Full Throttle / Frontstretch Movie Critique · Mike Neff · Wednesday May 19, 2010
Tuesday, May 18th was the Charlotte-area premiere of a special movie that race fans of all ages and affiliations will most certainly enjoy. The film is called Racing Dreams, a title that makes it sound like the next big studio NASCAR blockbuster; but in truth, it’s as far from Stroker Ace or Days of Thunder as you can get. Winner of the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival Award for Best Documentary, it’s about as real and accurate a portrayal into the inside, rough-and-tumble world of up-and-coming racing talent as you’re ever going to see.
The film follows the seasons of three young drivers who are competing in the World Karting Association ranks, with hopes of someday making racing a way of life. The families of this trio allowed the moviemakers into their lives for a year, sharing the good and the bad of chasing a dream through the lens of a camera. And what they found was both dramatic and compelling; it’s a powerful portrayal of what it’s like to fight for survival in racing, experiencing the raw determination firsthand of three kids who will stop at nothing to move up through the ranks.
The main focus of the movie is Annabeth (11), Josh (12), and Brandon (13), the preteen trio chasing the dream and their devoted families who are making it possible for them to go to the race track almost every single weekend. Annabeth and Josh race in the Junior Class, while Brandon races in the Senior class. Josh is a former Junior Class champion, and Brandon would have won the Senior championship the year before the movie was shot had he not been disqualified for rough driving during the final race of the season.
Annabeth is from a racing family. Her father and other relatives have been involved in racing from the very early days. She is at the track over 40 weekends a year, along with several holidays during the week. While she begins the movie professing to be totally focused on racing, she goes through a period where she begins to doubt that conviction. And while some doubts might linger to this day, she remains committed to making the best of it despite the inevitable hardship faced along the way.
Brandon appears to be the most aggressive of the racers based on the footage that is shown in the movie. He not only had the rough driving disqualification the previous year, but is also suspended from school for fighting and reminded before the final race of the season about the propensity for losing his cool. His grandfather told me at the premiere Brandon almost relishes combat, expressing a deep desire to one day become a U.S. Marine.
Josh seems to be the smoothest of the three drivers. The racing action from his events very rarely shows him making contact with any of the other competitors, and he seems very adept at planning passes and executing them flawlessly. Josh also appears to be the most focused on developing himself into the total package for sponsors. He studies the interview abilities of NASCAR drivers, and works hard to polish his own public speaking skills to maximize appeal for those who might be willing to put money into his career.
The families behind these racers are as much a part of the story as the kids themselves. Whether it’s the former racing father who is making the best equipment available to daughter Annabeth, the loving dad who is pouring everything he can scrape together to make son Josh’s racing dream come true, or the adoring grandfather who works in the racing industry and is giving grandson Brandon the loving environment that his parents have been unable to – all of them are playing a crucial role in spearheading these drivers towards future success.
Marshall Curry is the director of the film, an Academy Award-nominated documentary maker who did an amazing job of paring down over 500 hours of film footage into 95 minutes of outstanding cinema. While skeptical at first, what I found surprised me, as he draws the fans into the lives of these young people and has the audience ultimately rooting for them to succeed by the end of the trip. Whether the moviegoer is a hardcore racing fan or someone who has never followed a race in their lives, this film will have them forming a bond with these families, hoping against hope for them to make it to the next level if not the big leagues.
While NASCAR is involved with distributing this movie to the masses, thankfully there is very little stock car racing content involved in the actual show. At the beginning of the movie, there are some generic NASCAR scenes, and the Drive for Diversity is mentioned at the end. But other than that, and a few glimpses of stock car races on TV, the documentary is about the young drivers and their families, their struggles, and triumphs, not about corporate PR for NASCAR.
After the movie, the post-race question and answer session revealed that Annabeth and Josh are working hard to continue racing in a higher series with limited late model cars. Annabeth is also going to be driving a Legends car this summer at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Summer Shootout Series. Brandon, however, currently is not racing because his grandparents were unable to afford to move him on to the next level. Because of that, he has immersed himself in the ROTC and hopes to be a Marine when he graduates from high school. To find out how his career came to an end on the track, well… you’ll just have to see the whole thing.
In the end, I was left showering the film with praise, feeling like it’s a must see event for anyone who’s interested in the sport. If you feel the same way after reading, keep in mind this movie is on a small budget and is relying heavily on word of mouth for advertising. The more people who attend, the more theaters that will ultimately show it. So for more information, including cities and theaters that will be airing the project, visit www.racingdreamsfilm.com. There is also a Facebook group for the movie if it interests you as well. I’m confident that whether you are a wannabe racer, a parent of a child who would like to race, or just enjoy a great documentary about genuine people on a real life quest, Racing Dreams will be the show for you.
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