"Racing Dreams": Young racers shooting for the big leagues

By Bernie Biernacki

No first-timer just climbs into a Sprint Cup, Indy car, FI car or any kind of race car and just goes racing. Driving a race car is a learning experience. You start in the lower classes. If you do well you graduate up to the level you are most comfortable with.

Today, many younger racers, be they from the U.S. or anywhere around the world, start in go-karts. Pre-teen racers learn in go-karts how to develop their competitive edge, with hopes of reaching racing’s “big leagues.”

Debuting this week on public broadcasting stations (PBS) throughout the U.S., “Racing Dreams,” a Point of View documentary, produced and directed by award-winning filmmaker Marshall Curry, spends a season with three young drivers competing on the World Karting Association’s five-race, paved oval circuit.

“Racing Dreams” follows Annabeth Barnes, 11 years old, Josh Hobson, 12 years old, and Brandon Warren, 13 years old, as they face the challenges of tracks and fellow competitors, as well as how to deal with challenges on the home front.

Each travels throughout the east and south, racing in go-karts that can go up to 70 mph, just an inch off of the pavement. They not only learn how to conquer the race tracks, but their fellow competitors. They hone their racing skills, as well as learning how to balance home-life, school and just being a kid.

For this trio, racing is not just a hobby. For them and their families, racing is a way of life. A stepping stone, just maybe, to a NASCAR ride.

Annabeth comes from a North Carolina family whose racing roots date back to the pre-NASCAR “moonshine” days. When she is outside of her go-kart cockpit, she hears people telling her what to do. When racing, she makes her own decisions. Her goal is to be the first woman racer to win the Daytona 500.

Josh has been racing go-karts since he was 5 years old. A Michigan native, he is a straight A-student who likes to pal around with his friends. Despite his young years, he knows that racing is not just driving a car fast, but how a driver must be able to court sponsors and then represent them in the best light.

Brandon finds racing to be an escape from a difficult home life in North Carolina. He now lives with nurturing grandparents. He too has been racing since an early age. His grandfather smooths his rough edges, keeping him on the straight-and-narrow. He seeks to capture a championship that he lost the previous year do to rough driving.

Each has a goal on his or her horizon. Each works hard to reach that goal. Each has obstacles that must, if at all possible, be conquered. Despite their young years they are learning truths that many older racers never learn.

To find air-times, check local PBS station listings. The film will also stream in its entirety on the POV website, www.pbs.org/pov/racingdreams, from Feb. 24 through March 24.   

Bernie Bernacki

Involved with Journalism since 1969. Through the years, weorked at several daily and weekly newspapers in northeast Illinois and northwest Indiana. During 1976 was editor of NSSN in Ridgewood, NJ. I have done features on racers from Gary Gabelich to Cale Yarborough, Bobby Rahal to Leon "Jigger" Sirois, Bay Darnell to Jack Bowsher, and Ed Rachanski to Arnie Beswick. I am a personal friend of Fred Lorenzen and frequently visit him at his nursing home. During the 1980s I covered the Indy 500 for different daily newspapers. As I am considered a senior citizen, my racing tastes favor vintage/historics - stock, sports car, Indy, drag racing, old race tracks. I try to focus on individuals  

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Volume 2011, Issue 10, Posted 8:49 AM, 02.23.2012