Commercial Appeal

Tweens with a Need for Speed: ‘Racing Dreams’ – A Review

By John Beifuss

What does it take to be a NASCAR champion? “You have to be a person who can make a decision and not look back,” asserts an avid driver in the documentary “Racing Dreams”; he makes sure we don’t miss the metaphor by adding: “That’s how life goes.”

The person sharing this wisdom has barely lived himself. He’s 12-year-old Josh Hobson of Flint, Mich., and he’s one of three top go-kart drivers featured in “Racing Dreams,” which also follows 11-year-old Annabeth Barnes of Hiddenite, N.C., and 13-year-old Brandon Warren of Creedmoor, N.C., as they compete in the “NASCAR Little League,” the year-long National Series of the World Karting Association.

Years away from a standard driver’s license, these kids inhabit a fascinating subculture that is unknown to most moviegoers, where tweens with a need for speed — the karts travel their oblong courses at 70 mph — can spend up to 48 weekends a year behind the wheel, while their working-class parents gamble a majority of the family’s income on the hope that they’re raising the next Danica Patrick or Richard Petty.

Directed by Marshall Curry, the movie is insightful and entertaining, and made to order for dramatic adaptation. (In fact, DreamWorks is making plans to produce a fiction film inspired by the documentary.) The movie follows the children at home, in school and at “work,” on the go-kart circuit, where families gather for “Karting for Christ” hymn sessions, and “Deep Fried Bologna” is a food-vendor favorite.

The kids are heartbreakingly recognizable types. Josh is a “perfectionist,” a poised Tiger Woods who is the most gifted and “professional” of the drivers. During post-race interviews, he thanks the manufacturers of the products he uses, practicing for the day when he’ll have actual commercial sponsors.

On the cusp of womanhood, Annabeth resembles the young Jodie Foster; she aspires to be “the first woman to win the Daytona 500,” but already she is worrying that the helmet is messing up her hair. The people she most wants to meet, she says, are “Kasey Kahne, Dolly Parton, Jesse McCartney, the president and God.”

Brandon, meanwhile, is the youngster who may be headed for trouble if he can’t make it in NASCAR. A hothead who lives with his grandparents rather than his drug-addict father, the flippant Brandon is both the “coolest” kid in the story, and the underdog. It’s to Curry’s credit that by the end of the film, we care more about Brandon’s welfare than the outcome of the competition.

Rated PG for adult themes, ‘Racing Dreams’ opens today (May 21) in the Memphis area at the Wolfchase Galleria Cinema 8, Collierville Towne 16 and Hollywood 20 Cinema.