NASCAR’s biggest challenge isn’t the aging of its fan base, America’s waning love of cars or the distraction of its attention. NASCAR’s biggest problem is that its most marketable assets – its drivers – have a troubling tendency to stop driving.
No team sport has such a challenge. If you’re a Los Angeles Lakers fan, you can be pretty confident that they’ll still be playing basketball in five, 10, 20 years. If you’re an Ohio State University fan, you know the football program as a whole doesn’t stop after multiple championship attempts.
But in NASCAR, the checkered flag accompanies every driver’s career. If you’re a fan of Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt, Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart or Dale Earnhardt Jr., the end of a career – whether sudden or sudden will It’s not easy for a fan-favorite bond to transfer from one driver to another, and NASCAR has spent countless hours and social media posts trying to make that happen for a new generation of drivers.
Now comes the sport’s biggest shift yet: Full Throttle, a five-part Netflix series currently airing that focuses on the 10-game postseason starting in 2023. It’s an impressive, familiar accomplishment—lots of behind-the-scenes touches, emotional in-game and between-game tension. For the most part, the confrontations are organic and so is the drama. If this series had come out five years ago, it would have been groundbreaking; at this point, it’s practically a bet for any sport this side of the NFL.
Netflix’s original racing series, the Formula 1-themed Drive To Survive, stands out more than Full Speed. Bubba Wallace even mentioned DTS when he entered the studio for an on-camera interview. “Is this Drive To Survive?” “That moment?” he asked as he sat in front of the working camera. Tao, like yeah, “Drive to Survive.”
The difference is that “Drive to Survive” is a reality show with competitive elements, while “Full Speed” is a competitive legend with reality show elements. But Full Speed lacks the global scope of DTS.You’re in Denny Hamlin’s house, and yes, it’s a very nice house…but it’s not a yacht close to the coast MonacoThe series races from Daytona to Darlington, from Martinsville to Phoenix, all famous NASCAR locations…but they’re not Monza, Spa or Baku.
NASCAR needs to create a connection between its current drivers and its current (and future) fan base, and that’s where “Full Throttle” shines. After the necessary (and unnecessary) introduction to how these men became modern-day gladiators, risked their lives and more, we get to see the drivers of the spotlight being in their element, sometimes exulting, sometimes coping, sometimes cursing. (No, no beeps.) Tyler Reddick, Joey Logano, Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney — everyone will be in the spotlight… This can reveal more in them than they want.
Almost absent, either by design or circumstance: prominent NASCAR veterans like Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski and the retiring Kevin Haar Kevin Harvick, if you frame this as a documentary pointing toward the future of NASCAR, then it makes sense. Also missing: Chase Elliott, NASCAR’s reigning most popular driver, which may or may not be a huge deal given Elliott’s camera-taciturn nature loss. (For example, “Drive to Survive” works just fine without Max Verstappen front and center.) Other familiar characters also appear both inside and outside the story — the wife, the kids, the crew chief (Wallace The crew featured Bootie Barker (who was a standout) as well as the odd appearance or two from Michael Jordan.
Hamlin was the focus of the series — well, at least until he (spoiler) failed to make the Final Four — and it was a wise choice to make him the center of this documentary. He’s as talented as anyone who’s ever driven a car. His 51 career wins rank him 13th all-time, with only Petty and Cale Yarborough having Daytona 500 victories. But he still lacked a championship, and he knew that was a glowing neon star floating above his head, his career, his life. There’s nothing wrong with claiming no title, but even first-time viewers could see his defensive rant. Hamlin’s combination of arrogance and insecurity, superior talent and holes in his resume have made him the most fascinating driver in NASCAR and one of the most compelling stories in sports right now. His pain at missing out on another championship radiated through the screen.
That’s the key to attracting anyone to NASCAR, whether a newbie or a half-century veteran: stories. The story behind every driver on the track is what drives this sport. They may not be as cinematic as Petty’s wins because wow-feel-good like Gordon, or as exciting as Earnhardt’s, but they are stories, and the more NASCAR can figure out effective ways to tell them The better the sport will be with them.
Oh, and there’s sound. Maybe this documentary was shot during a long, cold, NASCAR-less winter, but the sight of the colorful race cars on the track and the roar of their engines leaves you feeling refreshed. You hear the sound in your chest before it hits your ears – that’s the feeling that really drives this sport. “Full Throttle” has a rumble that goes deep into your gut and should be played on the loudest sound system available. Any medium that can capture that feeling — documentaries, movies, VR games, perfume, whatever — will always have its winner.