Doc of the Day: Racing Dreams Review - Dan Schindel

Doc of the Day: Racing Dreams

Posted in Days of Docs by - July 21, 2012

It’s like Hoop Dreams, only the dreams involve racing instead of hoops! Also, white people.

Dir. Marshall Curry, 2009, 96 min

The transition from childhood to adolescence is troublesome enough without tossing machines that go seventy miles per hour into the mix. But in a country where NASCAR is so incredibly popular for some reason, it’s natural that more than a few kids would want to grow up to drive race cars. Racing Dreams is about three such kids. They participate in kart racing, and see it as a step to future NASCAR success.

I’m not sure how I feel about child athletes. Anything that puts such immense mental and physical pressure on kids seems a bit extreme. But then, I’m someone who would rather see any kid go into academic rather than athletic pursuits, because I get nothing from sports at all. That’s a personal preference, though. Who am I to tell this trio that they can’t follow this dream?

Empathy is a big factor in documentaries, and this one enters a world that I and I think many other people who live on coasts disdain: racing. As one might stereotypically expect, these kids, their families, and their communities could be described as hickish, were one so disposed to be mean. But kart racing is a bit more complicated than we Yankees like to make it out to be. It isn’t all just “going around in a big circle” or “turning left for a few hours.” There’s strategy and skill involved. And these kids can do it while not having a driver’s license, so you should give them some props.

They may pray before everything, up to and including tying their shoes, but the car-lovers are good people. Racing Dreams works because it makes us care about those kids in the seat. Annabeth, Josh, and Brandon are all smart, funny, and dedicated, and they make terrific protagonists. Their respective families kind of blur together in my memory, but they aren’t the important ones. Despite myself, I eventually was fully invested in these kids all going big places in this stupid sport. If that’s not a mark of success, I don’t know what is (And I do know. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be writing about this).

After Senna, I suppose any other car movie is going to look staid and slow in comparison, but Curry does a good job of making you feel the speed when it comes time to enter the track. The editing and sound become supercharged, blaring out a dizzying rush of screaming engines and wheels and pavement. Karts weave in and out amongst one another in a struggle to break ahead. It’s a terrific thrill. It isn’t boring off the track, though. After all, being good is only half the battle. The kids also have to seek out sponsorships and make connections if they want to one day become professionals.

Racing Dreams is a fun look at how your aspirations both direct and are evolved by everything else that happens in your life. Are Annabeth, Josh, and Brandon all going to become big-time drivers one day? Maybe. Maybe not. It’s suggested that at least one of them is already beginning to tire of the life. Dreams change, which is far from a terrible thing. Cinema antichrists Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman are turning this story into a fictional feature. Even if someone competent was at the helm, I’m not so sure such a project would be worthwhile. Why have Hollywood artifice when you can see an honest portrayal of what it means to chase what you want?

This post was written by
Dan Schindel is a writer and editor. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
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