A decade or more ago, IMSA racer and Hollywood superstar Patrick Dempsey secured the rights to turn Garth Stein’s New York Times best-selling novel, “The Art of Racing in the Rain” into a major motion picture.
But for whatever reasons – which happen in Hollywood and the world of film making – the project hit snags, stalled, changed studios, etc., leaving many close to it wondering if Stein’s compelling story of a race car driver told through the eyes of his dog would ever make it onto the big screen.
“I’ve been able to keep it at kind of a distance for a long time, because for a long time, it just wasn’t going to happen,” Stein said. “I just kind of gave up on it, and then suddenly, it was happening.”
It became “official” on the morning of the 2018 Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the second round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Dempsey and actor Milo Ventimiglia, who portrays the driver Denny Swift in the film, were at the racetrack along with a small contingent for research. Sebring was chosen because Swift’s character is an IMSA racer.
A few weeks later, filming began in earnest in Vancouver, with racing scenes being shot last summer at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park on the weekend of the WeatherTech Championship Mobil 1 SportsCar Grand Prix.
And just like that, the project was very much on a fast track – one that culminates this weekend as the film hits theaters everywhere.
“It was like, ‘Oh look, it’s happening,’” Stein said. “’Oh look, they’ve finished it.’ I finally saw the cut of it in April and I was like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s better than I thought it was going to be.’
“Then recently, in the past two or three weeks, man, it’s just gone from zero to 120. It’s just been insane.
“I’m glad I don’t have a day job, because all I’m doing is dealing with film stuff, which is at once fun, and also for someone like me who leads somewhat of a solitary life, it’s a little exacerbating.”
Stein estimated that he’s gotten “millions” of text messages and emails as premieres have taken place in Hollywood and various other locations around the U.S.
“That’s part of the deal,” Stein said. “And I know it’s gonna go away. I get that, and that’s good. It’ll be nice and quiet here in a few weeks, but it’s been fun to see it happen.”
It’s been fun for the IMSA community and fans as well.
Stein’s novel, which spent 156 weeks on the New York Times best-sellers list after it came out in 2008, is once again featured prominently in bookstores everywhere – now featuring the same cover as the movie poster. Television ads – showing IMSA race cars – are airing during mainstream television programming.
“People, hopefully, will see that the world of racing is fun, it’s dramatic in the context of the races,” Stein said. “It’s full of camaraderie, people all hanging out wanting to watch stuff and nobody gets hurt.
“I would think that, seeing that depiction in this movie might open up an audience who would say, ‘Oh, I thought it was all about driving around in circles and crashing and that’s not what it is.’ That’s deliberately why I wanted road racing. I didn’t want ovals and that sort of thing.”
Stein developed an affection for road racing as a competitor. In fact, he met instructor Kevin York – who inspired the Denny Swift character – when he attended the ProFormance Racing School near Seattle years ago and eventually went Spec Miata racing.
He drew a parallel between his racing experience and the manner in which the film finally was made.
“This is what I loved about the racing world when I was doing my club racing with SCCA in the Spec Miata class,” he said. “Everybody just pitched in.
“I mean, we were down in a race in Portland one race weekend years ago. One of the guys – he was not a fast guy, but he was a good guy, everyone liked him – we all kind of hung together.
“On the Saturday practice session, his engine blew up and he was really bummed because he’s like, ‘Aw man, my weekend’s over. I don’t have another engine.’ And he was kind of upset, but one of the front-runners who worked on his own engines lived nearby in Beaverton, Oregon.
“He had an extra engine in his garage and he’s like, ‘Let’s get another engine in there so you can keep racing this weekend.’
“That’s what happened when the movie started to go. People didn’t say, ‘Oh no, what’s in it for me?’ You didn’t hear the car companies say, ‘What’s in it for me?’ You didn’t hear IMSA saying, ‘How’s that going to help me?’ It was, ‘Oh, yeah. Hey, let’s get a couple of pizzas and a six pack of beer, head over to the garage and make a movie.’”
And the finished product is one that makes Stein proud.
“My biggest concern with the movie was that they got the spirit of it right,” he said. “Not to say got every little moment right, but that the overall spirit was correct, and they did. So that’s all, I’m good. I’m so glad that I can go out and talk to people and say I love the movie. I’m 100 percent behind it.
“That’s kind of rare. I have plenty of writer friends who have had unfortunate things happen when their books get turned into movies and they’re not very pleased with it. I’m allowed to be pleased.
“I think, overall, Milo does a fabulous job. He’s got the racer demeanor. He’s got that focus. He’s kind of quiet and reserved a little bit, but then he’s always looking for his opportunity. He’s great.
“Amanda Seyfried is fabulous as Eve. I mean, she’s the star of the show as far as I’m concerned. I just love her performance.
“And Parker, the dog, who Simon Curtis, the director, told me they actually cut days off the shooting because Parker hit all of his marks. So, it all kind of came together in this way.”