Heart Like A Wheel is a surprisingly fine biopic of Shirley Muldowney, the first professional female race car driver. What could have been a routine good ol’ gal success story has been heightened into an emotionally involving, superbly made drama.
Winning prolog as pa Hoyt Axton letting his little daughter take the wheel of his speeding sedan, an indelible experience which prefigures Shirley, by the mid-1950s, winning drag races against the hottest rods in town.
Happily married to her mechanic husband Jack and with a young son, Shirley finds her innate ability compelling her, by 1966, to enter her first pro race. Roadblocked at first by astonished, and predictably sexist, officials, Shirley proceeds to set the track record in her qualifying run, and her career is underway.
But her husband ultimately can’t take her career-mindedness, and she’s forced to set out on her own.
Director Jonathan Kaplan has served a long apprenticeship but nothing he has done before prepares one for his mature, accomplished work here.