Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Story Behind "Red Dirt Rising"

"Red Dirt Rising," a new film about the beginnings of stock car racing will make its world premiere May 15 at North Wilkesboro Speedway. A cinematic labor of love, "Red Dirt Rising" is the end result of a community of folks who love racing.  And the music video used to promote the film even features a cameo by NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson and his son Robert.

I caught up with Todd Morris, the marketing director for "Red Dirt Rising," and found out a little more about the film, where you can see it, and how the whole thing came together in the first place.

Tell me a little about the story behind “Red Dirt Rising”. How did the film come about?
"The film started with the vision of Gary Lewallen, racing legend Jimmie Lewallen's son. Jimmie is who the movie was based around. Gary grew up in a racing family and had been around many of these first legends his whole life. He realized quickly he was living in the midst of stock cars' earliest heroes and was driven to tell the story of what it was like for these first families. These first drivers never raced for money or trophies - they raced for the love of racing itself and it became a labor of love for everyone involved in making the film. This film would never have seen the light of day if it had not been for all of the support in the racing community and from the friends of Jimmie Lewallen. I'm not sure that another project will ever have as much heart behind it as 'Red Dirt Rising' does."

Why is this an important story to tell – who is your target audience?
"One of many reasons we wanted to tell this story is we want to open the eyes of many younger race fans to the fact that there was a whole generation of drivers that raced prior to NASCAR forming officially. We want them to see what drove these early legends - and why they were so passionate. We also are fulfilling the desires of many other old drivers and their families as well as old race fans to share this story as it was very similar to their own families' experiences with the history of racing."

What do you hope audiences walk away with after leaving the theater?
"We hope when they leave the movie they will have a much stronger appreciation of the first legends of racing and their families - these were the ones who paved the way to stock racing as we know it today and every last one of them, big names or small, really need to be recognized as true pioneering legends. These pioneers of racing were the initial foundation that stock car racing was built on."

What’s the release schedule for "Red Dirt Rising" ?
"Well, that question is asked often lately. We have lots of special events currently lined up to include a special fundraising screening with Racers Reunion/Love Chevrolet Columbia Speedway event on April 17th. May 15th, we have the world premiere at the North Wilkesboro Speedway. This event will be an all day at the track event for everyone to enjoy and includes the Buck Bakers Driving School day program, and then in the evening we have North Wilkesboro Speedway's first race since re-opening with the Legendary Flathead Ford' Racing Series. After the race, a live concert performance by Matt Dylan (Carolina Moonshine) and at dusk watch the movie on the track - this will be a big event and will also include cars from the movie, antique moonshine cars and many if not all of the cast and crew from the movie on hand to meet and greet and sign autographs. In June, we will be in Tennessee at the White Lightning Festival in Cumberland Gap showing the film Friday and Saturday at the Festival. We are currently in discussions with a major theater chain discussing both regional and national releases into their theaters. We are also in discussions with a distributor about releasing the DVD very soon.

How did you get Junior Johnson to do a cameo in the music video for the film?
"How did Junior get involved? Hard to be short on this question, but basically we just asked him! We asked if he and Robert (Junior's son) would like to be in a music video. We got them a copy of the song and they liked it. Carolina Moonshine mentions Junior, Lewallen and Blair (from Red Dirt Rising) in the song and they had all raced together in the past and knew each other. If anyone has met Junior then you already know how much of a gentleman he truly is and he would just about give the shirt off his back if you asked nice enough. It was an incredible experience for all of us making the video and having Junior and Robert as well as North Wilkesboro Speedway be a part of helping us to promote our movie - not to mention Junior fed all of us breakfast on his farm. We are all still talking about that!

