[Editor's Note: For more reviews of the summer's biggest movies, check out the Daily Loaf Movie Review Index.]
Every sport has a junior level; a place for kids with talent to hone their game before deciding whether to pursue a professional career. There are peewee football, baseball and hockey leagues offering structured learning all across America. Soccer and basketball barely even require organization: If you have a ball, you pretty much have a game. I played football and baseball as a child, quickly establishing that I would be working indoors as an adult.
But what path do aspiring stock-car racers take? Parents cant just go out to Dicks and pick up a starter model chassis and some STP decals for little Billy to start practicing. Instead, kids who want to become the next Tony Stewart fight for a place in the World Karting Associations (WKA) National Series, which is to NASCAR what Little League is to professional baseball. The excellent new documentary Racing Dreams follows three young racers fighting for a shot at a life in the fast lane.
The three stars of Racing Dreams 11-year-old Annabeth Barnes (pictured above), 12-year-old Josh Hobson and 13-year-old Brandon Warren are all interesting kids. Annabeth is the youngest racer, a hotshot chick who dreams of being the first woman to win the Daytona 500. Josh is a slick and polished pre-teen, an adult seemingly trapped in a childs body, whos a natural with people and at working the endorsement side of things. Brandon, on the other hand, is a wild child who was raised by his grandparents after his father ended up in jail shortly after his birth. Brandon may be the most talented driver in Racing Dreams, but he spends the film staring into the abyss of troubled teenagedom with only his Christian-soldier grandfather (the hero of the movie) struggling mightily to block his fall and maybe make amends for the job he did raising Brandons drug-addled father.
The WKA National Series is a five-race competition, split into classes and with cumulative scoring determining an overall winner. Annabeth and Josh compete at the Junior level, while Brandon is in his last season in the Senior division and coming off a year in which he would have won the title had he not been disqualified for rough driving. Racing Dreams follows all three kids and their families not only on race day, but also in the weeks between events.
Kart racing has taken over the lives of these people, with each childs family becoming a full-time pit crew. The financial investment alone is staggering, never mind the commitment of time and the work involved in keeping the child on the road.
Im purposefully staying away from descriptions of how these kids interact with each other (there are some surprises) and details of the actual races. All are compelling and worth discovering on your own. Its rare to see a movie that works as an absorbing family character study while also nailing the sports-movie excitement of an athletic event, but Racing Dreams is just such a film. I appreciated the way director Marshall Curry covered the races themselves (his use of spot color early on makes it easy to know which kart you should be eyeballing), and his division of the movie between on- and off-the-track activities is right on.
Racing Dreams recently won the Best Documentary award at the Tribeca, Nashville and Jacksonville film festivals, and its easy to see why. The film has more depth and excitement than any of the faux summer blockbusters currently larding up the multiplex, and its one of the best films Ive seen this year.
Racing Dreams is rated PG. The film opens Fri., exclusively at Regal Cinemas Citrus Park and University locations.