Coming to an IMAX theater near you: "NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience" is a not-to-be-missed experience.
The movie opens at theaters across the United States this Friday, March 12th. It is a fabulous introduction to IMAX for the uninitiated, who can access the excitement of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing on screens of up to eight stories and 12,000 watts of sound, just right to impart the thrill of [up to] 850 horsepower in your face.
Equipped with large, gray 3D glasses, fans and casual observers alike are jettisoned into the world of stock car racing and given insightful and fun education about this ever-increasingly popular sport.
"The 3D is so realistic, you actually feel like you're driving a race car," says 2002 champion Tony Stewart. "To see the cars and experience our sport from IMAX's 3D perspective is unbelievable."
The film, narrated by actor and NASCAR fan Kiefer Sutherland, provides an insider's perspective to the sport and explains the expansion of stock car racing from its infancy to its current status as the fastest growing sport in the world.
The historical narrative begins with an obligatory chase scene as accomplished moonshine drivers are pursued by inept peace officers. Current star Jimmie Johnson plays the driver, flanked by Ryan Newman and, when they leave the cops in the lurch that duo are revealed as NASCAR president Mike Helton and Gary Nelson, managing director of competition.
That familiarity continues throughout the 45 minutes that feel like far less in this PG-rated IMAX 3D film. Even as race cars appear to rush at the viewer, we're taken on a road trip from NASCAR's humble start on the Daytona Beach shoreline to today's mega-marketed weekends at a slew of tracks country-wide.
Inserts of historic footage add credence to the show and there are tributes to the NASCAR-founding France family and to long-gone drivers including, of course the late Dale Earnhardt.
The film invites viewers to see the construction of NASCAR stockers from tube-frame to completion, allows fans to see engines and chassis on rolling dynos, and even permits a peek at NASCAR's new research center in Concord, NC.
A look at shops in the North Carolina countryside brings the people who put 43 cars on the race tracks each weekend to the fore. We get to see the dance that places each semi-tractor trailer into the infield for a race in fast forward, watch an empty bowl of a track turn into the NASCAR traveling circus.
The on-track action "portrays NASCAR in its truest sense," according to Dale Earnhardt Jr. "It's really exciting and really loud, which is exactly what it's like when you're inside the car." Sutherland explains just how crews and drivers work together in an attempt to wring the most from each part of the race car and gain a trip to Victory Lane on Sunday afternoons 36 times a year.
The film explains everyone's job on a team, shows how the draft works, why pit stops are such an exciting part of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing.
"The IMAX footage of action in the pits is as real as it gets," notes four-time champ Jeff Gordon. "You're hearing lug nuts fly off the wheel. You can feel the pit crew's steps as they're running around the car. It's an awesome experience for fans."
The IMAX crew obtained footage throughout the 2003 racing season yet, as 2003 Brickyard 400 winner Kevin Harvick explains, never really impeded the weekend's work at such tracks as Daytona, Talladega, Bristol, California Speedway, Martinsville, Rockingham, Charlotte and Richmond.
The shooting crew used school cars from the Richard Petty Experience to simulate some action, while they placed cameras close to the racing for others. It's an astonishing result.
"When I saw shots of the cars racing by in the film, it gave me goosebumps," Jimmie Johnson acknowledges. "This movie made me think I was actually standing in the garage. The audio is totally realistic: when our race cars idle, there's a distinct crackle that they make because there's 850 horsepower we're trying to contain."
There are shots of the motor home-filled infields at many venues that help the film "bring the depth of the fan experience to the screen. You feel like you're in the infield, standing on top of a motor home watching the race," Gordon adds.
How did they do it? Director Simon Wincer, an Australian who is known for such films as Lonesome Dove and Free Willy utilized the only three IMAX 3D cameras in the world to shoot 72 miles of film. The 600-pound monsters have 14 motors and 11 microprocessors and require 17 minutes to load.
Once ready for action, the IMAX 3D camera shoots only three minutes of film at a time, unlike 35mm film cameras that can produce 10-minute rolls.
Jack Roush, owner of the 2003 championship-winning car driven by Matt Kenseth produced a camera car with sufficient suspension strength to carry a 3D camera. There were six different camera positions on the sled, enabled by removable panels and a special rig for drivers' point of view and low camera angles.
The three cameras employed by filmmakers were placed all over the race tracks they visited during the season, including one perched halfway up the Talladega banking, using ropes and pulleys to keep the monster machine in place for filming.
The result is a wild ride through NASCAR history and current competition that is truly compelling. The magic of IMAX 3D technology really does bring the excitement of NASCAR NEXTEL Cup racing directly to the viewer and it is a thrill a minute.
Catch NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience at a theater near you. For once, a racing film is truly real.