Before I started making this film, I didn’t really know anything about car racing, and I’m sorry to say, ignorance about racing is pretty typical in New York, where I live. But I knew it wasn’t typical for the country as a whole. NASCAR is reportedly the second biggest spectator sport in America after football — bigger than baseball or basketball. And I have a lot of family in North Carolina, so I knew how much passion for the sport there is down there.
I began to wonder how it was possible that in a city like New York, where we’re exposed to such an amazing variety of cultures, so many people could know so little about America’s second-favorite pastime. It seemed like something I should learn about if I wanted to understand the red-state/blue-state divide (or, more accurately, the New York/rest-of-the-country divide) and so I wrote down “NASCAR” and dropped it into the file I keep of documentary ideas.
Soon afterward, I read an article about extreme go-kart racing — a nationally competitive sport in which 11 and 12 year olds drive karts that go 70 mph (!). It’s widely considered the Little League for NASCAR, and a lot of the top professional drivers started out that way in doing it. I thought that sounded pretty amazing, and one of the things I love about making documentaries is it lets me spend a year or two learning about things I don’t know about. So I went to a few races to scout it out, and it was better than I had imagined. The racing was noisy and dangerous, and the kids were smart, funny and dazzlingly charismatic.
I put aside the project I had been working on and dove in. I found two boys and a girl — Josh, Brandon and Annabeth — who were great racers with magnetic personalities. They were at that perfect age where they were old enough to be interesting and insightful, but young enough to be open and unrehearsed. They began to teach me about their passion for racing.
To them, racing is just a part of the larger story of growing up. The three-day World Karting Association events are where you fall in love for the first time. Races are where you test your inner strength and figure out who you are. And races are where you bond with — and declare independence from — your parents.
Annabeth told me, “When you are 11 or 12, everyone is always telling you what to do. But when you are racing, you can’t hear anyone else. Should I pass this guy? Should I wait a lap? It’s all up to you.”
We have joked that racing is the McGuffin in our film, and that in some ways, Racing Dreams is actually a coming-of-age story disguised as a racing movie. I think that pre-adolescence is probably the most important, poignant and under-explored stage in our lives. It’s really when we are beginning to figure out who we are, how we relate to our parents, what romance feels like, and what we want to do.
I hope that this movie will take people back to that age, and remind us of the dreams we had — to be President, or a baseball player, or wherever our imagination took us. Back before we knew about the importance of money or connections or how hard things were going to be, and we just dreamed.
— Marshall Curry, Director/Producer