Judge Gordon Sullivan is a fourth-generation DVD reviewer. Time travel was involved.
Every Country Needs a King
I have never been a NASCAR fan. Intellectually, I know that those cars are going several hundred miles an hour and are in constant danger, but something about the TV presentation just never makes the excitement of the track come alive for me. Plus, I've never learned any of the rules of scoring, lapping, or pole positions. One thing I do know, though, is that NASCAR is big business, and the folks behind the scenes take their viewers/customers very seriously. They serve a wide swath of middle America, as does Country Music Television, so it's no surprise that when it came time to tell the story of one of NASCAR's biggest racers the two companies teamed up to produce Petty Blue. The result is a fine documentary that provides both a solid overview of NASCAR's history and a compelling portrait of a professional sports dynasty.
Petty Blue tells the tale of the world's first four-generation professional sports family. Starting with Lee Petty's days as a moonshine runner and early NASCAR pioneer, taking us through the amazing career of Richard Petty with his numerous records, on to his son Kyle and grandson Adam. Along the way, viewers get a peek into the family dynamics of these great racers, as well as the ways in which NASCAR has matured as both a sport and a money making machine.
Petty Blue could have been little more than a victory lap for racing's "King," Richard Petty. Heaven knows he's won enough awards and made enough money to earn that kind of treatment. However, Petty Blue isn't simply a laudatory document that looks back on the Petty family with rose-tinted glasses. No, instead it's a balanced portrait that gives plenty of time to the on-track victories, but isn't afraid to show the darker side of the Petty family legacy.
On the positive side of the Petty family history, we get a strong overview of the history of NASCAR, with loads of vintage footage as we trace first Lee and then Richard's career. Both were excellent drivers and much of the early part of the film finds them winning race after race. Here we get a good peek at NASCAR growing up and finding its place in the world as it moves from races held in dirt to multi-lane banked speedways. Kyle and then Adam continue the Petty legacy, showing the dedication to racing in the family.
The darker side of the family is also present, though. There are the obvious wrecks, near-misses, and the rigors of any kind of touring enterprise. The film isn't shy about presenting the relationships between fathers and sons, either. Lee Petty was apparently a tough taskmaster and Richard grew up accordingly. He was distant from his son Kyle, and although there's obviously a love there, Kyle says at one point he didn't want to make the same mistake with his son. To that end, Kyle tried to be more of a friend to his son Adam. It appeared to be a successful tactic, as we see the two of them laughing and joking with an ease that the other father/son pairs lack. Tragically, in the film's darkest moments, Adam is killed during practice just three weeks after his great-grandfather Lee passes away. None of this material is presented sensationally, however. There's no attempt to milk any kind of unnecessary drama or shock value out of these moments. It really comes off as an honest portrait of a real family, warts and all.
Technically, the DVD is as solid as fans could want. The 1.78:1 anamorphic image is broadcast quality, with a generally bright appearance and no significant compression problems. The audio comes in surround and stereo flavors. Each keeps the roar of the engines and Kevin Costner's everyman narration well balanced. My only complaint is that I wish there were subtitles, 'cause Richard Petty can be a bit mumbly in places.
Very few organizations know how to keep fans happy like NASCAR and CMT, so it's no surprise that Petty Blue comes loaded with a fair amount of extras. First up are about 30 minutes of deleted scenes. These cover everything from a discussion of the infamous Petty blue paint to the sponsorship deal between Petty and STP. Then we get about 20 minutes of extra interviews, and 15 minutes of bonus archive audio. There's a sweet little featurette that includes Richard and Maurice reminiscing called "Memory Lane," and advertisements for the Richard Petty Driving Experience and Hunt Brothers Pizza. Kevin Costner makes an appearance in the bonus materials with a music video for his song "Backyard," and the disc also includes some trailers.
I'm not a NASCAR fan in the slightest, but Petty Blue is an engaging documentary about sports and family that will be a sure fit with race fans, and may even hit home for those who dislike left turns. The solid presentation and excellent set of extras make this a no-brainer for Petty fans.
Petty Blue gets the checked flag hands down. Not guilty.
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