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From Moonshine To Major Sports
To capture the full breadth of the NASCAR experience, the producers tapped Simon Wincer, the accomplished director of drama, action, sports and westerns, to helm IMAX's high-octane NASCAR documentary. In addition to directing the blockbuster family adventure Free Willy and the Emmy-winning epic television miniseries Lonesome Dove, Wincer had recently completed production on his first live-action film in the 15/70 format, The Young Black Stallion. "Besides bringing his great directing talent and enthusiasm to our project,” says producer Doug Hylton, "we knew from Simon's experience on The Young Black Stallion that he was not only quite adept at filming action, he would infuse NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience with a humanity one usually doesn't find in an action movie, while taking advantage of everything the IMAX technology has to offer.”

As part of his preparation for filming the ambitious documentary, "I got myself a library of books about NASCAR covering the history of the sport up to present day,” says Wincer, whose extensive NASCAR research included studying videos of all of the 2002 races, as well as coverage of key races over the last two decades. "I really got a feel for the sport and the way that it's emerged in the last eight to ten years in particular.”

At the outset of the film, NASCAR 3D: The IMAX Experience travels back in time to briefly illustrate the history of stock car racing, following the sport's evolution from humble beginnings to the empire it is today. Racing legend Junior Johnson's trajectory from brash whiskey runner to winner of 50 NASCAR stock car racing titles partly inspired the film's opening narrative sequence. "I wanted to come up with a way to address the roots of the sport and get us up to 2004 very quickly,” Wincer explains. "I devised this chase sequence through the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, where guys used to run moonshine.”

Wincer elaborates on the origins of stock car racing: "There was nothing illegal about the moonshine, but the bootleggers didn't pay tax on the liquor. These guys basically built cars to outrun the IRS and the law. That's why they became so good at racing, because they built cars with strong suspensions that could slide around on dirt roads in the mountains at night with no lights and outrun the police.”

Shot prior to the race at Bristol, the Moonshine sequence is set in 1949 and features two daredevil bootleggers who out-drive, out-maneuver and outwit a pair of frustrated cops who unsuccessfully give chase. The driving that powers this spectacular pursuit was performed by stunt drivers – two of whom are veterans of The Dukes of Hazzard television series stunt team – and two of the hottest NASCAR drivers of the 2003 season, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson, who portray the bootleggers. "When the production team was applying the artificial sideburns to my face,” recalls Newman, the 2002 Raybestos Rookie of the Year who plays navigator to Johnson's driver, "Simon said to me, ‘You think this is cool? Just wait ‘til you see those sideburns on the IMAX screen, because they'll be 20 feet tall!'”

"The footage we shot of Ryan and Jimmie is just incredible,” enthuses director of photography James Neihouse. "You could tell they were enjoying themselves. Any chance they get to drive without rules, they have a good time.”

As a nod to the fans and everyone associated with NASCAR, the filmmakers added a surprise to the end of the sequence: when the police car spins out in a cloud of dust as the triumphant bootleggers race away, the cop driving the car is revealed to be none other than Mike Helton, President of NASCAR, and his "duputy” is played by Gary Nelson, NASCAR's Managing Director of Competition.

"It's a neat twist for fans and people inside the sport,” says Jimmie Johnson, the 2003 series runner-up.

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