MOVIE REVIEW: 'Blink of an Eye' is NASCAR's answer to 'Senna'

MOVIE REVIEW: 'Blink of an Eye' is NASCAR's answer to 'Senna'

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MOVIE REVIEW: 'Blink of an Eye' is NASCAR's answer to 'Senna'

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I’m not sure if I was born and raised to be a motor racing fan, but the fact of the matter is that my dad was racing cars long before I was born. And when I did show up in his world, well, nothing really changed.

I’ve been going to races since I was in my mom’s womb. I’ve pretty much seen, been around, or written about racing my entire lifetime. With my own two eyes I’ve seen men crash, burn, cheer and cry. I’ve been there, done that and bought the T-shirt.

For good or for bad, I’ve also seen every single motor racing themed movie ever made. I loved one or two of them (Senna and Grand Prix), liked a few more (Rush, Last American Hero) and absolutely detested all the others (better not to go there). There is nothing worse than a racing movie where the producers and directors straight-up don’t get it. Seriously, I can remember my dad and I walking out of movie theaters after stupid racing movies, or the two of us even yelling at a TV set when the producers and directors got it all wrong.

When I was asked to take a look at the new film Blink of an Eye, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. A cinematic documentary produced and directed by Emmy-winning filmmaker Paul Taublieb, I was told Blink of an Eye would portray the relationship between race car drivers Dale Earnhardt and Michael Waltrip.

It all sounded okay. I knew the story of Earnhardt and Waltrip quite well, as during that era, I was locked in-step with all things NASCAR, so when the film started rolling, I was keen to see what was coming.

The racing reality of Blink of an Eye is that Michael Waltrip can’t win anything. Considered something of a goofball to both fans and industry insiders alike, not too many involved in the sport considered Michael Waltrip to be much of a racer.

But Dale Earnhardt did.

Dale Earnhardt saw Michael much differently. Earnhardt had raced the man time and time again, and knew Waltrip was something of a diamond in the rough. And yes, while Michael had gone 0 for 462 – the longest losing streak in contemporary NASCAR history – Earnhardt knew Waltrip was his guy.

Earnhardt and Waltrip on vacation in the Bahamas. Image via Michael Waltrip’s personal collection.

Truth be told, the Michael Waltrip career trajectory is the embodiment of the film. Watching Waltrip try to make it at the Cup level of the series as a journeyman driver shuffling from one Cup team to the next was a testament to the man’s resolve. No wins, off-song equipment and in many ways, no hope. Then Waltrip becomes buddies with Dale Earnhardt, and everything changed. Radically.

Throughout their respective careers, I was aware of the personal and racing relationship between Earnhardt and Waltrip. However, I had absolutely no idea how deep it all went. Blink of an Eye does many things well, but the portrayal of friendship between the two men is remarkable, and it blew me away how much Earnhardt did, in fact, truly help and appreciate Waltrip. And that was another dynamic I did not see coming before sitting down to watch this film: Dale Earnhardt’s character. Already known as ‘The Intimidator’, ‘Ironhead’, ‘The Man in Black’, he was in reality a kind, sensitive, and more than anything, fun-loving man. As the film moved along, it became quite evident that Earnhardt and Waltrip were perfect for one another.

And it wasn’t just friendship that drew Earnhardt to Waltrip. The fiercest, most accomplished driver in the history of NASCAR, Earnhardt was in it to win it 24/7, and when the time came to add another driver to his race team, Dale knew that Waltrip had the right stuff. And in fact, Earnhardt and Waltrip were similar in that they were both self-made. Earnhardt was born into a racing family, his hard-knocks father Ralph haunting the small dirt bullrings outside of Kannapolis, North Carolina. A fierce competitor himself, Dale followed his old man’s lead. Ultimately, Ralph Earnhardt passed away from a massive heart attack when Dale was only 19, thus leaving him to scratch out a living and post up in shabby apartments and trailer parks and holding down odd jobs to… well, to go racing. Waltrip didn’t receive a lot of help, either – neither his championship-caliber brother Darrell nor his parents never really threw much in along the way.

And as Blink of an Eye portrays so well through countless compelling interviews with many of NASCAR’s key players, many racing insiders did not feel the same about Waltrip. Yet Earnhardt stuck to his guns. Illustrating such, he tapped Waltrip to drive his No. 15 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet Monte Carlo for the 2001 NASCAR Cup series

It is here that Blink of an Eye reaches for another gear and heads out onto the 31-degree high banks of Daytona International Speedway and the 43rd running of the Daytona 500. It’s at this point that the cinematic magic created by director Taublieb comes into play.

Team Earnhardt rolls into Daytona Beach, Florida. There is Dale Earnhardt Senior and his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr, up on Big Bill France’s slanted and enchanted asphalt for the start of the Great American Race. And yes, Team Earnhardt tail gunner Michael Waltrip is also about to enter the 210mph fray with the duo.

Yes, I watched the 2001 Daytona 500 with my own two eyes and know all too well what shook out that fateful day. All this withstanding, Blink of an Eye took me places and showed me things I had not seen before. The interview and race action captured by Taublieb and crew at Daytona, actually made me feel like I was there that day. For instance, and after believing that I had seen and read it all regarding that weekend, I had no idea that Dale Earnhardt Sr played such a tactical role in getting Waltrip and Dale Jr to the finish line. Taublieb, through a fabulous selection of in-race footage, brings this all out in spectacular fashion. One thing I can promise after watching Blink of an Eye is that NASCAR race fans are going to be thrilled with the historical race footage that shows up constantly in the film. Shout-out to Taublieb and his crew for digging so very deep.

Michael Waltrip with director Paul Taublieb.

So where am I going with all of this?

During the summer of 2010, I went to go see the movie Senna. It stunned me. It was the best racing film I had ever seen. Easily. In fact, when I walked out of the theatre, I made a quick decision and turned around and went right back in to watch it again. It was that good.

So is Blink of an Eye. To scheme up a film about, arguably, the greatest American race car driver who ever lived was a very tall order. Taublieb nailed it. The history and emotion – and even brotherhood – portrayed and displayed in this film is more than enough to enthrall any racing fan.

And it’s not just a racing film. It’s drama in every sense of the word. The pure emotion and remembrance that reverberates through the movie is classic human element stuff, and enough to enthrall anyone, be it a hardcore Cup fan or an outsider with a spare hour and a half on their hands.

Michael Waltrip competed in 784 NASCAR Cup races over the duration of 33 years. That’s extraordinary in itself. Yet when Waltrip and his benefactor Earnhardt showed up in Daytona Beach in 2001, they were about to create a motor racing story for the ages. Thankfully, through talent, vision and a remarkable cast of characters to provide drama and illumination on it all, the story is being told in a way that truly does it, and the sport, justice. For that, us gearheads can be very grateful.

Showing at theaters for one day only on Sept. 12th. Go to Fathomevents.com to find a theater near you.

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