by Julian Spivey
Netflix’s latest foray into sports docuseries, “NASCAR: Full Speed,” premiered on January 30, and there’s hope the five-episode series will do for the sport of NASCAR what the similar “Drive to Survive” series did for Formula 1.
Now, there are certainly major differences between F1 and NASCAR, despite both being motorsports. F1 is primarily European with one American driver, and he’s new to the sport. Whereas NASCAR is primarily American with few drivers hailing from elsewhere. So, theoretically, Americans should have more understanding of NASCAR than they did F1. However, it is still seen in the minds of many as a regional, Southern American thing – even if that’s a stereotype that should’ve died off by now.
“NASCAR: Full Speed” follows many of the NASCAR drivers as they made their way through the 10-race NASCAR Playoffs last season – spending most of the time on the younger faces of the sport and some brash characters like Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano.
The episodes are slick, well shot and directed and interspersed with driver interviews and some behind-the-scenes looks into their lives off the track.
As a NASCAR fan already, the show didn’t do a whole lot for me as far as recapping the NASCAR Playoffs, which began less than half a year ago and ended less than three months before the debut of this series, which was an impressive turnaround by Netflix to get this out before the 2024 season begins.
I also didn’t feel the show gave us enough behind-the-scenes moments from inside the homes and family lives of the drivers. I never finished the 2022 USA Network’s NASCAR docuseries “Race for the Championship,” but I didn’t feel the Netflix version gave us any more insight into the home lives of these drivers. We got a nice look into Hamlin’s home life, but there wasn’t a lot else – meaning Hamlin probably gave the Netflix crew more access than the other drivers.
I’m sure many viewers enjoyed getting the chance to get to know some of the driver’s other halves a bit more, even if it mostly focused on Ryan Blaney’s supermodel-looking fiancée Gianna Tulio and William Byron’s girlfriend Erin Blaney, who is Ryan’s sister. But the documentary kind of makes these women look like the “I’m a NASCAR wife. I don’t work” “Talladega Nights” stereotype. It would’ve been nice to dig a bit deeper, for instance, Erin is the Executive Director of the Ryan Blaney Family Foundation and she specializes in raising awareness and creating funding for brain injuries. Now, that may not sound all that exciting, but it certainly adds a dimension to who she is for the audience.
The only real difference between ‘Full Speed’ and some of the previous NASCAR docuseries I’ve seen was with the series being on Netflix, instead of cable television, the language could flow freely without censorship. That’s not a big enough change to excite me.
Judging by social media response from many fellow NASCAR fans and those within the sport, ‘Full Speed’ was well-received within the community and I was certainly rarely bored with the brisk 45-minute episodes. However, I didn’t think the docuseries gave me much as a NASCAR fan that I didn’t already know and that’s something I’m always looking for from these series (and rarely seem to get) going in.
I hope “NASCAR: Full Speed” works the kind of magic that “Drive to Survive” did when it comes to bringing more fans into the sport and hopefully different kinds of fans into the sport. It’s hard to judge as a fan of the sport for more than two decades if it’s the kind of thing that would’ve made me say, “Hey, I have to check this out now,” if I’d never seen a NASCAR race. Honestly, I’m surprised there are viewers out there clicking on things to watch they aren’t somewhat familiar with already – but “Drive to Survive” proved they exist. Hopefully, we’ll see a bigger interest in NASCAR going forward and can say, “That’s the ‘Full Speed’ bump.”