The Providence Journal

Movie Review: Fast dreams

By Michael Janusonis

Newport International Film Festival’s screening of a documentary called Racing Dreams might conjure up thoughts of something to do with sailing.

The fact that Marshall Curry’s Racing Dreams revolves around three kids — ages 11, 12 and 13 — vying for the national go-kart racing championship, would probably be the last thing to cross your mind. And yet Curry has come up with a highly entertaining film, following the children and their families for a year as they take part in the five finalist races for the championship, getting into their lives and exploring the drive and frustrations they feel along the way. One comes away with an appreciation of the kids — and what they’re willing to give up — to reach their dream of one day becoming a professional driver in the NASCAR races whose cars zoom along tracks at 200 miles per hour and draw millions of fans.

“Being a NASCAR driver is the coolest job you could ever have,” says 13-year-old Brandon Warren of Creedmoor, N.C. But at this stage of their racing careers, the kids zoom around a mini track at up to 80 miles an hour in go-karts that look like miniature versions of the NASCAR machines that have only a one-inch clearance from the ground.

Annabeth Barnes, 11, of Hickory, N.C., is one of the few girls involved in the sport and the only one of her friends who wants to be a race car driver when she grows up, at least at this stage of her life. Brandon has won many local championships and says, “If I’m not racin,’ I’m not happy.”

Curry is a silent observer who never intrudes with narration or to underline a point. There are interviews with Josh Hobson, 12, of Birch Run, Mich., after he wins the first of the five races. Even at that point, he already knows to add a bit of product placement in his thank you. There are tears from Annabeth after she fell farther behind in the standings than she’d hoped. There’s always the next race. Annabeth says she likes the independence she feels when she can make her own decisions on the track.

But Racing Dreams is more than just the nuts and bolts of trying to win races. Because Curry was around these kids and their families for such a long time, he has gained their confidence which has enabled him to capture intimate moments.

There’s Annabeth, whose parents who have encouraged her every step of the way, finally sitting in a full-size NASCAR stock car, but looking uncomfortable, wondering whether she really wants to continue following her childhood dream into puberty when “all these other doors are opening for me.” She begins to wonder, “Is this what I really want to do for the rest of my life?” while her father advises, “If you’re going to be a professional you’ve got to make a lot of sacrifices to meet your goal.” At one point, although two years younger and a foot taller than Brandon, she makes him a special friend and takes the first steps toward romance.

Josh, on the other hand, is all full-speed-ahead for his future. His racing successes have spurred his father to track his success against the other kids on a spread sheet and to go into debt to get Josh a full-size NASCAR-worthy auto. We see the difficult choices the family must make as the bills pile up.

Brandon has lived with his grandparents most of his life because his father was away in jail and his mother was caught up in her addictions. When his father comes back into his life, they try to bridge the gulf between them. But his father backslides and the emotional toll on the boy is heavy, presented here with great honesty.

There’s suspense in the film as we sweat out the wait on the judging staff’s ruling after an irate father blames Brandon for his son’s crash. There are telling moments, too, such as when Annabeth’s mother, Tina, talks about how she wants her daughter “to follow her dream because I didn’t have a chance to.” There’s Josh going up to meet one of his NASCAR heroes and asking advice. And there are the oddities — Josh having his father roll up the windows on a warm day and turning the car’s heater up to 90 so he can experience what it’s like to race on a Southern track in the summer; kids singing hymns at the Karting for Christ Ministries at the edge of the track before race time; a stand at a North Carolina track selling “fried bologna.”

Curry’s film will make you appreciate the sacrifices and the push of young people. You can exchange go-karting for gymnastics, figure skating, baseball or even sailing in reaching their goals, not all of which turn out as these young dreamers had first planned.

Racing Dreams will be screened at 5:15 p.m. Thursday, June 4 and 2:45 p.m. Friday, June 5 at the Jane Pickens Cinema as part of the 12th Newport International Film Festival.