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Column: ‘Ford v Ferrari’ drives an entertaining tale even if it takes some ‘liberties’

Aaron Shelby stands next to Ken Miles’ Ford GT40.
Aaron Shelby stands at his company offices in Gardena with the original Ken Miles’ driven GT40 depicted in “Ford v Ferrari.”
(Steve Jost)

Hollywood’s track record on coming clean about movies “based on a true story” is up to its latest fact-versus-fiction road test with “Ford v Ferrari.”

The new Matt Damon-Christian Bale film — see it in Dolby for the full effect — is about rebel Southern California auto maker/industry giant Carroll Shelby and self-picked driver Ken Miles versus the egos and establishment at Ford in the 1960s, when the automaker hierarchy feared its products were becoming obsolete.

In all honesty, how is this tale told?

“I’ll say the overall story is told well in this movie, but obviously they take some liberties, and some of it can be justified because you’re trying to compress a five-year story in two hours,” said Aaron Shelby, Carroll’s 48-year-old grandson who traveled from his Dallas base to the TLC Chinese Theater in Hollywood for a premiere earlier this month.

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No spoiler alerts should be needed in dissecting the $97-million-budget film that attracted the largest box-office take last weekend at $31 million.

For the record, Aaron says he has no knowledge of his granddad getting into a fistfight with Miles outside his home. Nor does he believe Carroll Shelby locked Ford executive Leo Beebe in his office on the LAX property and took Henry Ford II on a joy ride around the runways.

“A lot of those scenes are entertaining scenes, for sure, and even if it didn’t happen, I could totally see Carroll do some of that,” Aaron said.

“There are some nuances people might pick up on, but you don’t want to get into a lot of technical details in something like this. For the average movie-goer, it’s not important. And I don’t have problems with it.”

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One reason for that could be that Aaron is one of the executive producers on a new documentary co-produced by Adam Carolla and Nate Adams called “Shelby American.” It is available Tuesday at Chassy.com.

Carolla and Adams have a 2016 documentary, “The 24 Hour War,” that sets up “Ford v. Ferrari” as a feature film.

“I’m excited about this one because there are so many still surprised Carroll raced for nine years and we have some film of him that hasn’t been seen before,” Aaron said. “The challenge was taking Carroll as a larger-than-life figure and having four hours worth of material down to two hours.”

Welcome to Hollywood.

Sizing it all up

One scene in “Ford v Ferrari” that did resonate with Aaron was just before Ford executive Lee Iacocca visited his grandfather’s Venice shop to pitch him on building a car to race at Le Mans against Ferrari.

Shelby was shown trying to talk his way around selling the same sports car to three different people.

“And he’d do that,” admitted Aaron, who went on to explain how his grandfather introduced the Cobra at the 1962 New York Auto Show but could only afford to build one prototype. When Road and Track, Motor Trend and Car and Driver all wanted a photo of it on their magazine covers, Shelby had that same car painted three different colors to make it seem as if he had a small fleet of them.

“You could keep things a little more under wraps back then,” said Aaron of the media attention.

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A film about the Ford-Ferrari rivalry has been discussed in Hollywood for the last 30 years, once attached to Nicolas Cage, and then pitched as a Tom Cruise-Brad Pitt film.

Instead Matt Damon — at least five inches shorter than the real-life Carroll Shelby — got the role.

“I wasn’t against Matt Damon playing Carroll, but to me, Carroll was Carroll and there are not too many in my mind who could even attempt to play him,” Aaron said. “I saw this with an open mind back in August at a Fox screening, and I think it only took me 10 minutes to realize [Damon] was doing a great job. It’s not like he’s mimicking Carroll, but he got his essence and his charisma across the screen. That makes a lot of sense to me.”

 Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby in “Ford v Ferrari.”
Matt Damon as Carroll Shelby in “Ford v Ferrari.”
(Merrick Morton /20th Century Fox)

Kind of a drag

Fox seems to have thrown a monkey wrench into the NHRA’s ability to get full exposure for its national championship final runs from Auto Club Raceway in Pomona on Sunday afternoon. Live coverage was relegated to FS1 instead of having its over-the-air network give it a larger audience on an almost non-existent afternoon window for the NFL’s NFC games.

In Southern California, Fox’s KTTV Channel 11 filled time with a series of generic syndicated programming. The only NFC game on the Fox afternoon menu was an Arizona-San Francisco regional game going to about 20% of the country.

Fox has one more year on its NHRA deal with an option for renewal.

The NHRA ditched the tape-delayed coverage by ESPN four years ago — and long before that, tape delayed on “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” — to live weekend viewing provided by Fox.

“It’s been a very subtle but evolutionary step” in the sport’s exposure, said Brian Lohnes, who finished his first year as the lead broadcaster on Fox’s coverage. “We’re far better in portraying it for what it is. We can show the people the size and scope of the event, and we never really got to do that before.”

Kyle Busch emerged from the Joe Gibbs Racing juggernaut as NASCAR’s latest champion, winning his second title Sunday at Homestead Speedway.
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Gamesmanship

It gets a little gamey trying to predict how the NFL’s flex scheduling for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” in cooperation with CBS and Fox, will play itself out the rest of the season.

Some may be concerned that the Rams’ Sunday night Coliseum game against Seattle on Dec. 8 will get flexed out for Kansas City-New England or San Francisco-New Orleans. Doubtful.

More are sure the Chargers’ Sunday night home game against Minnesota on Dec. 15 will get dumped, and perhaps the Rams’ game in Dallas will be moved into that window. No team is allowed more than six prime-time appearances a season, and the Rams have wiggle room.

It matters more for those who have already bought tickets and planned their weekends around it. We know the drill from college football games in L.A., where kickoff times sometimes aren’t announced until six days in advance. The public didn’t receive notice of the 12:30 p.m. kickoff for the USC-UCLA game Saturday until mid-morning Sunday. The game could have kicked off anywhere from 1 p.m. or 6 p.m. on the Pac-12 Networks, to 4:30 p.m. on ESPN or even 7:30 p.m. on Fox or ESPN.


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