I come from the heart of NASCAR country, and I have a lot of race memories going back a good quarter of a century now. I love racing, but I really haven't been able to watch it since that black day when Dale Earnhardt lost his life at Daytona; I doubt I'll ever be able to watch another Daytona 500 as long as I live. Still, I'd love to get past the loss of the Man in Black and make NASCAR a part of my Sunday rituals once again. That's the main reason I decided to watch NASCAR: The IMAX Experience. Of course, I have only seen it in the privacy of my own home, so I can't speak to the actual IMAX theatre experience. It's a good show, but I guess I was just expecting a little bit more out of it.
The main limitation of the film is its length; you can only say so much about the rich history of NASCAR in forty-eight minutes. There's a decent look at the origins of the sport, but most of the historical attention is placed on a select few superstars of years past. The behind-the-scenes look at the way cars are built and maintained is excellent, but many of the really technical aspects of car design are not covered - you'll get a quick picture of the way drafting works, but pushing and pulling, for example, aren't covered at all. You do get a good sense of the time and expense that goes in to making each and every race happen, though. Pit crews and spotters are given their due, and rightly so, and you also get a small taste of tail-gating and driver interaction with the public. That interaction goes a long way toward making NASCAR the fan success it is. You also get to hear from a few wives who bear the tough burden of being married to a driver, and this discussion easily spills over into a discussion of safety. Several drivers also make comments throughout the film, but all too often, the actual driver is not identified - if you can't recognize the voice, you won't know who is speaking on several occasions. I thought the selection of driver comments was also too limited, as some big names are left out entirely. The big thrills supposedly come from the IMAX footage of on-the-track action, but there's nothing all that special about the footage outside of an IMAX theatre setting. Frankly, I don't think the non-3D experience matches the footage you can see on your own television set come the next race Sunday.
If you're an established NASCAR fan, you may not get all that much out of NASCAR: The IMAX Experience, although you will surely find it enjoyable. Those new to the sport, however, can get a good sense of the excitement and enthusiasm the sport generates among its fans. You won't feel the thunder of the engines in your gut, though. Nothing, not even NASCAR: The IMAX Experience, compares to the excitement generated on any given race day.