How important is the music to this story?
"About the song and our music - we had basically finished our movie, completed, or thought we completed, the soundtrack back in the late fall and then we received a rogue e-mail from a one Matt Dylan telling us about his song about moonshine and stock cars called "Carolina Moonshine". He asked if we would be interested in using it in the film. I told him things were kinda locked up but send it anyway and I would at least share it with everyone since I was sure we would at least appreciate the song. It came in and when we heard it, it stopped us in our tracks. Matt's song truly captured how racing began. Our soundtrack includes Emmy and Grammy winning artists and songwriters and Matt's song fell right in place, so much so we got our crew and many of the race community as well as many noted, retired moonshiners and a retired state trooper together to pull off the music video shoot. It has been well received and has helped tremendously in promoting our film."

And one last note about "Red Dirt Rising" - a portion of the film and soundtrack proceeds will be donated to the Racing Legends Medical and Hardship Fund that was founded in 1991 by Jimmie Lewallen and Mike Sykes. The fund was established to assist drivers, mechanics, and team owners who qualify for assistance.


  1. The music that I've heard from this film IS NOT authentic to the period. That aspect could have been a WHOLE lot better. They mention Emmy and Grammy winning artists and songwriters. I'd like to know who they are and what they've won. What I've heard so far is amateurish.

  2. I don't think the "Carolina Moonshine" song is suppose to period. The music in the trailer sounds pretty darn period to me. Maybe you should check that out. Either way, I'm excited about seeing the movie because of the story, not the music! Can't wait until May!!!

  3. Steve, I wanted to let you know a little about the music. Music Produced by Emmy Winner Cliff Downs (12 plus Emmys).Artists on the soundtrack consist of Steve Wariner (just won another Grammy), Stephanie Bentley (wrote Breath for Faith Hill), Whisky Falls--wrote "Dale Jr.Working Man" and other similar artists on the album. The score music that was written by Cliff Downs was performed by what primarily consist of Garth Brooks Session Artist and other noted tier one level session artist.Matt Dylan recorded and produced all of his music in Nashville with an award winning producer etc.Cliff went as far as utilizing noted "Replica" Guitar and Pick-up builder Nunley Wade to acquire vintage electric guitar sounds from that era. I hope this sways your opinion of our movie and music. Best, RDR

  4. Chad, putting in a fiddle or dobro does not make the music "period." Ever heard of Hank Williams or Ernest Tubb? That music sounds nothing like them or anything from that era.

  5. RDR, all of those names are recognizable, but what are their contributions to the soundtrack? Is "Carolina Moonshine" featured in the film or just the soundtrack? What about Cliff downs, what did he win Emmys for?

    Just seems to me that a movie set in that time period should have a little more "twang" and not all of those contemporary sounds. Obviously we disagree.

  6. Steve... GET A LIFE!! its a movie trying to tell a story of how something great first started! get past the music their buddy...

  7. Sorry but music is my life. The makers of this film missed an opportunity to enhance the telling of this story.

  8. Steve,

    Thanks for your interest in the film. Just wanted to write to clarify that our intent for the film was never to create a period soundtrack exactly. We wanted to create a movie that was accessible to larger audience and unfortunately the songs from the period alienates a large percentage of the population. In doing so we made sure to reference the period, recreate the sounds from the period and do something unique with the soundtrack. I think we have accomplished that. I never wanted to replicate the sound of the period as the film is as much "Inspired from" as it is an accurate portrayal of the period. I wouldn't classify it as a missed opportunity simple because it was a conscious decision not to use the period music. That's the beauty of being the creator of a film, we get to present a different look/presentation to the audience and you decide what you like and dislike. If you are going to a film about stock-car racing and solely judging the soundtrack I think you are missing the real purpose of the film. Its a great story about family, friends and the desire to simple love life for all it is.

    On a second note, you may enjoy my next project. A story about a struggling single father musician moving to Nashville to peruse his dreams all the while raising his 13 year old daughter. The heart of this film is the music and I hope to create a film designed for music lovers such as yourself just as we aimed to do for racing fans with "RDR".

    All the best,

    James Suttles, Producer/Co-Director/DP/Editor

  9. all you losers can talk about is the music not being period? get a life you losers.