Documentary - Rookie Season

Rookie season poster race-car and close up of driver in helmet

Available now on DVD, thanks to Strike Back Studios, Steve Taylor-Bryant took the wheel to watch Rookie Season...

In 2019 Adrian Bonvento undertook the daunting task of creating his debut feature length film as a team of one, telling an incredible underdog story. Businessperson and amateur racer Frank DePew purchased the assets of Rebel Rock Racing in late 2018 with the goal of evaluating his skill in the professional racing ranks. He hired as his co-driver Robin Liddell, a decorated veteran with twenty-nine career wins in IMSA’s top-level series and the 2015 Michelin Pilot Challenge champion in the Grand Sport (GS) class. Joe Hall also joined the team as crew chief. The road to success was anything but easy. The team finished dead last in a 49-car field at the 2019 season opener at Daytona International Speedway. Slowly but surely, DePew, Liddell and the Rebel Rock crew built the program back up and punctuated the rebirth with a win at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and a storybook victory at Road America.

Director Adrian Bonvento was there for it all. Bonvento was given unprecedented access to the team, and the open, honest narration from team members provides rare and intimate insights. Action sequences were filmed entirely independent of broadcast cameras. Bonvento’s unfettered access and creative cinematography makes for a fresh and powerful portrait of a team, in an attempt to discover what truly drives these individuals at their very core.

In car screenshot of three cars in front

There are good documentaries about motor racing and there are bad. The good ones work because of the mixture of the actual racing and risk with human moments of those involved. The bad ones are because the balance is off, too much footage of speed and not enough of the people or vice versa. Rookie Season falls somewhere between the two. Stock Car racing isn’t my main motorsport of choice, I was brought up on Formula One and Rallying, but I know a little of the sport portrayed in Rookie Season and so wasn’t at any time feeling excluded; the basic story in the documentary is one that pops across all forms of motorsport and is always interesting. The team interactions, the relationships, the personalities were all watchable and the kind of stories you want to see in a documentary. Rob Liddle especially caught my eye, but whilst Adrian Bonvento had full access to Rebel Rock Racing, I couldn’t help but feel something was slightly off. The people side of motorsport documentaries was all there in its dirty glory, but the action side of things was lacking somewhat, and I am not even sure what my problem with it is. It's maybe because the footage was filmed outside of the usual broadcast channels - there is a reason certain companies film races and that’s because they are great at what they do and perhaps I am so conditioned to the way racing should look on my screen that perhaps the scenes in Rookie Season are just a little too jarring for me.

My own issues with how I like my racing to look on screen aside, Adrian Bonvento has created a remarkable film that tells one giant story from multiple points of view and is never dull. Everyone on screen deserves their time and the demanding work put in at all levels of a race team is a good watch. A good solid documentary that I feel could have offered even more.

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Images - Strike Back Studios
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