When a deliberate teen saunters up to you in the pits and earnestly declares, "I wanna be the first impo racer in Top Fuel," you better believe it.
Why? Because you'll know he absorbed the hot new drag racing movie Born to Race, a modern coming-of-age in the eyes of high-schooler Danny Krueger, profoundly played by rising star Joseph Cross.
A conflicted, perplexed young man is not new – many of us, older still, have those afflictions – but Krueger is battling bullying, divorcing, wrecking, moving, loving and best of them all, racing drags.
If ever a kid has reason to fail, he does. He blows an opportunity of a lifetime wrecking his sponsor's dragster in an illegal street race, and then is given the boot by a spitting-nails Ali Afshar, "What you did was stupid."
Afshar is much kinder as the movie's producer.
Krueger is then sent to live with the divorced dad. "You're gonna send me to live with a guy I havn't seen in five years!" His face, torn with consternation, rips at one's own thoughts of having lived those times in different circumstances maybe, but where the path is similar: rocky, rutted, and rugged.
Yet, the film has fun, with humor keeping the plot zipping along.
Cross finds this starring role after following in the footsteps of Sean Penn's Milk, where he brought Milk's campaign manager, Dick Pabich, to life. In the earlier Clint Eastwood-directed Flags of Our Fathers, he played Kentuckian Franklin Sousley, the second-from-the-left in the infamous Iwo Jima photo of the six soldiers hoisting the flag.
In Born to Race, he is tested as a young man who visibly ages as he comes of age in the company of ... his dad.
Frank Krueger, a reformed drunk, has his own nemesis, auto-parts magnate Jimmy Kendall, who thinks just bolting on parts can make his son, Jake, the bully smacking Danny around, a true racer.
Any fan walking around the NHRA pits can tell you that he is not going to win the finals. Just ask 15-time Funny Car champion John Force.
Krueger puts his adversary in a tizzy when telling him, arm hanging out the window at a stop sign, "... It's another thing all together to understand how (those parts) all work together." He sticks his hot rod out in front of the '56 Chevy in their impromptu race on a midday suburban street, paralleling their son's night-time screaming, smoky duals.
John Pyper-Ferguson plays this role to perfection, laid back yet taking no crap from his estranged son. He calls his bluff by telling him to "get out" of the truck in the middle of nowhere when the kid sasses one crack past the breaking point.
"You don't think," he tells him, a line most everyone heard from dad at one time or another.
However, his heart of gold and love for what he sees as himself in Danny's actions is portrayed when he sells his treasured collector's Buick, raising dough to finance Danny at the NHRA High School Drag Championships.
The conflicts and resolutions of danger and life intermingle at that race, yielding a finish that is startling on the screen. Contrasting with the loud and wild race at the movie's opening, the finale is dynamic, real, and ... eerily quiet, keeping attention while uncertainty reigns.
This is a real racing movie. As Afshar told me, "We strived to have it technically correct. Everything those cars do in the movies, they do. It's legit."
As a fan in person and viewing drag racing on television, the scenes are real, the racing is real and plausible.
There is the conflict between old-school wrench mechanics and computer-driven diagnostics displayed when Danny says, "What I know is programmable engine management," then haughtily adds, "I'm not used to working on antiques."
Frank later chooses his moment to help his son with an ignition problem that was simple for the master but never turned up in diagnostic tests; doing so finds the two of them jelling as a twosome and more.
Born to Race, Afshar added, "is a father and son story we all can relate to, and bond to, and develop a relationship with them."
The story's style is "an arch with love at the end," a rainbow colored many ways and with many tones.
If life is all about high school, Born to Race is all about life.
Take the family, take a date, grab a buddy, get popcorn, a Coke, sit back, and revel in this movie, or watch it on pay-per-view, opening Feb. 28.
If you don't, like the vanity plate fastened on the menacing Mustang trying to intimidate Danny's Subaru spells:
"UL B SRY"