For those who subscribe to the notion that people make the best stories, the five-episode Netflix series “NASCAR: Full Speed” is appointment viewing.
It’s a simple and easy-to-follow premise: cameras capture nine Cup Series drivers over the final 11 weeks of the 2023 season – all nine drives qualified for the playoffs and one, Ryan Blaney, captured the championship. Viewers are reminded of what took place on the racetrack during those final few months of the season with commentary from those involved while also being brought into what life was like away from the track.
The access is what makes the series work. Driving the car is cool, but for those who are hungry for more, who can’t get enough of the drivers, and who want to see what they do during the week, the family life, or the work just to get to race day, it’s all here. It’s the beauty of these styles of documentaries.
These are real human beings under the helmets. And spoiler alert, those human beings curse and care deeply about the job. The same can be said about their family members.
Denny Hamlin’s mother, Mary Lou and father, Dennis, are featured in the series and discuss the sacrifices they made to help their son achieve his dream. Hamlin gets a lot of camera time because he understands the importance of providing all-in access. They are in his home, car, 23XI Racing team meetings and motorhome.
For those who enjoy Hamlin and his honesty, there is plenty in the series. But that honesty, or perceived arrogance, can also be a draw for those who want more reason to hate Hamlin.
“I grew up with no means; I worked my way here,” Hamlin explains in the first episode when talking about his family. “I have a big jet, a big house, nice (expletive). I (expletive) earned it and still, at age 42, I feel like I’m at the top of my game.”
Alex DeLeon, Tyler Reddick’s fiancé, tells the cameras during the Martinsville Speedway race that her significant other must stop being nice. Reddick was racing to advance in the playoffs at Martinsville, and DeLeon was a helpless viewer.
“I just wish I could shake him because I want to be like, ‘Just (expletive) drive through them,’” DeLeon says as she watches the race from the motorhome. “Just drive through them. Do what you need to do.”
Reddick and DeLeon bring quite a bit of humor to the series. Not only because they are relatable, but there is a rogue cat, Halloween costumes, a pee firesuit incident and, at one point, wondering where their son, Beau, was in the Talladega Superspeedway driver/owner lot playground.
Morgan Bell, Christopher Bell’s wife, will be seen in tears. The pair are in the motorhome at Phoenix Raceway as the championship fight goes on without the Joe Gibbs Racing driver after Christopher’s No. 20 Toyota suffered a mechanical failure. Christopher Bell is a reserved guy, but it’s clear he’s shocked and processing his early exit as Morgan cannot contain her emotions.
Passion. Personality. Determination. Some of the best talent NASCAR has to offer.
NASCAR has long needed the type of content viewers get in the Netflix docuseries. It shows the sport in an honest light and makes the drivers relatable. It’s not corny or cringeworthy or playing on stereotypes.
There is so much more to NASCAR than what happens on race day; great storytelling is how that becomes known. Netflix tells a great story about an exciting sport that has colorful personalities. If given a chance by viewers, it will make them interested in stock car racing.
But even for the viewers who already are all-in with the sport, the content is intriguing. How it’s presented is in-depth enough to satisfy those who follow the story without dumbing it down for viewers who might come in new or casual enough wanting to learn.
There was no need for creative editing or trying to make heroes and villains. The content is compelling enough to draw people in and make them interested in seeing more and wanting to know more about the drivers. The drivers also come across as natural with the cameras, not rehearsed or forced to share their thoughts.
Storytelling, it’s as simple as that. Finally, NASCAR and its drivers have their stories accurately and compellingly told.