As NASA racers, we’ve all had that moment where we’re talking to a nonracer about our racing team, and they get that blank look on their face. They have absolutely no concept about what you are talking about. Inevitably they will ask you, “Is it like NASCAR?” You answer, “Sort of, but not really.”
Sometimes it’s frustrating when people just can’t grasp how exciting and dynamic our sport is. And they certainly can’t grasp the sport being about speed when you tell them you race a car like a Nissan Sentra or a Mazda Miata. “Aren’t those the cars 16-year-old girls drive to high school?” Sadly the truth is, “Yes, 16-year-old girls do cruise around in these cars. However, we have removed the stereo with the Justin Beiber CD and replaced it with the soundtrack of Toyo Tires squealing as they slide sideways at 100 mph just inches from another car.” Even with that explanation, unfortunately, the blank look remains.
I have the solution to this problem. The next time someone doesn’t understand what our racing is about, stick a DVD in their hand and tell them, “Watch this movie and all of your questions will be answered.” Which DVD should it be? “Days of Thunder”? Nope, that’s about NASCAR. “Senna”? Nope, he didn’t race a Miata. The “Fast and The Furious 12”? Please. The only way to have someone understand what your race team is about is to have a film that shows exactly what your race team is about. Every race is interesting and every team has a story. It could be about a last-minute run to the salvage yard to get that part you needed to start the race or about a last-second pass for the win. Most teams already have GoPro cameras in their cars, which means a lot of footage is already captured. All that is left to do is edit it all together and tell the story.
The best way to put together your own team’s documentary is to start with a plan. Know what you want to accomplish and what you want the final version of the film to look like, and then execute a plan to achieve your goal. First set up your GoPro cameras so you can capture the best footage possible. The technical aspects of in-car filming during races with hard-wired GoPro Cameras and I/O Port Racing Supplies’ TVC 15 Radio-Camera Interface was covered in detail in the Toolshed Engineer column of the June 2013 Speed News. Using that same setup will allow for endless in-car filming, which isn’t hindered by camera battery life and captures the audio drama of the conversations between the crew and drivers. This audio is what helps tell the story.
Telling the story is probably the hardest part of making a film about racing. Just ask Steve McQueen who made “LeMans” without an actual script. As much as watching in-car racing video is interesting to you and me, the general public gets bored with this sort of footage. There has to be more to the story. Racing has a lot of drama, but a lot of that drama is not on the track. Ensure you have cameras capturing your guys working and talking behind the scenes, in the trailer, in the motorhome and in the paddock. You’ll be surprised how much of this is pretty interesting. The rule of thumb is to film, film and then film some more. You need hours and hours of footage about nothing to ensure the camera is on when that three second moment of something interesting goes down. You will be happy you captured that shot.
Once you have hours and hours of footage your next task will be to edit the footage down to a watchable length. Shorter is better. As much as you might think so, you’re not J.J. Abrams yet, therefore you don’t get to make a three-hour racing epic. Most computers come with some version of film-editing software. The most simplistic would be Windows Movie Maker with the most complicated being Adobe Premiere.
Mac nerds will be huffing and puffing about their favorite software here, but I am talking about making this film on a reasonable budget. If you’re not a computer guru or a creative genius then go find one to help you put the film together. You are looking for a film student or an aspiring director who needs a project to complete for his or her resumé. These sorts of people can be found still living with their parents.
As you create your racing masterpiece, besides cool shots of cars spinning off of the track, ensure your film takes care of the people who take care of you, your sponsors and your crew. Handing a completed DVD of your racing team showing product placement to a sponsor will go a long way to ensuring you get another case of Royal Purple Oil. Letting your crew star in your film will make sure they come back to the track to freeze their butts off and bust their knuckles at 3 o’clock in the morning to help you finish the race.
Once you have filmed a hundred hours worth of stuff, ensured your editor spelled your sponsor’s name correctly in the credits and then shortened the film down to a watchable length, you need to get the film out to the public. In the digital age we live in, it is simple to distribute video footage with YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. If you’re not sure where to start, just ask your teenager what they are looking at on their iPhone and make sure your video hits those targets.
One of the complications with YouTube is licensing issues. If you use the song “Battery,” by Metallica during a cool crash montage in your YouTube video, chances are the video won’t be up on YouTube for very long. The guys in Metallica want their money and you haven’t paid to use their song. Therefore the video gets dropped. So you need to make a careful decision about the music you choose for the film, or skip YouTube altogether and make a DVD you can hand to your friends that circumvents the licensing issue. Just make sure nobody gives Lars Ulrich from Metallica a copy, because I guarantee you his lawyer will be calling very soon.
If you do decide to go the DVD route, then you will need to create packaging for the disc. This includes a cover for the DVD case and a label for the disc. Blank printable versions of all this stuff are commercially available. This added component will help your DVD to stand out from just a blank rewritable disc labeled by scribbling in Sharpie “Nationals Race.” If you have a friend or co-worker who is skilled in Photoshop, have him or her create a professional cover for the DVD. The more time you spend making the production look professional in terms of editing and packaging, the more you will get out of the hard work. Create something you would be proud to hand to a prospective new sponsor. Show them you are a team they want to be a part of. Even if that doesn’t come to fruition, you’ll have a DVD you can give to your cousin who just can’t seem to understand, no matter how many times you explain it to him, what kind of racing you are involved in.
During the 2012 running of the 25 Hours of Thunderhill, we put the above plan into action. We chose to film everything we could and then created our own documentary about the 25 Hour experience. The end result was a film titled “Double Down.” This production was not done with a $30,000 budget or a professional film crew, although, in my opinion, the end result appears like a lot of money was spent. In reality, “Double Down” was created with six GoPro Hero cameras, an aspiring film maker (yes, he still lives with his parents), and a guy who is awesome at Photoshop. The process was time consuming — 10 months to be exact — but when it was done, we created a 77-minute documentary film to help explain to the world what The 25 Hours of Thunderhill is all about. We had a crew appreciation party and showed the film to our friends, and then we put it on DVD and made it available on Amazon.com. It was a lot of hard work, but no matter what happens with racing in the future, we will always have the film to remind us of the longest night of our lives.
Once you have created your masterpiece of racing film, create a short trailer for the video to go on YouTube. This way you can spread the word about your little creation and reach as many people as possible.