Award-winning filmmaker Marshall Curry (Oscar®-nominated Street Fight, 2005; Sundance winner If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, 2011), returns to POV in 2012 with Racing Dreams, a chronicle of two boys and a girl who do something extraordinary: They fearlessly race extreme go-karts at speeds of up to 70 miles per hour in pursuit of trophies and, just maybe, careers as NASCAR drivers. And as the youngsters compete on the track, they also navigate the treacherous road from childhood to young adulthood.
Fondly described as “Talladega Nights meets Catcher in the Rye,” Racing Dreams is a dramatic, funny and sometimes heartbreaking look at the world of NASCAR culture as lived by three young aspirants to race-car glory and their families. The film follows Annabeth Barnes (11 years old), Josh Hobson (12) and Brandon Warren (13) as they compete in the Pavement Series, a yearlong national championship of five races around the country organized by the World Karting Association (WKA).
The WKA’s races have been a breeding ground for NASCAR racers in the past — Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Danica Patrick and others started out racing competitive go-karts — and Brandon, Annabeth and Josh dream of stepping up to the “big leagues,” too.
Racing karts. Credit: Kent Smith
For each of these young drivers, racing is more than just a hobby. Josh, who started racing when he was 5, grew up in car country, not far from Flint, Michigan. A well-spoken, straight-A student, he studies not only racing strategy, but also the political sensitivity it takes to be the kind of spokesman NASCAR and its sponsors favor. As precocious as he is, however, he doesn’t recognize the financial burden that his passion places on his family: Each race can cost up to $5,000 for equipment and travel.
Annabeth also has racing in her blood. Her Hiddenite, North Carolina, relatives have been racing cars “since back in the moonshine days,” she explains, and the love of speed has a particular significance at her age: “When you are 11 or 12, your whole life is filled with people telling you what to do. But when you’re racing you make your own decisions. . . . You’re totally independent.” She takes special pleasure in beating the boys in such a male-dominated sport, but as adolescence sets in, she feels torn between her love of racing, which requires her to travel nearly every weekend, and a desire to be a regular kid.
For Brandon, racing is in many ways an escape from a difficult home life in Creedmoor, North Carolina. “If I’m not racing, I’m not happy,” he says. His parents have wrestled with drugs, and so he lives with his nurturing grandparents in a double-wide trailer filled with racing memorabilia. Talented, funny and charismatic, Brandon also has a hot temper that sometimes gets him into trouble. He is aiming to win the championship that he lost the previous year when he was disqualified for rough driving.
As the tour unfolds, the three young racers step from the sheltered world of childhood into adolescence — discovering romance for the first time, questioning their relationships with their parents and glimpsing the serious obstacles that will threaten their ability to achieve their dreams.