Who knew there was more to NASCAR than a bunch of cars driving in circles? Okay, considering it’s one of the most-watched sports in the country, a lot of people, but for those with no interest it’s often difficult to understand an avid fan’s passion. Whether you're a NASCAR enthusiast or not, the documentary Racing Dreams is a universally touching and charming film with the power to capture the heart of any viewer.
Racing Dreams introduces us to three very different kids -- 11-year-old Annabeth Barnes, 13-year-old Brandon Warren and 12-year-old Josh Hobson -- who all share the dream of becoming NASCAR drivers. Before they can get behind the wheel of a stock car, they’ve got to make names for themselves in the karting world. Karting is often seen as a junior NASCAR, a sport through which young drivers can prepare for the big league. Professional drivers like Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and more all got their start behind the wheel of these small-scale racecars. Director Marshall Curry follows the trio as they compete for the title in the World Karting Association’s National Series, a five-race series that can make or break their futures.
Curry hits every aspect of the racing experience, from the action on the track to downtime shared between the racers. Not into NASCAR? No need to worry because thanks to excellent character development, you’re guaranteed to be anxious as you watch the main players whip around the turns. Animation and coloring techniques go over the racing basics, making it easy to understand the race's rules and follow each kid's vehicle in the pack of karts.
Drivers in the National Series receive a particular amount of points depending on their ranking in each of the five races, and in the end the total determines the champion. Curry makes Racing Dreams endlessly fascinating by going from character development to racing and back again until the end of the event; like a good narrative sports film, the movie is the perfect mixture of the athletes’ journeys within the sport and their personal lives.
When a race ends and the kids go home, the cameras go home with them. Annabeth may be as tough as the boys when karting, but at school she’s just a girl who likes to hang out with her friends and talk about boys. In fact, her budding interest in the opposite sex bleeds into her racing life and she catches the eye of none other than one of our other stars, Brandon. Unlike Annabeth, whose folks are prepared to see this through until she makes it to NASCAR, Brandon's future is less clear. His family is behind him and wants him to win The Series, but with a father who’s been absent most of his life and his family’s financial woes, funding his NASCAR venture is impossible. Budgeting is an issue for Josh as well, but his parents have been planning for the time he graduates from karts to stock cars from day one. Not only has Josh been studying the interview techniques employed by his NASCAR idols, but his parents were well aware that the day would come when they’d have to make sacrifices for Josh’s dream.
Karting information abounds in Racing Dreams, but overall, the piece is a very personal documentary and when it comes to an end, you feel as if you really know these kids, and are as invested in their hopes and dreams as they are. An epilogue in which Curry provides a brief glimpse of where Annabeth, Josh and Brandon ended up after The Series is astoundingly satisfying, but you'll still want more and will likely catch yourself Googling the film’s stars to see how far they’ve come since the 2007 competition. For someone who wouldn’t think twice about changing the channel if a NASCAR event is on, Racing Dreams is tremendously rousing.