Judge Christopher Kulik's idea of auto racing is getting to Dunkin' Donuts by 5:00a.
From the first Daytona 500 to the fiftieth, the journey of NASCAR has been about more than racing. It's been about those who taken The Ride.
First up, I need to make a confession: I'm not a fan of stock car racing. I'm not even a fan of auto racing, but that doesn't mean I have anything against it or its fans. If someone offered me a ticket to the Daytona 500, I'd probably go to see what the experience is like. The truth is I don't see the excitement of cars making left turns all day and drivers who walk around everywhere as walking advertisements. Yes, I understand how the sponsors operate, but that doesn't justify seeing an STP or Budweiser logo everywhere you friggin' go. Then there is the curse of Days Of Thunder, which still stands as an exercise in speedy stupidity if there ever was one. Check this out: when I was 11 years old, I did this Thunder ride at King's Dominion in Southern Virginia where you basically sat in a chair which jerked around, looking up at a giant screen playing footage from the movie. It was so inane that I ended up like Mr. Bean: I fell asleep!
Enough of my antagonistic ravings, however. I wanted to check out this documentary to see if any part of the motorsport (let's face it…it's not a real sport when there is no physical activity involved and the car does all the work) would attract me to view it in a different, less cynical light. The answer is no for the most part, but The Ride Of Their Lives still emerges as a comprehensive, mostly fascinating account of the rise of the organization from its roots in the late 1940s to the Earnhardt "passing of the baton" of the 2000s. The doc is filled to the brim with racing footage, both vintage and contemporary, as well as interviews with the many colorful personalities who get behind the wheel or simply watch from the stands. The motorsport had its beginnings in moonshine runs, but it quickly evolved into a Daytona event where stock cars would compete against each other.
Among the many individuals who are glossed over is Bill France, Sr., the original founder who nearly went bankrupt in building the Daytona International Speedway in 1959. The primary speaker is legendary driver Richard Petty, whose father Lee was the very first to win the Winston Cup; however, his son would go on to win seven championships, a record which remained unbroken until Dale Earnhardt came along. We also learn about Richard's biggest rival Bobby Allison, the first African-American driver Wendell Scott (who's still alive provides some juicy stories), the movie-star like Tim Richmond who fell victim to AIDS in 1989 and, of course Dale Earnhardt, Jr. who not only talks about his father but his reluctance in entering the motorsport. While it's only alluded too, the doc more or less concludes on the rivalry which never happened between Earnhardt, Jr. and buddy/fellow driver Jeff Gordon.
The biggest compliment I can give to The Ride Of Their Lives is that it kept my attention and it made the motorsport more respectable than how it initially appears to non-NASCAR fans. The material is also anchored by an engaging narration by none other than Kevin Costner (an admittedly odd choice, considering the actor-director has done only baseball and golf movies). Its way of presenting NASCAR's history is very similar to NFL team documentaries, showcasing both the high and low points as well as the rubber-burning figures that get in on the action.
However, it's difficult to disguise the fact that The Ride Of Their Lives is really little more than a visual wax-job that is about promotion as much as being a history lesson. The film was produced by not only NASCAR but also CMT television, and enthusiasts had no doubt seen it broadcast sometime last year. However, Paramount's DVD offers up a solid package, which includes a sharp 1.78:1 anamorphic print, DD 5.1 Surround sound, and a good hour's worth of extended interviews. These additional words are split into several sections, with titles ranging from "Dale" to "Family Ties." Those who aren't racing nuts may find nothing of interest here, but The Ride Of Their Lives is still a worthwhile documentary for the unitiated and uneducated when it comes to auto racing.
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