Universal taps Winter to write racing film

Gary Ross has made a deal with Universal Pictures to develop and direct an untitled drama set against the world of NASCAR racing.

Script is being written by Terence Winter, the “Sopranos” exec producer who most recently adapted “The Wolf of Wall Street” for Martin Scorsese at Warner Bros.

NASCAR has agreed to cooperate, so Ross will be able to use the circuit’s tracks and footage of actual races and drivers, as well as shoot scenes during races.

Pic will be produced by Ross, Scott Stuber, Mary Parent and Jimmy Miller in a co-production between their Larger Than Life, Stuber/Parent and Mosaic Media Group banners.

Miller, who developed relationships with NASCAR when he secured the circuit’s cooperation on “Talladega Nights,” was instrumental in bringing NASCAR into the fold.

After devising ways to make horse racing look compelling in “Seabiscuit,” Ross aims with to capture in this pic the visceral energy and danger in car racing. Ross hatched the story after he became hooked on NASCAR culture while he spent time in Mississippi researching and writing “The Free State of Jones,” the next film he’ll direct for Universal.

The NASCAR drama will focus on an up-and-coming driver who scratches his way into the circuit and develops a mentor/rival relationship with the driver he grew up idolizing. The dynamic is made more complex because the vet racer’s son drives for his father’s team.

“You couldn’t make this film without NASCAR, and getting them involved at the start provides an enormous canvas,” Ross told Daily Variety. “I used blow-up dolls for crowd scenes in ‘Seabiscuit,’ but that won’t be necessary in a sport where there are 150,000 fans in the stands every Sunday.”

“The race scenes are only interesting if they reflect the tension and conflict that is occurring between the characters, and you can do a lot with emotions that are being played out at 200 mph,” Ross said. “The other benefit of NASCAR is it’s the rare sport that is conducive to a generational competition.”

Ross intends to next direct “The Free State of Jones,” a pic about rebellion set in Mississippi during the Civil War and Reconstruction.

Ross recently completed the animated “The Tale of Despereaux,” which he wrote and produced with wife Allison Thomas. Universal bows the film on Dec. 19.

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