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Racing Dreams: The AMG Review
By Josh Ralske

Filmmaker Marshall Curry has said that as a New Yorker, he knew little about NASCAR when he decided to make Racing Dreams. While the documentary focuses on the World Karting Association, sort of an unofficial minor leagues for NASCAR, the appeal of Racing Dreams is that one doesn’t have to possess any knowledge of or even much interest in auto racing to get caught up in its coming-of-age drama. Curry has chosen his subjects well.

Josh Hobson is clearly a budding star. He idolizes Jeff Gordon, studying the racer’s interview technique as well as his driving. Josh is an overachieving perfectionist determined to succeed at the highest levels of the sport. He’s seen turning up the heat in his father’s car to acclimate himself to racing temperatures, while his father sweats and suffers.

Brandon Warren is more of a charming renegade, who struggles at home and at school. His parents have both had problems with drug use and the law. As the film begins, Brandon is living with his supportive grandparents in rural North Carolina, and is ambivalent about his father’s return home from prison. Over the course of the film, Brandon gets suspended from school for fighting, and struggles to control his temper on the track as well. For him, racing is clearly an escape from the hardships of his young life. On the track, he explains, “everything goes away.”

Annabeth Barnes, meanwhile, is one of the few girls in the WKA. She dreams of racing in NASCAR and being the first woman to win the Daytona 500, but she also misses the social life and mundane daily concerns of the average preteen girl.

By focusing on two boys with vastly different economic backgrounds and home environments, and one girl, Curry addresses issues of class and gender in a naturalistic way. Auto racing — at any level — is an expensive sport, and we see how Josh and Annabeth have resources that Brandon doesn’t have. Continuing his racing career is dependent on landing a major sponsor. The tension in the documentary comes from both the racing itself and the personal challenges that each racer faces. There’s even a budding romance between Annabeth and Brandon. In these moments and in some scenes focusing on Brandon’s troubled home life, the viewer sometimes wonders what impact the camera is having on these kids and their families. But Curry’s perspective is good-natured and empathetic.

Curry takes pains to help his audience understand the sport. For example, during the races, he uses color to highlight the karts of Josh, Brandon, and Annabeth, so we’ll know where they are in the pack.

Racing Dreams, first and foremost, is buoyantly entertaining. The film has broad appeal because, even while Josh, Brandon, Annabeth deal with the unusual pressures of high-speed auto racing, Curry lets us see them as ordinary kids. Annabeth sums up the lure of racing by pointing out that at her age, she is constantly being told what to do, but “when you’re racing, you make your own decisions.” Even with Josh, who takes pains to project a certain image (he practices giving interviews in front of a mirror), Curry captures that sense of exhilaration. Like many of the best sports documentaries, Racing Dreams conveys the appeal of the sport, while demonstrating that the most engaging stories aren’t necessarily about who wins and who loses.