Born Racer, a documentary about Scott Dixon’s life in the fast lane, is more revealing about the team behind him.
He grew up a plump, ginger kid in Manurewa, and even though he has spent most of his career in the US, he still displays the Southern Cross, a silver fern and a koru pattern on his helmet.
Born Racer is an account of Dixon’s tumultuous 2017 season with longtime team Chip Ganassi Racing, chasing that fifth title. Right from the starting lights, it’s apparent that director Bryn Evans, who made the kooky 2014 documentary Hip Hop-eration, has an eye for engrossing and arresting images: a car skinned of its shell, lying splayed with its struts and wires like a dissected animal; the orange glow of a garage opening at an ungodly hour of the morning.
The opening race sequence at the Indy 500 has no hollering commentator, and little on-track action, instead taking the perspective of the pitwall and spectators. They see nothing more than a zip of colour and hear the crescendo blast of passing engines – then a sickening crunch, a flash of flame. Dixon’s now-infamous crash at the race is played in slow motion, just to emphasise the carnage and the extreme risk. Miraculously, he hobbles away from that colossal wreck. It adds poignancy to wife Emma’s words: “Unless he’s going really fast, he doesn’t feel alive. He feels euphoric when he’s chancing death.”
Throughout Born Racer, there is a tsunami of adulation for Dixon – for his on-track fuel-saving abilities, for his devotion to the team, the zen-like coolness under pressure. One veteran engineer, without hesitating, compares him to Mario Andretti and Ayrton Senna.
Yet, little of the man’s personality emerges. Years of living under the media spotlight has led Dixon to answer almost robotically: non-committal and far from revealing. (To be fair to Dixon, this is true of many sportspeople.)
For greater insight, Evans therefore delves deeper into the grit and grime of the team’s mechanics. The engineers are less guarded, more honest, especially considering the director picked the “wrong” season to follow Dixon – he placed third in the 2017 championship before winning his fifth this year. It means the movie has to confront failure rather than triumph.
What emerges as a result is a sense of intense camaraderie and dedication. They feel the defeat just as keenly as Dixon does.
And any racer is only as good as the men and women behind them.
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This article was first published in the November 3, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.