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REVIEW: ‘Rowdy’ offers a candid look at Kyle Busch’s career, a new way to spotlight NASCAR stars

Photo by Chris Salazar/TRE

The ‘Rowdy’ documentary, detailing the career of two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch, was a one-day-only release to theaters across the U.S.

Team TRE’s Dominic Aragon, Jonathan Fjeld and Feliz Vigil saw ‘Rowdy’ on the big screen in Albuquerque, New Mexico. During the theater’s one screen time, June 29, around 15 others were in attendance – including some diehard Kyle Busch fans who wore gear prominently displaying his yellow No. 18 M&Ms Toyota.

Photo by Dominic Aragon/TRE

By Jonathan Fjeld and Dominic Aragon

The good, the beautiful, the bad, and the ugly – “Rowdy” covers it all as it explores the professional and personal growth of NASCAR competitor and champion Kyle Busch.

Whether you’re a casual NASCAR fan, a diehard Kyle Busch fan – or not even a fan of the sport in general – the nearly-two-hour, NASCAR Productions-backed film is attention-grabbing and insightful.

‘Rowdy’ goes on a journey through Kyle’s career that shares basic NASCAR information from the last 20 years and details about Kyle’s career that diehard fans may not know. The story is well-written and wisely utilizes footage alongside Kyle’s candid recounts, such as when he admits to lying about his age so he could start racing at the Las Vegas Bullring. 

Photo by Jonathan Fjeld/TRE

FOX NASCAR’s Jamie Little is interviewed and serves as the accompanying voiceover to the footage and stories, such as the impact his family had on him, his relationship with Ricky Hendrick from 2003-04, the fallout from his temper from 2005-11 and his improbable comeback championship in 2015 that the film focuses on heavily as an arc in the story.

The writing effectively uses these stories to frame and emphasize the various parts of Kyle’s career as we hear about his upbringing, being barred for his age in 2001, then finally getting his chance with Hendrick Motorsports and evading the shadow of being Kurt Busch’s brother.

Kyle’s time at HMS is where we get to hear about the often-overlooked relationship between Kyle and Ricky Hendrick that helped to ground him and harness his talent. Diehard fans get more insight into Kyle’s ‘rowdy’ nature and casual fans understand what the Hendricks mean to NASCAR, with the help of Jeff Gordon – NASCAR’s prime mainstream icon – which helps us understand the gravity of Ricky’s death. Details, including Kyle’s mostly-untold frustration with finishing second in the race after Ricky died, explain the void felt early on in his career and how it ultimately led to the demise of his relationship with Hendrick Motorsports. 

Kyle is candid as he bluntly details his release and key moments – such as the 2007 All-Star Race – that flowed into well-known moments among diehard fans that casuals should know about. Moments such as the 2008 Richmond race where Kyle wrecked with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who he believed at that time had opportunities handed to him without merit. 

Kyle Busch stands on pit road prior to the start of the 2018 GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Photo: Dominic Aragon / TRE

The 2011 season is closely detailed through the lens of Kyle’s rivalry with Kevin Harvick that culminated in the infamous wreck with Ron Hornaday Jr., where Kyle even said he ‘saw red’ and didn’t remember anything about it until he got back into the garage and settled down. Kyle’s testimony is at its most striking and candid, even letting loose a few uncensored obscenities that are heard elsewhere in the film – and helps set up what the 2015 season meant. 

When explaining the NASCAR Xfinity Series wreck at Daytona in 2015, he details how there was a bone sticking out of his leg and ‘blood everywhere’ after the impact moved the engine back by 16 inches. The film is painfully masterful in pairing Kyle’s testimony with footage of him climbing out of the car after the impact.

Kyle’s defiance is highlighted again, as we see the film focus heavily on key moments of his improbable 2015 NASCAR Cup Series championship season and his agitation with not being seen as a legitimate champion.

Photo by Marcus Leno/TRE

Filmmakers are sparser with details on the 2019 season but it puts a bow on how Kyle was validated and finally grew out of his most serious attitude problems and became a family man and consistent NASCAR champion who still continues on.

Photo: Austin McFadden/TRE

While the story is strong, there are some hiccups in the film as some footage in the film is not in sync with the time period discussed – such as clips from 2011 and 2012 being shown in discussions about the 2008 season or discussions of his 2005 rookie year featuring clips from 2007. There are also errors with the graphics, such as introducing a clip of a Cup race as a Truck race and introducing a 2011 NASCAR Camping World Trucks race as a NASCAR Craftsman Trucks Series race. The production left more to be desired but it doesn’t stop a strong story from being told. 

‘Rowdy’ leaves you walking away having learned new things about Kyle the individual and Kyle the race car driver. The film features candid conversations with brother Kurt, father Thomas, mother Gaye, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joe Gibbs, Rick Hendrick and ESPN’s Marty Smith, who all help tell the story.

Photo by Cheri Eaton/TRE

Looking at this film, there was potential beyond what it’s ultimately going to live up to. The film seemingly received nary an advertisement throughout the Nashville weekend and never seemed to be mentioned by the commentators. The film was also a one-night-only event which brought some fans out but limited its reach severely, to where many people said they didn’t hear about it until they saw an online ad just a few days before its release.

In the future, this type of film could be a way to reach new fans with stronger production and a better marketing strategy. A film about someone like Dale Earnhardt Jr would be a dream in this style, given the potential and reach it could have and the strong story – but for NASCAR to reach new fans, someone like Ross Chastain, Alex Bowman or Chase Briscoe could pull fans into a new favorite driver and drum up more interest for the sport.

While Rowdy’s release to streaming, TV or physical release is uncertain, the potential for a greater reach is there if done right – and more NASCAR fans will want to check out the tell-all, peek-behind-the-curtain look at Kyle Busch’s life.

Photo by Marcus Leno/The Racing Experts

‘Rowdy’ was produced as a collaboration with NASCAR Productions, Wright Productions and Venture 10 Studio Group.

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