Filmed on location in Wisconsin, this film centers on a form of auto racing encountered by the filmmakers and their discovery proves to be something of a low octane epiphany. This documentary records a full season of what is known as BIC racing, an invention of the local track owner that provides an opportunity for the impoverished to enjoy their dream of motor racing while entertaining the crowds.
In one manner what we are talking about is true stock car racing in that the autos involved are little more than four cylinder vehicles that may or may not be street legal any longer. The primary attraction is that these are cars that can cost as little as $100 while allowing drivers the chance to find out if they have the talent to race competitively. Modifications to the cars are not legal and only stock parts are permitted. The field on a given night is comprised of Volkswagen Rabbits, Ford Escorts, and any other make from the last 25 years that would fit into a compact parking space.
Depending on your stance with auto racing the temptation might be labeling these men as nothing more than misguided fans living the NASCAR dream, but to their credit director/producer Matt Golin and his crew do not take a condescending tone with their film. They investigated what was behind this curiosity of a racing circuit and found that rather than a bunch of deluded hayseeds what they saw were men who loved racing and found an outlet for their passions. Instead of starry eyed dreamers this group acknowledges that they are the bastard step kids at the track, but they refuse to let that get in the way of their fun.
This class of racing was the brainchild of Kevin Dawson, owner of the Lake Geneva Raceway. He coined the term BIC racing to be emblematic of the disposable nature of the vehicles, like Bic brand lighters or pens. (Only later did they conjure up the acronym Basic International Cars). He provided the stage for local people who could not afford modified cars, garages, or even pit crews, and the result is a field of cars costing less than $1,000 each. Most of the autos appear as if they just ran a demolition derby as they are absent of lights and bumpers, and all have paint schemes courtesy of Krylon spray cans. But as pathetic as they appear on the track it is all business during the race.
The compliment of racers seems evenly divided between those who race for the sheer love of it and those who take the 16 week season very serious in pursuit of a points championship. The personalities range from a novice in his fifties all the way down to a 16-year old bemoaning the fact that the men on the track are willing to spin him into the grass to gain track position. Director Golin made a wise choice to avoid narration and instead let the racers themselves divulge their machinations for participating in this event. While all profess their love of the sport few seem deluded about their place. One driver states that he knows full well they are the clowns of the weekend of racing, but he still loves the gig.
On any given week the BIC class may have to race in the opposite direction, compete with sections of the track watered down, or even contend with a makeshift road course laid out through the infield. Another racer summed up the scenario he and the others find themselves in when considering the prospect of moving up to a better class of cars: “There’s a lot of good drivers out here—we’re just broke.”
More than a mere record of the season, “Four-Bangers” finds drama in numerous areas. While featuring many drivers on the circuit most of the movie is focused on #27 Nick Kalteis, and his chase for the season title. Kalteis typifies the kind of racer they find in the BIC division; a blue collar type who simply has a passion—and a yard full of cars to set up for the races. Through the season Nick has crashes, endures inspections to verify his cars are truly stock, and sweats out the division’s claiming policies. This is a wrinkle in the rules that allows any driver to pay a price for the right to swap his car out with another, and even on some nights the track throws large foam dice to see which of the top qualifiers may have their car bought from underneath themselves. The purpose of this is to ensure drivers do not invest too heavily in their vehicle. The racers have the right of refusal but it will lead to a multiple-week suspension and probable forfeiture of their season.
By the end you come to realize that while some have hopes of moving on with their driving, most are content with the opportunity to do something they love with other like-minded sorts. There are no pretensions to inheriting the throne of Dale Jarrett, and instead you are left with an automotive equivalent of a local bowling tournament or the softball beer league. Turning pro is not really their dream, just the chance on the weekend to turn left with a group of other racers.