Next week marks the first NASCAR-themed documentary released in theaters in nearly three years, as Utopia Films’ Rowdy will have a one-night only showing on June 29.
I had the chance to view a screener of the film ahead of its release and chat with Chance Wright, head producer on the Kyle Busch documentary as well as the owner and founder of Wright Productions Entertainment. Wright discussed the production at length, his relationship with Busch and the two-time Cup champion’s initial reaction to and involvement with the film.
Screening around the country, the film follows Busch’s journey to the pinnacle of NASCAR, focusing on his 2015 comeback season after a horrific injury at Daytona International Speedway. It also documents his journey to the Cup Series as well as the years that followed his first title.
Rowdy is an uncensored look at the man behind the wheel of the No. 18 Toyota and includes interviews with Busch’s family, including his parents, brother Kurt and wife Samantha; competitors including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon and owners Rick Hendrick and Joe Gibbs. Reporters Jamie Little and Marty Smith, among others, also make appearances.
The following is an edited version of the interview; Part 2 of this feature article will follow the film’s release.
Adam Cheek, Frontstretch: Where did you guys come from in terms of your interest in racing? Were you into racing, were the directors and how did this idea come about as a whole?
Chance Wright: So I’ve been associated with racing and NASCAR for a long time, and I’ve known Kyle for a number of years before we made this documentary. So I was familiar with racing, familiar with NASCAR, kind of knew Kyle and his personality and things like that and a little bit of his history. And the 2015 season was so monumental, in terms of a comeback story in racing and sports alone, so we always knew that there was a story around that. […] We knew we wanted to make something about Kyle because of his polarizing personality, and there’s so much of that love-hate relationship that people have with him. And [also] kind of the idea that [with] the fans, if you do love him, you really love him, and people are all in and 100%. And if you don’t like him at all, then you hate him. [He’s] such a drastic figure within the racing community.
And then, furthermore, the 2015 season, when Kyle broke both of his legs and went through his recovery, […] we were all kind of blown away when Kyle was just like, “Oh, yeah, no, I’ll see you guys in 11 weeks, I’ll be back in 11 weeks.’ […] Like, ‘as long as I can shift, I’ll be alright.’ We’re like, okay, but at the same time, is he going to recover, is he going to come back?[…] With Kyle, it was interesting. He came back with this fire and this energy and then just started winning races. And once he won one, he then started winning everything, and it was this massive flip in the racing mindset and attitude that he had. Not that he didn’t like to win before, but it was like the necessity to win versus the desire to win. And he really just accelerated it in a way that year and continued to hold that level of competitiveness, you see it in 2016 and ’17 and ’18 when he was in the [playoffs], he was top five, top 10 every year. […] And then in 2019 was another one of those years where it just clicked together and he had an incredible season. I think part of 2019 and the following years, we talk about it a little bit in the documentary, but there was always that racing community that was like, ‘Yeah, you did win a championship,’ but there was always an asterisk because it was, ‘You won a championship, but you missed half the year or a quarter of the year.’ So I think highlighting the 2015 season seemed appropriate in the documentary, because it was such a pivotal moment in his racing career that really propelled him to a different level, and he maintained that level consistently. […] And now you look at this season with the new cars and the track schedules and things like that — he’s had a win, but a lot of drivers are struggling, there’s a lot of new drivers coming up, and I think that there’s new challenges and new things that he’s going to face. I think in the next 10 years, when he finishes out his career, we’re going to see a different Kyle over those next 10 years, especially as his son Brexton gets more into racing and he starts to shift his focus more towards his family and those priorities alongside his racing career.
Cheek: Kyle did say at the end of the doc that this is part one, that he’s still got another chapter ahead of him. When you approached or mentioned the idea of doing a documentary to him, what was his reaction?
Wright: It’s funny, we’d go back and forth. So I’ll call Kyle up, and I remember the first time we initially talked about a documentary kind of style film to him, and he was like, ‘Why? Why would anyone want to watch this? Why would anyone want to — why am I going to do this?’ Because filmmaking and documentary filmmaking is intrusive, we come into someone’s life, we poke and prod at times that aren’t necessarily fun to be interviewed and have questions asked that raise emotions, we’re trying to elicit those interactions and reactions.
I remember we were at the Vegas track [Las Vegas Motor Speedway] and it was early, early on in the documentary. This is before the COVID-19 lockdowns, this is in 2020, the second race of the year, whatever. I was there along with the film crew, and we’re just getting some behind the scenes; it’s Kyle’s hometown, and we were gonna initially go shoot some of his house he grew up in, footage and things like that and interview him there.
And he didn’t do well in the race, and it was the Xfinity race. And he gets back to his hauler, and we’re like, ‘Hey, Kyle, we just need a quick interview, what happened, blah, blah, blah.’ And he throws down his bags, he goes, ‘What the fuck do you want?’ He’s irritated. He’s irritated by the fact that he didn’t win, he didn’t do as well as he wanted. And he wears his heart on his sleeve, and he wears his emotions on his sleeve, he’s going to tell you what he thinks. And it was always interesting, trying to get his mindset around the fact that it’s a documentary, it’s going to take some time.
