City, Long Island, where he builds his cars. He generously offered to build me a demo car, but I told him I’d like to make a film about him instead.
Working largely on my own, with a small DV camera, a Sony VX 1000, and a wireless microphone, I began to document Speedo’s summer racing season and his quest to win, first, the Riverhead Championship, and, then, the National Championship. As Speedo became more comfortable with me and the camera, he began to talk candidly about his hopes and dreams, and the frustrations he felt in his marriage. He invited me to his home in Levittown, and introduced me to his wife Linda, and his two sons, Anthony, sixteen, and Michael, twelve.
Slowly, I began to understand the connection between the frustrations of his family life, and the successes he was achieving at the track. Racing was a release valve for Speedo.
As the season progressed, Speedo’s life at home became more unstable and his relationship with Linda deteriorated. I was stunned to learn that Speedo and Linda had been sleeping in the same house but in separate rooms for ten years. The scene signals a turning point in the film. We quickly realize that there is much more at stake for Speedo than a track Championship and an over-sized trophy.
The screaming fight between Linda and Speedo was one of the most difficult scenes I have confronted as a documentary filmmaker, not only because of the pain, rage and intimacy of the moment, but because of the personal feelings it stirred up in me. My own parents divorced when I was five, and I felt a deep sympathy for Anthony and Michael in that moment. Yet, despite the frustration and anger in Speedo’s life, I was continually struck by his devotion to his two boys.
Rather unexpectedly, when it appears that Speedo has hit rock bottom, the film becomes a love story. Speedo’s relationship with Liz blossoms, as he discovers that she shares his passions. In Florida, with Liz at his side, he is finally able to accept defeat gracefully. Today, with less rage in his life, Speedo has largely left the world of demolition derby behind in pursuit of his stock car dreams.
— Jesse Moss