Q&A: Racing Dreams

Documentarian Marshall Curry returned to Tribeca with his enormously entertaining Racing Dreams, the inspirational story of three kids behind the wheel. These are not the go-karts you grew up on.

Oscar-nominated director Marshall Curry—winner of the Festival’s 2005 Audience Award for Street Fight—made a triumphant return to Tribeca Saturday afternoon. His incredibly crowd-pleasing Racing Dreams is the story of three tweens with a very unique hobby: they drive the most souped-up go-karts you have ever seen, in pursuit of the World Karting Association’s (WKA) national championship. After thanking the crowd “for coming out on such a beautiful day,” the audience settled in for a gem of an inspiration story.

The film follows three preteens—Annabeth Barnes, Josh Hobson, and Brandon Warren—as they traverse a year of “NASCAR Little League.” Their search for the title takes them from Michigan to North Carolina to upstate New York, and Curry delves deep into their worlds, both personal and professional. The kids interact with each other, and we also see the toll their aspirations take on their families, in terms of financial and time commitments. The result is both a multifaceted look at a world most New Yorkers know nothing about and a classic coming-of-age story with three charismatic kids as the centerpiece.

Annabeth is a delight, and also an anomaly. She wants to be “the first girl to win the Daytona 500,” and her checkered flag manicure illustrates her initial singlemindedness. Over the course of the film, her commitment starts to waver as she discovers boys and starts to wonder about traveling 50 weekends out of every year. Josh is a NASCAR devotee whose concentration the races is equally matched by his studied approach to the sponsorship and marketing angles of his hero, Jeff Gordon. He is pragmatic, but he’s also deeply in love with racing: the look on his face the first time he sits behind the wheel of a stock car is one of wonder and complete bliss. Brandon’s story is the most heartwrenching: with his parents being mostly absent, he is being raised by his grandparents. Lucky for him, they are pretty amazing people who seem to have solid values and a firm hand.

After the whooping and the standing ovation that followed the screening, Curry and his co-stars took the stage and opened them up to personal questions from the audience. Curry explained that the film—dedicated to racing enthusiast Paul Newman—was borne out of his realization that NASCAR is “the second-most-popular spectator sport in America, and I knew absolutely nothing about it.” He read an article about the WKA, and decided to head out with a camera and find out what the big deal was. He realized almost immediately that there was a story there, and started the casting process. “These three popped out of the group” he met with, and luckily, they “all ended up with great stories to tell.”

The kids had matured since the filming, which ended about 18 months ago. Brandon grew about a foot, Josh was even more versed in the language of sponsorship, and a poised Annabeth won over the crowd again when asked about her budding relationship with Brandon. “I’ll let Brandon answer that question,” she demurred. She quickly followed up with, “We’re good friends. Is that enough?” The crowd agreed.

Winner: Best Documentary Feature, TFF 2009.

Winner: Heineken Audience Award Second Place, TFF 2009.

July 29, 2009 10:00AM EST