We originally started this process in the end of 2019, beginning of 2020, and here we are releasing mid-2022. COVID definitely had a huge impact on that, so the way that we started making this was we partnered with NASCAR initially off the bat, because there’s so much historical footage that we use from the NASCAR archives. Working with NASCAR has been a really, really big pleasure, they’ve been super helpful [with archival footage, broadcast clips and access].[…] So I think when we originally approached Kyle, he was a little hesitant. He didn’t know if a lot of people would want to see it. He didn’t know if a lot of people would respond in a way that was worth his time to make the film. And we originally explored this from a multi-part series — the Jordan documentary [Last Dance] had just come out, so we were looking at that, and we were looking at some other documentaries, there was talk about Bubba’s [Wallace] film [Race] and what was going on with that. […] But when we looked at, holistically, all the racing documentaries out there, there wasn’t really anything that covered kind of NASCAR racing for the NASCAR racing fan, and but also kind of approached it as what does it actually take to be a NASCAR racer, right? […] The typical American, they may know a couple of names, they may know a little bit about the sport, but they really don’t know the nuances of really how hard it is to do it. I think that this documentary also takes the sports person’s perspective, if you’re not a NASCAR fan, if you’re just a sports fan […] in general, it kind of gives you like an idea of a look into what it takes to be an athlete in the NASCAR realm.
I think it’s really interesting, because we’ve had people who aren’t NASCAR fans, weren’t associated with NASCAR, both working on it and who have seen it since, and they were like, ‘Yeah, this is a great documentary because it isn’t [that] if you don’t know NASCAR, you can’t watch it.’ You can watch it even if you have no prior knowledge of NASCAR, no prior knowledge of racing, because it’s a sports documentary.
Cheek: You guys certainly touch on both sides of Kyle, and you took the uncensored route, much like Kyle himself. You have the uncensored radio and the unblurred middle fingers at Texas Motor Speedway from 2010, all of that stuff. Was there a debate whether you wanted it to be censored or not, or did you want to let him lay it all out there?
Wright: I think that initially it was kind of discussed a little bit, but the reality of Kyle and of NASCAR in general is if we did censor it, and we did kind of make it the PC version of the film that we made, it would have felt fake. Because it’s not what happened, right? I mean, Kyle did flick the middle finger to an official in Texas, and that was a huge deal, that made national news. It made sports news, people were really polarized.
So Kyle remembers that, and it’s ingrained and imprinted in him, that whenever he wrecks his car, he’s physically angry, not at — I mean, sometimes he takes it out on other people just because they’re the person that says something and he snaps back at them reactively. But I think he’s more angry with himself in those instances and more angry in the situation. But it’s such a heavy emotional situation for him, both when he wins and when he loses, that going back to the unadulterated version was really the best way to approach it, because it really is who he is.
I think that it’s important to show who he is and let the viewer form their own opinion. Some people will see this and go, ‘Yeah, that’s the Kyle Busch I see on TV and stuff, and I still don’t like him, but I kind of understand him. I understand why he does some of the things he does, I understand why he says some of the things he does or the way he races.’ And maybe he’ll gain some respect from his colleagues and fellow racers. And maybe he won’t, that’s their decision to do that or not. But I hope that a lot of the sports community and the NASCAR community will watch this and at least have an open mind about what Kyle has to say.[…] A lot of people don’t know Kyle, and don’t really know who he is, they just know him on the track or the way that he races them.
Cheek: Blink of an Eye, like you mentioned earlier, was released a similar way through Fathom Events in 2019. What’s the process like of securing a release through Fathom, and what’s the release process for streaming?
Wright: We’re working with our distributor, Utopia Media. They’ve been fantastic to work with, great partners on the project and really embraced the project. The Fathom Events team, it’s an interesting approach to theatrical events, right? A lot of documentaries don’t ever get a theatrical run.
So I think being able to watch this on the big screen, it will provide the real kind of “oomph” that it deserves. […] I hope that we can bring some of the high-octane, loud noises and the screeching of the tires and the crunching of the metal and really bring to life how exciting and how fun NASCAR is. […] Being able to bring it to the silver screen and to the theatrical screen, hopefully, is going to bring the viewer into the mindset of not only is this a real film and a feature film, but also bring them into the experience of NASCAR a little bit, bring them into the the experience of racing and provide a little bit of that aspect of the high-octane experience.
In terms of the process of working with Fathom, our distributor Utopia set up a lot of that for us, so they kind of negotiate the deal and then Fathom, they go out to the theaters and they gauge some of the interest and they do some of the testing, and then — now we’re in the process of selling tickets and making sure that those theaters are full as much as possible. Obviously, if it does really well at Fathom [with] the June 29 premiere, then there’s a possibility that it may do a second Fathom theatrical run, so there’s always the opportunity to possibly do it again, which would be great.[…] In terms of the larger viewership and the streaming, a lot of those deals are still coming together. We’re still fairly early in the process, we have yet to premiere so I think when we get the initial premiere in Nashville set and get through the weekend, and then the Fathom event happens and all of that, by that time we should have a much better anticipation of where this is going to be shown on a streaming platform going forward. Hopefully, it’ll be one of the major platforms [on] which the larger viewership of the United States in the world can go and see it for themselves, as well as the fans.
I think there’s going to be the possibility of some future showings actually at NASCAR races, at tracks like on a Friday night or a Saturday night, there might be the opportunity to see it at the track. So definitely keep your ear to the ground on that one, because there might be something coming out, hopefully soon, about some of those opportunities as well.
Rowdy hits theaters for a one-night-only event June 29. Tickets can be found on its page at the Fathom Events website.
About the author
Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.