The pit crews have just finished making the final alterations to their cars, and the Indianapolis 500 is set to begin. The drivers start their engines and follow the pace car as the crowd begins to roar. The pace car drives off the track, the drivers accelerate and a super-charged snail races past the IndyCars at more than 200 mph.
No, you're not on shrooms. You're watching Turbo, the DreamWorks animated film about a snail named Turbo (Ryan Reynolds) who miraculously obtains the gift of super speed and uses it to realize his dream of competing in the Indianapolis 500.
But Turbo is not alone. He has a pit crew of pimped out snails alongside him that all look like they were designed in Xzibit's garage. The leader of the crew, Whiplash (Samuel L. Jackson), helps Turbo with his racing strategy while Smoove Move (Snoop Dogg/Lion), Burn (Maya Rudolph), Skid Mark (Ben Schwartz) and White Shadow (Mike Bell) give Turbo moral support and fend off snail-hungry crows along the way.
What's interesting, though, is that once you get past snail-form Snoop Lion and snail-form Samuel L. Jackson warding off crows and giving racing advice to a genetically modified snail-form Ryan Reynolds, the movie is startlingly realistic.
"We have a character at the center of our story, a snail, who can go 200 mph," says director David Soren, "so I felt that it was pretty important for everything else in the movie to be grounded in reality- from Turbo's environment in L.A. to the Indy 500."
The Los Angeles expertise Soren had down. He began working in Los Angeles in 1995 and has lived there ever since, working on such projects as Chicken Run, Shrek and Shark Tale. He's privy to everything from fake tans to Dwight Howard's exodus, but IndyCar prowess would have to come from another source.
This is where Dario Franchitti came in. Franchitti, a three-time Indianapolis 500 champion, is no stranger to drinking milk and kissing bricks. He was also instrumental in the development of the digital IndyCar simulator Simraceway, making him the ideal consultant for the movie.
"Basically, my job was to go there and help the guys understand IndyCar, the Indianapolis 500, and the details of our sport," explains Franchitti, "[the animators] took it as a challenge, really, to make the racing scenes as factual as possible."
And this factuality pervaded the entire movie. Franchitti shared racing strategies with the Turbo team to make the animated IndyCars drive as they would in a real race. He also shared with Soren the one thing that bothers him most in racing movies:
"He told us that his biggest pet peeve in racing movies are shots when a driver wants to pick up speed to pass somebody and you cut to a close up shot to his foot pushing down the accelerator farther,” reveals Soren, "Dario told us that his foot is never not down all of the way down during a race."
But perhaps the most important IndyCar singularity that Franchitti helped the Turbo team incorporate into the film is marbles.
Marbles are small chunks of rubber that have been shredded from the tires of other cars because the wheels are spinning at such high speeds. These shreds of scorching rubber fly off a car’s wheels during a race and usually collect along the outside retaining wall of the track. For an IndyCar driver, these marbles can be the difference between winning and losing, attaching to the car’s red-hot tires and making the car hard to control. However, for a one-inch tall Turbo, these marbles are more akin to a deadly asteroid field, transcending the stakes from mere winning and losing to living and dying.
To give Turbo's fantasy adventure even more realism, the animators meticulously mapped out every inch of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and recreated it within the world of the film.
"They've done such a great job in making the whole Indianapolis Motor Speedway look incredibly accurate," Franchitti says, "I was amazed at the level of detail that went into getting the speedway absolutely right ... Down to the serrations on the surface of the track, they got that, and they even got the right texture on the big metal beam that runs across the pit lane in Gasoline Alley ... just the tiniest details."
And Franchitti hopes that all of the work and painstaking detail that went into the movie will translate into popularity and new fans for his aging sport:
"I think it's a brilliant opportunity for IndyCar to be exposed to a whole new group of fans," says the IndyCar star, "And it’s just a really, really fun and entertaining story."
Turbo could be the shot of Nitrous that IndyCar needs to stay relevant. Just 43 percent of IndyCar’s fans are under the age of 45 while the sport's major domestic competitors, NASCAR and MotoCross, boast 47 percent and 64 percent, respectively. IndyCar has also seen a dramatic drop in television viewership in recent years. The 2013 Indianapolis 500 earned a 3.7 rating, IndyCar’s second-lowest rating since live broadcasting for the race began in 1986.
But there is hope. Film.com projects Turbo to rein in $400 million in the box office this summer, and if all goes well, Netflix has agreed to take on a piggyback series to the movie titled "Turbo: F.A.S.T. (Fast Action Stunt Team). "
The plan for IndyCar, it seems, is in two steps. First, have Turbo make a splash in the box office to give the sport the summer buzz, exposing IndyCar to the G-rated demographic. Then keep the interest in IndyCar alive with the television series and hope to ride the excitement all the way to the 2014 Indianapolis 500.
Will Turbo resurrect the sport? Ex-IndyCar CEO, Randy Bernard, sure thinks so. Bernard ended his Indianapolis Monthly interview with a bold prediction: "I think [Turbo] will be the biggest thing to happen to the sport in 30 years."
'Turbo' hits theaters on July 17. Below is a trailer for the film: