Se­ries sure to de­light fans

Team Hen­drick glad to be part of doc­u­men­tary

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Brant James @ bran­t­james USA TO­DAY Sports

A new doc­u­men­tary will pull back the veil on how Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports con­ducts its ev­ery­day busi­ness. The team is thrilled and hopes fans will be, too.

Film­ing of the doc­u­men­tary wrapped al­most a year ago. Film­ing of a se­quel — if there is to be one — could be­gin with Hen­drick driv­ers and crewmem­bers watch­ing Road to Race Day to­gether for the first time. It would be a won­der­ful team- build­ing ex­er­cise, as the un­var­nished and im­age- chal­leng­ing doc­u­men­tary prom­ises new an­gles on one of NASCAR’s most suc­cess­ful teams for fans and em­ploy­ees.

Directed by Cyn­thia Hill, the eight- part doc­u­men­tary will be­gin stream­ing Wed­nes­day on Com­plex Net­works’ Rated Red, avail­able on go90. It chron­i­cles Hen­drick’s 2016 Mon­ster En­ergy NASCAR Cup sea­son, no­table for Dale Earn­hardt Jr.’ s re­cur­rence of con­cus­sions and Chase El­liott’s as­cent to re­place four- time se­ries cham­pion Jeff Gor­don in the No. 24 Chevro­let.

Hill, a North Carolina film­maker with a self- de­scribed de­sire to probe iconic South­ern sub­jects and the stereo­types they elicit, ap­proached HMS with an idea for the project in Oc­to­ber 2015. She was shocked, she said, with the im­me­di­ate in­ter­est from HMS vice pres­i­dent of mar­ket­ing Pat Perkins.

Perkins told USA TO­DAY Sports that the or­ga­ni­za­tion had been ex­plor­ing such a project since 2011 to sat­isfy a fan de­sire for “real, be­hind- the- scenes con­tent,” and the project crys­tal­lized around an ef­fort to show­case the team’s his­tory and the launch of El­liott’s Cup ca­reer.

Hill retained com­plete edi­to­rial con­trol, she said, and HMS placed few re­stric­tions on ac­cess, other than re­serv­ing the right to redact scenes that might com­pro­mise trade se­crets or spon­sor re­la­tion­ships.

On a few oc­ca­sions, she said, per­son­nel bucked at her pres­ence, with Earn­hardt crew chief Greg Ives ask­ing for more pri­vacy at In­di­anapo­lis Mo­tor Speed­way and Jim­mie John­son crew chief Chad Knaus clear­ing the room on a few oc­ca­sions.

El­liott crew chief Alan Gustafson said he ac­cli­mated quickly, though he oc­ca­sion­ally had to ex­plain to dis­con­certed friends why a boom mi­cro­phone was dan­gling nearby.

“Say­ing they were part of the team maybe takes it a bit too far,” he said of the film crew. “But they were around so much and you in­ter­acted with them so much, it was very sec­ond na­ture.”

Hill said she had been alerted to the au­thor­i­tar­ian ten­den­cies of Knaus, who quickly learned to de­ac­ti­vate his mi­cro­phone when he de­sired pri­vacy.

“He could have kicked us out, and we’d have no con­tent from them,” Hill said, not­ing she even­tu­ally got much more from Knaus than ex­pected. “You’re tip­toe­ing around, mak­ing sure you’re OK, so you stay back a lit­tle bit. … But as a film­maker, your in­stinct is to press.”

Gustafson’s com­fort was ap­par­ent in crit­i­cal in­ter­ac­tions with his rookie driver at Day­tona In­ter­na­tional Speed­way, as be­hind- the- scenes seg­ments un­der­scored a tense en­vi­ron­ment.

“Part of me ( thinks) it was the worst time to do ( the doc­u­men­tary) but also the best time to do it,” Gustafson said. “Worst for us, but re­ally the best to give peo­ple the real im­age of what goes on in those sit­u­a­tions. If it went on again, you’d see a much more re­fined re­la­tion­ship and how it’s grown in a dif­fer­ent dy­namic.”

