2019, PG-13, 99 min. Directed by Roger Hinze, Michael William Miles.
REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., Sept. 13, 2019
"We really prayed each day that nothing bad would happen." If there was a mantra for the early days of medical professionals on racetracks, then those words from motorsports medical expert Stephen Olvey would be it. While crashes are (let's face it) cool to watch, you always want the driver to walk away. Yet through to the 1980s, race car drivers knew that dying during a race – impaled, shattered, immolated – wasn't just a possibility, but part and parcel of getting in the cockpit.
Rapid Response looks at the often overlooked lifesavers of the racetrack through the experiences of Olvey, a pioneer in crash medicine and – ultimately – design. Well, mostly overlooked. While casual fans of racing may know the big-name drivers, the hardened ones know the doctors: For decades in Formula One, the most consistently recognizable name after sport supremo Bernie Ecclestone was racetrack doctor Sid Watkins – so much so that if you said "F1" and "Sid" in the same sentence, everyone knew who you meant. Rapid Response walks through the history of the fight to make trackside first response more than two guys with a stretcher and a bucket of sand.
Rapid Response is a celebration of behind-the-scenes heroes, and their dedication to medicine and science as a way to save lives. Its microfocus, anecdotal structure, and reliance on archive footage and talking heads, undoubtedly makes this one for the true devotees of motorsports, but they'll not want to miss it. The epic and sometimes stomach-churning footage of crashes is rarely graphic, as co-directors Hinze and Miles steer clear of gruesome footage in favor of letting the long shot footage and the medical professionals speak to the carnage. However, it's undoubtedly moving, as Olvey and his medical peers like orthopedic expert Terry Trammell – and the drivers who they helped save – talk about seeing friends die or be permanently mutilated. Yet it's also a story of quiet heroism, as Olvey and others go from EMTs to safety advocates. They're researchers, interested in finding ways to make the inevitable accidents. Once they had convinced the sport that it needed experienced and dedicated medics, it's all about saving lives. Worried about burns? Get the fuel and fuel tanks changed. Drivers passing out from G-forces? Tell the track owners to redesign corners. And, of course, overcoming the hubristic macho personalities of race car drivers who had to learn that dying on the track wasn't an acceptable workplace risk.