It's not the go-kart you once rode up and down your driveway. These no-suspension, sponsor-stickered mini stock cars reach speeds of 80 miles per hour as they circle the track, their drivers' rears a mere inch off the ground.
"What kind of parents would let their kids go that fast when they're not even old enough to drive?" my tween daughter asked. The answer: Well, you'll meet them, too. Unsurprisingly, some are former racers themselves, now sacrificing tens of thousands of dollars to live vicariously through their children.
Director Marshall Curry (twice Oscar-nominated for his docs Street Fight and last year's If a Tree Falls) lucked out in having Annabeth Barnes as a subject — a girl who gives the boys a run for their money. Over the year he shot the races, her interest in boys blossoms, and you can see her torn between what she really wishes to pursue: this dream or the opposite sex.
No such problem exists for Josh Hobson, a dynamo on the track, but one who appears to have been denied a normal childhood. He's a little too full of himself, and his gestures of gratitude to sponsors, to donators, to fellow racers come off not as genuine, but just another rehearsed step from watching his idols on TV.
This, after all, is the kid who welcomes attendees to his fundraiser by praising God “mostly for racing” — maybe it’s me, but why not for the health and happiness of those kind souls funding my hobby? It's one of many awkward moments that made me feel for him. For all his trophies — and he has a bedroom full of them — Josh rarely cracks a smile.
Finally, Brandon Warren has all of Josh's skills, but none of the money and just a comparative fraction of support. Short-tempered (and who can blame him?), he's being raised by his grandparents because his dad is in and out of prison for drugs, and Mom bailed long ago.
Despite my Bible Belt residence, the NASCAR world is as alien to me as jihad extremists and Holocaust victims, but it's a testament to the power of documentary filmmaking that areas of utter noninterest to us can be fascinating to visit for 90 minutes to two hours. I'd be depressed and bored out of my skull to have to live on this kart circuit, but like any good doc, Racing Dreams finds the real stories beneath the surface — asphalt or otherwise.
Fresh from airing in March, PBS has issued the film on Blu-ray, which gives Curry a chance to talk to viewers about the project's genesis and development. Since the doc was shot about five years ago, I was most interested in the box's promised bonus feature of "where are they now" ... and then disappointed to see it's a brief text-only feature with postage stamp-size photos. Good thing the Internet exists to tell you much more. —Rod Lott