Steve’s movie review:
A person who competes in races is the simplistic definition of racer that appears in the Oxford English Dictionary.
For those that compete in the high risk, high reward world of Indy car racing that simple five letter word has so much more meaning. And, adding the appellation born before racer, brings that level of reverence to another level.
Born Racer, a documentary film covering Kiwi Scott Dixon’s 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season from the Indianapolis 500 through the season finale at Sonoma Raceway, succeeds in ushering the viewer into the up and down world of Dixon as he pursues a fifth championship.
The film, produced and directed by fellow New Zealanders, Matthew Metcalfe and Bryn Evans, was born from a mutual admiration of the second generation race car driver.
Metcalfe, who also produced the Bruce McLaren biography, McLaren, first heard of Dixon when his father raced against a then 14-year-old in a vintage race. Metcalfe reached out Evans, who he had been interested in working with for some years, and the director of the Hip Hop-eration was interested in making a film about autosport. It was “kismet” that Dixon was the subject that they both had in mind.
The glimpse into the roller coaster 2017 season of the Chip Ganassi Racing No. 9 team begins with a simple yet effective statement from team owner Chip Ganassi – “We live to race. There is nothing else.”
The documentary that clocks in at just over 90 minutes utilizes ten storytellers to piece together the central theme of the film, which in producer Metcalfe’s words is “when you commit to winning, you also commit to losing.”
When the film begins, Dixon is getting into his race car to qualify for the 101st Indianapolis 500, while his wife of ten years, Emma Davies Dixon, paces in the background and we hear her voice quiver with emotion while saying:
“We just don’t talk about the dangers, really. It’s like, we just don’t. I’d like to sometimes, but we don’t want to put that into his head either. I’ve married a guy that unless he’s going really fast, he doesn’t feel alive. He feels euphoric when he’s chancing death.”
Over the course of the seven hours from when the Gasoline Alley opens at 5 AM on Indianapolis 500 race day to the command to start the engines, we meet that other eight storytellers.
Team owner and former Indy car driver Chip Ganassi has won four Indianapolis 500 and 10 Indy car championship as an owner and is focused on winning the Indianapolis 500, the IndyCar Championship and IndyCar race wins only, in that order.
Mike Hull, a former Formula Ford racer and Jim Russel driving instructor, helped launch Chip Ganassi Racing in 1992 and is currently the managing director and Dixon’s race strategist.
Dixon’s race engineer since 2015, Chris Simmons was a second-generation racer before moving onto the timing stand and winning two Indianapolis 500s and three INDYCAR championships with Dario Franchitti.
Kate Gundlach, the new assistant engineer from a family of racers that began her career in racing as a volunteer mechanic in Pro Mazda.
Fellow Kiwi and crew chief on the No. 9 Blair Julian, who has been working on Dixon’s car for all 44 of his Indy car wins.
Kenny Szymanski is a legendary tire technician that has worked with Mario Andretti and Ayrton Senna.
Rounding out the list of raconteurs are former teammates and friends Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan.
With the help of these ten voices, unprecedented access within the Chip Ganassi Racing team and the Dixon’s own home, for the first time in history, the viewer becomes part of the team that experiences the highs and lows of the 2017 season.
Get ready to feel the same emotions as the team from the horrifying shunt on Lap 53 101st Indianapolis 500, to a remarkable drive at Road America and cumulating with disappointment in California Wine County.
On the red carpet
The Born Racer premiere was held at the IMAX Theatre at the Indiana State Museum.
Producer Matthew Metcalfe
Metcalfe, who’s next film project is a biography of Australian MotoGP legend Wayne Gardner, is beginning to put together a stellar list of motorsport films. The Kiwi also produced the Bruce McLaren biography McLaren.
Here is Metcalfe’s full quote about commitment.
“What I really like about the film is that it really speaks to a really simple theme, which is; when you commit to winning, you also commit to losing. And, that’s a really cool life lesson for everyone. This idea that when you commit to winning, you can’t win all the time. So if you commit to winning, you’ve got to understand that sometimes you’ve got to lose. But, it’s how you deal with that loss that defines you as a winner.
“And, in the case of Scott, he had that terrible year last year, but he still kept driving forward, he still kept pushing forward. Fighting all the way to the end. All the way to Sonoma. He could have won his fifth championship a year ago. I respect that commitment, it’s incredible.”
Metcalfe also had some interesting things to say about the distribution of the modern film.
“Increasingly now in the movie business, we talk about eyeballs. The movie business as we used to know it, doesn’t really exist anymore. What we want to see is the greatest amount of eyeballs for this film. Universal are the masters of getting films in front of an audience. I hope come October 2nd, when it’s available on all of the multiple different mediums, that lots of people watch it. It’s a good watch, and even if you aren’t into IndyCar, it’s a great watch.”
TSO Ladder asked team owner Chip Ganassi if he put together a team of racers on purpose and he told us: “I don’t know if it’s done on purpose, but maybe that is just the kind of people we are attracted to. Racers love hanging around other racers.”
During the Q&A after the film ended, the former driver was asked what made him agree to allow the film crew such comprehensive access to the team. Ganassi was forthright and to the point, saying that they were desperately looking for a sponsor to replace Target.
His one regret about the film? That new partner PNC Bank didn’t get any screen time.
“The next one,” was Ganassi’s simple answer to what his favorite Dixon memory was.
When you watch the film, it becomes apparent that Scott and Emma have a unique bond that only two world-class athletes can have together. Davies-Dixon is a former Welsh and British 800m champion. TSO just had one question for them.
You are both very competitive, but which of the two of you is more competitive?
We got a fun answer to start and then got an interesting look into what makes the relationship between the pair racers so special.
Emma: I know, we are. In different things though. I’m not competitive in life in general (sideways look from Scott). Where with Scott, everything is a competition. Jenga – Monopoly – cleaning the house.
Scott: Ummmm… I don’t know. I feel like it’s more Emma on that side. Away from the motor racing, I’m more chill.
Scott: If Emma loses Jenga, she’ll smash the whole set.
Emma: (Laughing) That’s not true!
Scott: Our kids are really competitive, which is pretty funny. Poppy and Tilly are probably the worst at some of those.
That was fun, but then it got a little more interesting.
Emma: When Scott has had days that I’ve felt that he hasn’t done his best. I know, obviously knowing him so well. I definitely let him know about it when he comes back to the motor-coach. I think that is because I always had three or for coaches with my career and I had a lot of influence that if I did let the team down, they’d let me know about it. Scott always does the best job. But, if he’s been staying up late at night, I let him know that’s not proper preparation and then he has a bad race day. That’s when I will…
Scott: Emma, with her career, she has an amazing understanding of competition on the performance of the body straight away. The tips and helping me and even mentally, she is such an inspirational person, but very sweet and understanding too. The combination has helped me immensely with the mind side of it. But, also the competition side too. If I have a bad day and I haven’t given my all, I don’t want to go home. I’m going to get an earful.
- Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly, Santino Ferrucci, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Jordan King, Spencer Pigot and Alexander Rossi were all on hand to support their fellow Verizon IndyCar Series driver.
- Susie Wheldon, widow of Scott’s former teammate Dan Wheldon was in attendance. It was great to see her. Wheldon owns Verve Boutique in St. Petersburg, Fla. and Susie and Dan’s sons are, not surprisingly, competitive karters.