Set against Dixon’s 2017 IndyCar season with snippets and key moments from nearly every race, the film begins with the Indy 500, where Dixon crashed in horrifying style. What follows are the challenges and triumphs on his way to another points title. When not using in-car camera footage and bits from televised broadcasts, the movie crew beautifully filmed segments from various races. With intimate interviews from his racing crew, teammates, friends, and family, Born Racer also incorporates home-movie footage where viewers see the New Zealand–born driver racing as a child with skill and precision way beyond his age.
What Born Racer does so well is to take the audience inside the loud, chaotic moments of an IndyCar race. Rather than focusing on what Dixon does better than most in the sport, fuel strategy and precision performance, the film instead emphasizes the lap-by-lap, second-by-second decisions of his team of engineers, tire specialists, and pit crew. While the driver’s execution is important—and in Dixon’s case he’s a machine of a human driving a machine—the importance of a strong supporting cast is elevated to equal consequence.
Make no mistake about it, Dixon is the central character in the film about a male-dominated sport. However, the movie truly radiates when the women on team Dixon are the focus, most notably Emma Davies-Dixon, Scott’s wife, and assistant team engineer, Kate Gundlach. The film shifts between white-knuckle action sequences and candid off-the-track moments between the driver and his crew, while an underlying tension is always present: The stakes are high, and mistakes can be deadly. Davis-Dixon knows her husband’s life can be cut short at any moment, and admits that before every race, she fears it’s “her turn.” Appropriately, the film recalls the 2011 death of driver Dan Wheldon, a close friend of Dixon’s, at an IndyCar race in Las Vegas. That Wheldon’s widow Susie was at the world-premiere screening of the film proves that those in the sport are members of a tight-knit family. “We live to race,” says Dixon’s team owner, Chip Ganassi. “There is nothing else.”
The film is directed by Bryn Evans and produced by New Zealander Matthew Metcalfe, who recently scored with another racing documentary, McClaren, about the life of his fellow countryman, racer Bruce McClaren. Gearheads will no doubt go gaga for the film, especially when given access to the shy yet stoically serious Dixon. However, Born Racer’s measure of success will depend on how it captures the attention of viewers not deeply involved in racing or its culture. Those casual fans should take a chance on the film, for it truly is a glorious ride.