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Moonshine and Racing Take Center Stage in "Red Dirt Rising"
May 20, 2010

NC indie plays May 21-26 in Greensboro

If you catch the local premiere of "Red Dirt Rising,'' the homegrown film about early stock-car racing, you'll hear it started all with the mason jar.

Or really what they call "devil juice.'' Moonshine.

The film's two real-life characters, Bill Blair Sr. and Jimmie Lewallen, ran moonshine in mason jars through the rural roads that stretched through Guilford and Randolph counties right before World War II.

And that racing through the woods, trying to escape anyone in a uniform, planted the seed that started stock-car racing, what we now know as NASCAR, the second-most-watched sport in the world.

Now, "Red Dirt Rising'' doesn't have enough daring moonshine runs or enough stock-car racing to satisfy the casual racing fan, and the dialogue at times comes off a little too Hallmark, a little too Lifetime Television.

Still, "Red Dirt Rising'' is a valiant effort. Gary Lewallen, the retired police chief of Archdale, rounded up 58 local investors and raised $600,000 to put together a film that honored his father Jimmie and the other icons of stock-car racing.

And Gary Lewallen had never done a movie before.

He and most everyone else involved calls North Carolina home, both in front and behind the camera. And along the way, they all learned how to stretch a dollar and pull in favors.

The result: a beautifully shot film that's a time capsule of the rural South, the racing South seen in places vanished from today's landscape.

In the film, you'll recognize some of the faces. Winston-Salem native Burgess Jenkins ("Remember the Titans") plays Blair, and High Point native Austin Carty of "Survivor'' plays legendary driver Curtis Turner -- with slicked-back hair.

Meanwhile, actor Brad Yoder -- a graduate of Andrews High, Class of '89 -- plays Jimmie Lewallen with R. Keith Harris ("Junebug'') portraying a racing promoter patterned after the man known as "Big Bill.''

That's Bill France Sr., the man who co-founded NASCAR.

Meanwhile, there are some directing chops behind the camera, with co-directors Kathleen "Bo'' Bobak and James Suttles.

Suttles, who lives in western North Carolina, comes from the documentary side of filmmaking, and Bobak has worked on such films as "Titanic,'' "South of Heaven'' and "Minority Report.''

But really the stars of "Red Dirt Rising'' are the cars. They are just beautiful, these Flathead Fords borrowed from the Legendary Flathead Ford Racing Association.

These machines barrel around a dirt track built to look like High Point's former Tri-City Speedway. The track was created a few miles from I-85 on the last working farm in Archdale, a 300-acre tract of land that became the backdrop for much of the film.

"Red Dirt Rising'' was four years in the making, and like any homegrown production, there was a worry if the film could even get made.

But it was. And we're better for it.

As "Red Dirt Rising'' starts its six-day run at the Carousel Luxury Cinemas, the film will now be mentioned in the same breath as those locally produced films that made a splash nationwide and worldwide.

The names? "Cabin Fever,'' "Junebug,'' "Leatherheads'' and "George Washington.''

Now, add another to the list -- "Red Dirt Rising,'' a film about running "devil juice'' and so much more.

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