What should have been the ultimate Cinderella story — Michael Waltrip’s 2001 Daytona 500 victory snapping a demoralizing 462-race losing streak — proved to be tragically bittersweet when his friend and team owner Dale Earnhardt Sr. fatally crashed seconds earlier.
The events leading up to that fateful February day have been affectingly chronicled in “Blink of an Eye,” a solidly assembled documentary portrait by sports filmmaker Paul Taublieb.
With Waltrip, now a Fox Sports analyst and commentator, providing the first-hand perspective, the film traces the unlikely trajectory that led to the younger, less intense man being taken under the wing of Earnhardt, the racing icon known as the Intimidator, a moniker effectively heightened by his trademark bushy mustache and open face helmet.
Taking Waltrip’s bestselling “In the Blink of an Eye: Dale, Daytona, and the Day that Changed Everything” as inspiration, Taublieb weaves some terrific archival footage around his interview subjects, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had placed second on that tragic day, and track legend Richard Petty, who also played a mentoring role earlier in Waltrip’s career.
“People are obviously capable of handling the highest of highs and the lowest of lows,” quietly observes Waltrip, still very visibly fragile when recounting the events of 18 years ago. “But I don’t know how many people have had to experience them within seconds of each other.”
“Blink of an Eye” movingly negotiates those emotional hairpin turns with adept precision.
Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 6, Laemmle Music Hall, Beverly Hills; also Sept. 12 only, general release, Fathom Events