Three all American kids race for pole position in the fierce World Karting Association championships to secure a name for themselves as potential NASCAR drivers of the future.
Documentaries about American ways of life don’t always do well in other parts of the world. If they do however, more often than not they’re viewed as some sort of freak show as pushy parents show off their daughters in beauty pageants, or some precocious young boy tours the country as an evangelical preacher.
That being said, one thing remains constant throughout the world and that’s young people growing up, wrestling with their identity and chasing their dreams. Whether you’re into motor racing or not, Racing Dreams follows those hurdles of growing up perfectly and will connect with anyone who’s ever been a kid just trying to find their identity which, let’s face it, is everyone.
A welcome surprise to the documentary is that of the three characters we follow, one is a young girl. Annabeth Barnes, at 11 years old is a rare contender in what is a male dominated sport. She has to be tough, and even at such a young age is sadly aware that as a female, she’s going to have to work harder than any other driver to get to where she wants. You think you’d be watching a tom boy, but refreshingly Annabeth is as girly as they come. When she’s not covered in flame retardant coveralls and a crash helmet, as she races around the track at 70mph, she’s dressed in pink t-shirts, plays with her dolls and of course talks with her friends about boys at her school.
Joining Annabeth in what we learn is the junior of the two karting championships is Josh Hobson. From the outset you get the impression that this is the one that is going somewhere. Consistently finishing first and with a discipline that you don’t often find in 11 year old boys, Josh has professional racing driver written all over him. He’s already got a business mind, working out who he wants as a sponsor and which NASCAR drivers he wants to meet and speak with. He has a thirst for success and his family, while not rich, have the money to help him lay the foundations to his career.
Finally we have Brandon Warren. At 13 Brandon races in the senior heats and this kid shows how conflicted teenagers can be. He’s a troubled young lad, looked after by his grandparents as his father is constantly in and out of jail, but racing gives him the direction and focus he so desperately needs. Sadly money is tight and as his grandparents consider sending him to military school, to keep him on the straight and narrow, Brandon comes to terms with the fact that this might well be the last time he ever races in a competition. His family simply can’t afford to keep his dream alive and even with the success he achieves on the track, sacrifices have to be made.
Director Marshal Curry captures the emotion, passion and commitment within the three youngsters brilliantly. The parents also give an honest portrayal of the fears they have for their children’s safety and the sacrifices they’ve had to make to help their children chase a dream. Annabeth’s mum admits that she could give up work if Annabeth didn’t want to be a NASCAR driver, but without a hint of resentment says she is happy to continue working in a ‘crappy’ job to help fund the Go-Kart team. At no point do we ever feel that these kids were living their parent’s dreams or doing something they didn’t want to do, as Annabeth points out: “When you’re a kid people are always telling you what to do. But when I’m on the track I make my own decisions and I‘m totally independent.”
Racing Dreams gives you a heart-warming reminder of what it was like growing up. We all had dreams of doing something fun and exciting, being a race car driver, an astronaut, a model, a ballerina. Sometimes those dreams faded, sometimes we resigned ourselves to the fact that it wouldn’t be possible, sometimes we pushed hard and got we wanted. You see this happening with Annabeth, Josh and Brandon with the backdrop of a fast paced, competitive and dangerous world that many don’t get to see.
Racing Dreams is a fantastic film that’s already being tipped to be made into a feature film, but instead we’d love to see a follow up in a few years’ time, so we can catch up with Annabeth, Josh and Brandon and see if they really do manage to achieve the racing dreams they deserve.
Best scene: Annabeth visits Niagara Falls for the first time.
Best line: Brandon discusses going to military school with his Grandparents: “Is military school for bad kids, ain’t it for crazy kids to go to, you know ADD kids?”