The dy­namic with NASCAR of­fi­cials also was in­ter­est­ing. Dur­ing one in­ter­ac­tion with a NASCAR of­fi­cial af­ter El­liott wrecked in the Day­tona 500, Gustafson as­serts he would “lose ( his ex­ple­tive)” if a re­pair he wasn’t al­lowed to make showed up on other cars.

Gustafson and in­te­rior me­chanic Jor­dan Allen said they were con­cerned with the pre­sen­ta­tion in that view­ers might con­strue raw com­ments be­tween team mem­bers as ma­li­cious rather than the prod­uct of themes trac­ing back years into their ten­ure.

“A lot of peo­ple don’t get our hu­mor, but it works with the peo- ple who we work with,” Allen said. “It seems like the 24 guys hate each other, but it’s not true.”

The se­ries con­cludes at In­di­anapo­lis with an episode orig­i­nally slated to fo­cus on Kasey Kahne. In­stead, it was dom­i­nated by re­tired Gor­don re­plac­ing Earn­hardt in the No. 88 Chevro­let af­ter a re­cur­rence of con­cus­sions that even­tu­ally cost him the sec­ond half of the sea­son.

“I couldn’t see not cov­er­ing that,” Hill said. “It felt like a gift from God, when that fell in our laps. And we were al­lowed to go and fol­low Jeff Gor­don.”

There are no in­ter­views or seg­ments de­voted to Earn­hardt af­ter his di­ag­no­sis be­cause his episodes had been shot in the spring. Also, Hill said, HMS was hes­i­tant to ac­com­mo­date film­ing dur­ing the play­offs.

At its best, the film is re­veal­ing per­son­al­ity and pro­vid­ing a plat­form to crew­men who are other­wise name­less men in iden­ti­cal clothes at­tend­ing to cars.

The com­fort level at­tained by the team mem­bers as cam­era crews be­came reg­u­lar parts of their land­scape pro­vided re­veal­ing mo­ments, from gripes — a tire car­rier com­plain­ing about his grade on a pit stop — to edgy of­fice ban­ter — Allen mock­ing spot­ter Ed­die D’Hondt for repris­ing John­son’s call to El­liott not to be­come “dis­cour­aged” over the team ra­dio at Day­tona.

There are also pin­holes into the anx­i­ety of those with anony­mous but im­per­a­tive roles.

In an episode de­tail­ing the be­gin­ning of Earn­hardt’s sea­son, in- terior me­chanic Adam Jor­dan, who is re­spon­si­ble for safety gear such as seat belts and the in­stal­la­tion of the steer­ing wheel, laments:

“The prob­lem is — and you try not to think about it — if some­thing hap­pens, it’s not like a group of 80 guys are go­ing to be the only ones that know. If I make a mis­take in here, mil­lions of peo­ple are gonna know.”

Later in the episode, Earn­hardt was forced to mo­men­tar­ily con­trol his car un­der cau­tion at Tal­ladega Su­per­speed­way by grip­ping the steer­ing col­umn when the wheel dis­con­nected. The driver later ab­sorbed re­spon­si­bil­ity for the mishap.

Fan vignettes are in­ter­spersed, with ex­pected die- hard- comesto- see- fa­vorite- driver mon­tages and clips of Tal­ladega Boule­vard rev­elry giv­ing way to more il­lu­mi­nat­ing mo­ments.

Fans ac­cus­tomed to the glossy Hen­drick per­sona will be jarred and en­thralled by the in­ter­ac­tions that oc­cur far from au­to­graph lines. Break­ing: Adults in pres­sur­ized en­vi­ron­ments swear a lot.

“I curse a lot,” said Allen, who is a fre­quent sub­ject in the se­ries.

Hill called the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s will­ing­ness to al­low co­pi­ous amounts of adult lan­guage “re­ally brave.”

“This is so for­eign for us to see this hu­man side,” Hill added. “To their credit, ( HMS) em­braced it and said they were will­ing to take that chance to let an au­di­ence see some things where they are not so pol­ished.”

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