Blink of an Eye


The King and I.

(2019) Sports Documentary (1091 Media) Michael Waltrip, Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Richard Childress, Darrell Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt, Mike Helton, Ty Norris, Buffy Hawthorne, Larry McReynolds, Ken Schrader, Brooke Hondros. Directed by Paul Taublieb

 

In the annals of auto racing, few names inspire the passion that Dale Earnhardt’s does. Known during his career as “The Intimidator,” he was known for his aggressive driving style. His fans adored him and in general, all racing fans at the very least respected him.

Michael Waltrip in 2001 was on the other end of the racing spectrum. The younger brother of three-time NASCAR champion Darrell Waltrip, the affable Michael was best known for a stat he certainly wished wasn’t the case; 462 races without a win. Most drivers would never have gotten the opportunity to drive 462 races without winning, but he had the cache of his brother’s last name and was well-liked by owners and fans alike.

Waltrip became good friends with Earnhardt following a crash in which Waltrip’s car essentially hit a concrete wall and disintegrated around him; Waltrip was miraculously unscathed. Following the crash, Earnhardt looked in on Waltrip and declared him “one tough son-of-a-bitch!” The two often hung out together and Waltrip was often a guest on Earnhardt’s boat the Sunday Money. When Earnhardt decided to put together his own racing team together, he wanted his son – whom he was grooming to be his heir – and Waltrip to be his teammates.

=This documentary, based loosely on Waltrip’s own memoirs, looks at Waltrip’s early career, his desire to be a driver from a young age, and his relationship with his brother Darrell which was perhaps one that wasn’t as close as it might have been; the older Waltrip here admits he only helped his younger brother out “when it was convenient” and expressed regret that he wasn’t a better brother.

But in a larger sense, it’s about the unlikely friendship between Earnhardt and Waltrip and the moment that forever links them; the 2001 Daytona 500, which Richard Petty, the most successful NASCAR racer of all time and an early mentor of Waltrip, calls “Our Super Bowl.”  On February 18, 2001, the Intimidator was out to win but not for himself; he wanted to see his son or his friend cross the finish line first and ran interference, blocking the cars that might have overtaken the two of them in the final laps of the race. As Waltrip crossed the finish line, Earnhardt was involved in an accident on turn four when Sterling Martin made contact with his car and knocked it into the path of fellow driver Ken Schrader.

It looked like a minor accident at first but there were signs that something was seriously wrong. As Waltrip was celebrating his first win on Victory Lane, he received the awful news; his friend and teammate was dead. “We’re all capable of handling the highest of highs and the lowest of lows,” Waltrip muses, “But I don’t know many who have had to handle both within seconds of each other.”

Even if you’re not a Dale Earnhardt fan or even a NASCAR fan (and I’m neither), the movie still packs quite an emotional wallop. Waltrip, 18 years later, is still devastated by the events of the 2001 Daytona 500 and often tears up when discussing some of the highlights of his friendship with Earnhardt. Waltrip tends to wear his emotions on his sleeve anyway but he is an engaging subject and at one time interrupts an interview with Petty to tell the NASCAR legend how much his advice and support meant to him. It’s a part of that Southern chivalry thing, I think.

What the documentary doesn’t do is ask hard questions about how Earnhardt died; while end-credit graphics mention that following Earnhardt’s death safety changes were regulated and there have been no fatalities since. What the film doesn’t tell you was that NASCAR resisted those changes for more than a year after Earnhardt’s death, and that Earnhardt had been the fourth driver in eight months to die in a similar fashion. It can also be said that little background is given to the life of Earnhardt but this is Waltrip’s story, after all.

Earnhardt is a bona fide legend, one whose shadow continues to loom over NASCAR 18 years after his death. His fans remain among the most rabid in NASCAR and number 3 decals (Earnhardt’s car number) continue to adorn the cars of his fans to this day. Waltrip has since retired from racing and works as a commentator for Fox Sports as his brother does. This movie might not appeal to non-racing fans but I would encourage them to see it anyway; at it’s heart this is a human story as all great sports stories should be.

The film is currently in limited release but Fathom Events will be hosting nationwide screenings on September 12th, 2019. If you are interested in catching this in the theater, please heck your local listings for the theater carrying it nearest you.

