Off-track drama is as interesting as the high-speed racing in “Dirt,” journalist Jeff Bowden’s promising debut as a documentarian. Neither smugly condescending nor excessively celebratory, pic offers nonjudgmental look at blue-collar racing fanatics who spend thousands of dollars on souped-up cars to compete for hundreds of dollars in prizes at the Devil’s Bowl Speedway in Mesquite, Texas. After a few laps through the fest circuit and cable networks, doc should enjoy long shelf life as special-interest DVD.
Bowden follows several colorful competitors during 2002 season of World Class Street Stocks, a dirt-track competition level several rungs below NASCAR. The working-class racers must pinch pennies — and, if lucky, attract sponsors — to maintain their hobby. The intensity of their devotion is indicated by one supportive wife who describes her husband’s beloved car, only half-jokingly, as a romantic rival. A more conventional triangle gradually emerges after Andy Jones (vet driver who repeatedly views “Days of Thunder” for inspiration) allows his wife Gayla to race on her own in a car sponsored by a male “friend.” “Dirt” smoothly incorporates different film and vid formats to present a richly detailed picture.