Dirty Driving: Thundercars of Indiana takes a raw and unvarnished look at how the defection of U.S. automobile factories from the Midwest has impacted one town that was built on these businesses - and how its residents are coping with unemployment and the town's uncertain future. In the midst of decline, and perhaps in spite of it, Anderson's down-and-dirty racing culture endures, with a few local driving celebrities carrying the weight of their family and friend's expectations on their shoulders in weekly "Thundercar" amateur races.
Director/producer Jon Alpert spent an entire racing season in Anderson, profiling several Thundercar (unmodified stock-car) racers, from their home lives and jobs (or lack thereof), to their weeklong garage tinkering and race-day histrionics. Several of the drivers' cars were equipped with internal cameras to capture the high-speed excitement and emotions taking place during the race. As in other divisions, Thundercar drivers compete for 27 weekly trophies, and an overall Championship is awarded in the fall, though Thundercar drivers receive no or minimal compensation for their participation in their events.
The drivers we meet share an all-consuming passion for the sport that often spills over into local rivalries and race-day altercations that often carry over past the finish line. As we see, the documentary's main character, Sammy Hawkins, has never won a race, but continues to toil away as a foil to more successful racers like Billy Riddle and Alice Riall, who must take care to avoid the kinds of race-ending crashes that often result from other drivers' pent-up frustration.
In the "good old days," one in three Thundercar drivers at Anderson Speedway was employed by General Motors. Today, none are. Since the start of the racing season, Anderson lost 1,300 more jobs, including the remnants of its last GM factory. The juxtaposition of shuttered homes and businesses in contrast to race-day excitement underscores how important the Speedway is in shoring up the morale of Anderson residents who have yet to pack up and move away.
The director and producer of Dirty Driving: Thundercars of Indiana is 15-time Emmy® winner Jon Alpert, whose acclaimed body of work includes HBO's One Year in a Life of Crime, Lock-Up: The Prisoners of Rikers Island, High on Crack Street: Lost Lives of Lowell, and A Cinderella Season: The Lady Vols Fight Back. Alpert and Matthew O'Neill (a producer on this film) work at DCTV, an independent nonprofit media center in NYC; the pair recently directed and/or produced for HBO Baghdad ER, Alive Day Memories: Home from Iraq and Section 60: Arlington National Cemetery.
Credits: Directed and Produced by Jon Alpert; Producers: Matthew O'Neil and Shannon Sonenstein; Edited by David Meneses. For HBO: Supervising Producer: Nancy Abraham; Executive Producer: Sheila Nevins.