REASONS TO SEE: Gives us a peek behind the NASCAR curtain. Packs an emotional wallop. Michael Waltrip is one of those guys you just naturally root for.
REASONS TO AVOID: A bit soft when it comes to exploring the causes of the accident and the repercussions of it.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity as well as some racing action and scenes of horrific auto racing crashes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: A dramatic feature based on the documentary is currently in the planning stages.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/10/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 63% positive reviews: Metacritic: 58/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Senna
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
Brittany Runs a Marathon

Pick of the Litter – September 2019


BLOCKBUSTER OF THE MONTH

IT Chapter 2

(New Line) James McAvoy, Jessica Chastain, Bill Skarsgǻrd, Bill Hader. The meeting of the Losers Club is now in session. The final chapter of the epic battle between the kids (now adults) of Derry, Maine versus the evil Pennywise the Clown is here as the grown-up versions of the kids from the 2017 hit It return to Derry to finish what they started. September 6

INDEPENDENT PICKS

Blink of an Eye

(1091) Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Richard Petty, Daryl Waltrip. The friendship between Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt was an odd one, considering their status in NASCAR; Dale was one of the greatest drivers ever and Waltrip had gone 462 races without a single win. Then, one magical Daytona 500 saw Waltrip break that streak – only moments later to see his friend die. September 6

Rapid Response

(Atlas) Stephen Olvey, Bobby Unser, Mario Andretti, Rick Mears. In 1966 when medical student and auto racing fan Steven Olvey was hired by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to assist on their medical team, one out of every seven drivers died each year. This is a look at how his protocols not only made auto racing safer but also made the cars we all drive safer as well. September 6

Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice

(Greenwich) Linda Ronstadt, Dolly Parton, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris. In the 70s there was no bigger female rock and roller than Linda Ronstadt. The first woman to snag five number one albums in a row, she became known as an uncompromising perfectionist. Her effect on women in rock and roll was incalculable but she is rarely given the status she deserves. September 6

Monos

(Neon) Sofia Buenaventura, Julian Giraldo, Karen Quintero, Laura Castrillon. On a remoter South American mountaintop, eight kids with guns watch over a hostage. This was one of the more acclaimed films to come out of this year’s Sundance Film Festival with no less than Guillermo del Toro voicing his approval for the film and its director.. September 13

Neither Wolf Nor Dog

(Inyo) Dave Bald Eagle, Christopher Sweeney, Richard Ray Whitman, Roseanne Supernault. A Lakota elder, nearing the end of his life, engages a white writer to write a book about his life and wisdom. Both the writer and the relatives of the elder aren’t 100% sure that he picked the right man for the honor. September 13

Midnight Traveler

(Oscilloscope) Hasan Fazil, Nargis Fazil, Zahra Fazil, Fatima Hossaini. When Afghan film director Hasan Fazil makes a documentary critical of the Taliban, a price is put on his head. He and his family are forced to flee their home for an uncertain future. Their remarkable journey is documented on three cell phones and illustrates the obstacles facing refugees. September 18

Loro

(IFC) Toni Servillo, Elena Sofia Ricci, Riccardo Scarmarcio, Kasia Smutniak. Silvio Berlusconi was not only one of the wealthiest men in Europe but also Prime Minister of Italy. Known for his lavish parties and outrageous personality, this film covers the period of time when his second marriage was falling apart and tries to imagine what went on behind closed doors.. September 20

Villains

(Gunpowder & Sky) Bill Skarsgǻrd, Maika Monroe, Jeffrey Donovan, Kyra Sedgewick. A pair of young lovers on the run from the law are on their way to Florida when their car breaks down. They break into a remote house hoping to find some new wheels to take them the rest of the way. Instead, they find a secret more twisted and terrifying than they could have imagined. September 20

First Love

(Well Go USA) Masataka Kubota, Nao Omori, Shota Sometani, Sakurako Konishi. Anarchic director Takashi Miike returns yet again with yet another film from the heart of Japanese darkness. A young boxer and a call girl fall in love but are caught in the crossfire when they are innocently caught up in a yakuza drug smuggling scheme. September 27