Peterson: To HELLTRACK and back
A global pandemic. Apocalyptic wildfires.
Where to escape from it all? For me, I’ve been traveling to the ’80s during the strangest year of my life.
Life there just makes more sense. Which is weird — because, if you really think about it, not a whole lot made sense in the ’80s.
In “Footloose,” for instance, how is it that in a town where public dancing is illegal, all the seniors at Bomont High are secretly professional-caliber dancers who somehow break into precise choreography the first time they’re allowed to have a senior prom?
Equally confusing: Does anyone really believe that a small high school in a farming town like Bomont, Oklahoma, would have a men’s gymnastics team? Not to mention the fact that when Ren McCormack gets kicked off the team for having drugs planted on him, he’s ridiculed for it. I’d think, in a place like Bomont, being on the gymnastics team would be grounds for getting your ass kicked. (That, and having a haircut like Kevin Bacon’s.)
I could go on for days with this stuff. In “The Karate Kid,” are we really supposed to believe that Elisabeth Shue would go for Ralph Macchio? Or in the “Rocky” franchise, that Sylvester Stallone, all of 5-foot-9 (sorry, Sly, you ain’t 5-10) and 185 pounds could’ve beaten Carl Weathers (6-2, 220), Mr. T (5-10, 231) or freakin’ Dolph Lundren (6-5, 243)? Or that he would’ve even been a heavyweight? How did Michael Keaton get picked to play Batman? Does anyone know what the hell is going on in “Purple Rain?” And did people really think that we could win the War on Drugs with “Just Say No.”
You see what I mean. Ton Loc rapped “This is the ’80s and I’m down the ladies.”
Me, I was down with G.I. Joe, Garbage Pail Kids, neon Converse Chuck Taylors, Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses, and John Elway and his Three Amigos wide receivers considering I was only 9 by the time the decade ended.
I often confused Ronald McDonald for Ronald Reagan and didn’t have the faintest clue about the Iran-Contra Scandal, “Voodoo Economics” or Gary Hart’s “Monkey Business.”
My life revolved around AYSO soccer, building tree forts in the Black Forest that backed up to our yard in Monument, weekend sleepovers and a BMX movie called “RAD” — in all caps.
I’ve found comfort these past few months going back to some of those touchstones of my youth while the world around me felt like it was descending into chaos. There was safety in the well-worn and the nostalgic. I needed endings where I already knew the outcome.
I especially needed “RAD,” a movie from 1986 that you’ve most likely never seen that was finally released in a new restored 4K version this summer after never actually being released on DVD. Diehard fans had previously been left to watch grainy YouTube clips or dig around for their old VHS tapes.
How beloved is this wacky bike movie? According to a Guardian investigation into 10,000 movies in the Rotten Tomatoes database, “RAD” — yes, all caps — was the film with the greatest discrepancy between critical reception and fan adulation.
There were kids like me and my older brother, all across America, who literally sought this movie out anytime they hit the local video store. “RAD” was always the first pick for a Friday night sleepover — over “The Goonies,” “Adventures in Babysitting,” “Top Gun,” “Karate Kid,” “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” you name it.
Kids like us literally watched those VHS tapes until they broke.
I still don’t quite understand why, but it’s probably because “RAD” was peak ’80s. It’s like the director, Hal Needham, who was Burt Reynolds’ old stuntman and who Brad Pitt’s character in “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” was based on, took all the best parts of classic ’80s movies, threw them in a blender, and soundtracked all the action to soaring, goofy power ballads performed by John Farnham.
You know John Farnham, right? Probably not — unless you’re Australian.
Ray Walton, better known as Mr. Hand, is in “RAD.” So is Jack Weston, who played the creepy resort owner in “Dirty Dancing.” So are Talia Shire (Yo, Adrian!) and a young Lori Loughlin (pre-Aunt Becky fame and college admission scandal infamy), along with Olympic gymnast Bart Conner who, to this day, says he’s more recognized for playing cocky BMX star Bart Taylor than he is for winning gold medals.
Some 34 years on, I still get amped every time I hear the opening keys to “Thunder In Your Heart” as local hometown kid Cru Jones (Bill Allen) races off the start line to take on the best in the world for a shot to race HELLTRACK.
My 5-year-old son watched the movie with me and he’s been singing the song to himself ever since. You can probably guess the ending. Cru wins the big race, gets the girl and lives on forever in ’80s glory.
There’s no big surpise ending. Which, in a year full of surprises and uncertainty, is pretty gnarly if you ask me.
Nate Peterson is the editor of the Vail Daily. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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