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Kulwicki's dream drives filmmakers

Movie to tell NASCAR champion's story

By DAVE KALLMANN
dkallmann@journalsentinel.com
Posted: April 17, 2004

Franklin - Alan Kulwicki dreamed of achieving success in NASCAR and overcame every hurdle he faced on a long and bumpy road from Greenfield to the 1992 Winston Cup title.

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Actor Brad Weber and writer-director David Orgas embarked on the same sort of quest in trying to rekindle fond memories for those who knew Kulwicki and to spread his inspirational story to a new generation of fans.

Those two dreams converge in "Dare to Dream: The Alan Kulwicki Story," a film that is expected to be ready for release sometime this fall.

"If I had the budget they had for 'Driven,' I could make the best racing movie ever, simply because this is the best racing story ever," Orgas said last week.

"The story of Alan Kulwicki's rise to the championship is the kind of story that Americans gravitate to. This is the ultimate underdog overcoming amazing odds and winning it all. This is 'Rocky' on wheels."

Coincidentally, the process of making the film follows a story line similar to Kulwicki's own.

It is a big-budget production by independent film standards, but that's like saying Kulwicki's first Winston Cup season cost significantly more than a year at Slinger Speedway.

At perhaps a quarter-million dollars, the film will cost a tiny fraction of "Driven," the $110 million Sylvester Stallone champ-car flop in 2001 and much less even than his $1 million boxing blockbuster from 25 years earlier.

This, like Kulwicki's decision to move south in 1985, is a labor of love, a project undertaken by people who did it because they believed it was the right thing to do.

Weber, 36, grew up on Milwaukee's northwest side, took an interest in racing and found a hero in Kulwicki, whose independence and determination allowed him to succeed in his fight against much bigger teams with far greater funding.

After working in local radio, as well as theater, Weber answered the call of acting in 1995 with a decision inspired by Kulwicki's venture into NASCAR.

"He's the one who allowed me to pack my bags and move to California," said Weber, who keeps a picture of Kulwicki in his apartment.

Orgas, 36, grew up in Hartland. Although his first love was writing, the realities of raising a family resulted in him concentrating more on jobs in the hospitality industry.

Although not a huge racing fan, Orgas knew of Kulwicki's story, how he'd taken on a still-Southern sport, won its title and then died in a plane crash in 1993. Nearly 10 years later, a conversation with a co-worker - Kulwicki fan and friend Dennis Czarnyzka - caused Orgas to realize what a compelling story there was to be told.

"I was up until 5 in the morning, kind of awestruck, reading the news clippings and such," Orgas said, "and I came back the very next day with an outline for what I thought would make a good story for the script."

Father Dale Grubba, a priest, NASCAR enthusiast and author from Princeton, Wis., shared a soon-to-be-published Kulwicki biography with Orgas to help him flesh out the story.

Weber, meanwhile, had been researching and writing a Kulwicki script of his own. A mutual acquaintance introduced Weber and Czarnyzka in 2003, and the two projects combined.

"He thought I looked like Alan Kulwicki," said Weber, whose dark eyes and hair resemble the late racer's and who has mastered many of Kulwicki's distinct poses and mannerisms.

"Hollywood wanted to change (my script) and have a strong love interest and a villain. I thought, 'I can either beat my head against the wall and let Hollywood change this, take it away from me, or I can work with good, hard-working guys from Wisconsin.' "

The project is the largest, by far, for either the director or star.

As it came together, Orgas and Weber found help at every turn, from short-track racers and local promoters to former Kulwicki crewmen, Humpy Wheeler, president of Lowe's Motor Speedway, and Bob Brooks, chief executive of Hooters, the restaurant chain that sponsored Kulwicki in his championship season.

The film will follow Kulwicki from Slinger Speedway through his title, celebration and death, focusing as much on a complex man as his on-track exploits. It also will visit Kulwicki's youth, through flashbacks, and examine the impact of his accomplishments today.

Most of the production has been done in southeastern Wisconsin. Primary photography is set to conclude today at Slinger Speedway, and Orgas encouraged fans to turn out from noon to 3 p.m., rain or shine, for crowd scenes.

The next step is editing, re-shoots and the rest of "post-production," a process that will take several months.

Already Orgas has taken phone calls and e-mails from more than 100 theaters, around Wisconsin and around the country, interested in the finished product.

"Our goal is to make a studio-quality movie on a non-studio-quality budget, and we've had a lot of help," Orgas said. "What we've heard from theaters is, 'If you make a decent movie, we'll show it because it's Alan Kulwicki's story.' "




 

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