The Gentleman Driver gives a private examination into the lives of four successful businessmen who pursue their dream of racing at the highest levels of Motorsport. The film observes them, both in business and in racing, and shows us what motivates them, how they got to where they are, and how they balance racing with business.
Here’s a phenomena unique to racing that’s talked about every so often, but has rarely been looked at with any depth. Unlike any other sport, if you want to, you can buy your way into racing. Think about that for a second. Think if, say, you were a real baseball fan, and also very rich, could you buy your way onto the starting lineup of the Yankees? No. You might be able to buy the entire team, but there’s no amount of money in the world that would actually let you play.
Cash Is King
Racing is different. Since day one, if you had the money, you could buy a car and compete. It doesn’t mean you’ll win, but at least you can play in the game. This is the way a lot of talented amateurs got their start. Racers like Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, and Richie Ginther all started with buying a car and giving it a try. And they all went on to great success.
There are also those like Prince Bira. Nice guy. Rich as Croesus, a literal Prince of Siam, real name was Prince Birabongse Bhanudej Bhanubandh. Fun at parties, raced for a bunch of different teams. Never won jack, but like I said, fun at parties.
The Gentleman Driver: Unanswered Questions
The collective term for people like this is “Gentleman Drivers,” and that’s what this documentary is about. It looks at the racing endeavors of four wealthy racers: Ed Brown, Ricardo Gonzalez, Michael Guasch, and Paul Dalla Lana. The Gentleman Driver could be very interesting (and the synopsis reads as much) but the movie is actually rote and average.
Director Mario Mattei could have looked at this with a more critical and discerning eye. Sure, wealthy guys can help get teams on the track, and help fill out the numbers on the start grid, but what problems do they bring along? Are they a plus, or a minus, overall for the sport?
The Gentleman Driver is largely uninterested in raising these questions, let alone trying to answer them. The film only ticks off the “regular boxes” and asks only basic questions: how did you rise so far in business to become a multi-millionaire, do you think you’ll do better next season, what did you learn in the business world that applies on the track – stuff like that.
The insights offered by the drivers themselves are also lacking in illumination. They come off as answers prepared by their PR staffs. Their only real insights are a constant and repetitious theme of “I’m competitive in the boardroom, and I’m competitive on the track.” Maybe the real bottom line here is that they’re not very deep thinkers to begin with, or if they are, The Gentleman Driver fails to show that.
Average But Still Worth Your Time
Gentleman drivers on the whole are an interesting topic in racing. And this film, which bears the same name, could have been better arranged to tell that story. 20 minutes of history about guys like Phil Hill and Prince Bira. 20 minutes of meeting the modern drivers. 20 minutes looking at the psychology of all this: competitiveness, egocentrism and the like. And a final 20 minutes of applying that psychological knowledge as it plays out on the track.
Instead we get 80-odd minutes of “racing hard” and “I’m a competitive guy.” And racing is that, sure, but it’s also so much more.
The Gentleman Driver isn’t terrible, and since all of us gearheads are inside right now, it’s still worth the time to watch. The only fault here is that it’s a C or C+ at best, when it could have been an A+.
Tony Borroz has spent his entire life racing antique and sports cars. He is the author of Bricks & Bones: The Endearing Legacy and Nitty-Gritty Phenomenon of The Indy 500, available in paperback or Kindle format. Follow his work on Twitter: @TonyBorroz.