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Racing Dreams (Marshall Curry, 2009)


I have a particular soft spot for competition documentaries. They offer built in excitement and narrative arcs that are easy to get into. They beg us to cheer for some characters and root against others. If they indulge in the kinds of manipulation that sinks more serious documentaries, it is usually to bolster entertainment value. As such, I approached Marshall Curry’s Racing Dreams, which follows three NASCAR hopefuls as they work their way through a national go kart circuit, with some degree of goodwill. Thankfully, my goodwill was rewarded. Racing Dreams is an uncommonly good competition documentary, made with unusual sensitivity about the hopes and pressures felt by its three young would-be racecar drivers. Curry and his crew must have spent an inordinate amount of time with these kids and their families because he is able to observe such intimate, unforced moments that one wonders what it is that most other documentarians are doing wrong.


The three children who Racing Dreams focuses on are nearing the age when they can no longer act like children. Brandon Warren is an incredibly good driver, but has an unstable relationship with his father and financial realities standing in his way. Annabeth Barnes is the lone female racer in a league full of boys who are older than her. Beginning to discover boys and starting to recognize that she has little in common with her friends, she needs to assess whether her desire to race outstrips her need to lead a “normal” life. The precocious Josh Hobson seems to be gearing up for a career as a NASCAR driver, although that entails a massive financial commitment from his parents and a certain single-mindedness on his part.


The way that Curry edits offers us a down to earth sense of who these kids really might be. Glimpses into their psychology are frequent. Shots such as the one in which Annabeth is seen behind the wheel of a stock car contemplating her commitment to the sport and one in which Brandon is seen laying with his pet dogs, asking them to stay by him after his father has once again disappointed him are revealing and emotionally effective. Even better, perhaps, is the fact that this material enhances the five races that make up the go karting season. These racetrack scenes are genuinely exciting. It’s impossible to watch these kids struggle in their daily life and not have some rooting interest in their on-track success.



Jeremy Heilman