Mexican Express Image

Mexican Express

By Benjamin Franz | January 18, 2023

Mexican Express, written and directed by Danny Miguel, is about Enrique “Rick” and Alfred “Fred” Esparza, standouts in the gallery of colorful characters from 1960s California. The two boys from Long Beach were both bad kids until Fred was introduced to the drag racing happening at the Lion’s Club drag strip. The nonprofit’s drag racing was a godsend for the Esparza brothers. Together they built the legendary eponymous drag racing truck.

An hour-long interview with Rick and Fred Esparza, interspersed with still photos and newsreel footage from the drag races, this documentary is a joyous look into two “knuckleheads” and their lifelong obsession with one specific vehicle. To see the pictures of the Mexican Express at the height of its glory is to know the quintessence of a racing truck. Because these two brothers were young, in the late 50s–60s, we learn about their misadventures in preparing their trucks to race. I especially enjoyed the tale of the purchase of the Truck. Bought for 200 bucks (!), the Esparzas had to impress upon the seller they did not want the truck painted pink. Apparently, in those days, Californians seemed to think the Chicanos preferred pink cars. Not these two, though, so they got their car in electric blue. Watching it blaze down the tracks must have been quite the sight.

Rick Esparza is the one who provides the historical movements of the Esparza family. Starting in East Los Angeles, when Long Beach opened the old Navy Housing district to serve as affordable housing, the Esparzas wasted no time moving their family to Long Beach. Alfred used that time to straighten himself out in the Army. Rick, a gang member, redeemed himself by agreeing to join his brother in the crazy dream of drag racing. As they proved to be really great at it, racing became their path to both fun and prosperity. Rick Esparza would go on to own a race car and run a racing business team. He and his brother regaled Miguel with tales from their days on the professional racing circuit.

“…racing was a godsend for the Esparza brothers. Together they built the legendary eponymous drag racing truck.”

Rosalie Esparza, Fred’s wife, is also part of Mexican Express. Her remembrances are fascinating. Apparently, she met him when she already had three children. So, when they wed, he fondly reminisces that she brought him a “ready-made” family. For her part, Rosalie loved that Fred was always busy between his work and his passion for drag racing. This speaks to the work ethos of the Mexican and Chicano communities. They need to work, especially with their hands.

The section devoted to Rick Esparza leading the way to build the Lions Drag Strip Museum is most delightful. There’s a poignancy to the effort to preserve the history of the three decades the Lions Drag Strip permitted safe and legal drag racing. On the other hand, listening to the techs and artists who helped Esparza make this museum happen spreads an inescapable joy. Just fantastic stuff.

Mexican Express is Miguel’s first feature-length film. Much like the drag racing on display in historical clips, his documentary is a barnstormer. Between his time at the Lion drag strip and informal drag races on any particular straightaway in Long Beach, Fred Esparza was so happy drag racing. The film captures the joy and thrill of drag racing in Southern California. Running a brisk hour, this is worthy of your streaming video choices.

Mexican Express is currently on Amazon Video. For screening information, visit the Mexican Express Facebook page.

Mexican Express (2023)

Directed and Written: Danny Miguel

Starring: Alfred Esparza, Enrique Esparza, Rosalie Esparza, etc.

Movie score: 8/10

Mexican Express Image

"…a barnstormer."

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