Editor's note: Watch 'Flat Out' series here
CHICAGO -- It would be easy to look at Dylan Kwasniewski's five-win season in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and call it a seamless ride. That would be oversimplifying some very complex matters that reach outside the cockpit.
In truth, the season has been a major time of transition for Kwasniewski, who's moved across the country to further his racing career, all while adjusting to the coming of age typical of an 18-year-old.
The drama behind the young driver's on-track success is masterfully captured in a new, unscripted online documentary series called "Flat Out," which premieres Tuesday on the AOL On video channel. The 10 episodes, produced by NASCAR Productions and Vuguru, detail Kwasniewski's balancing act of family, racing, friends and impending adulthood as he tries to climb the NASCAR ladder.
"There's nothing but good coming from this show," Kwasniewski said last Thursday at the series' first screening at the trendy Venue SIX10 on Chicago's famous Michigan Avenue. "It was a blast doing it, and I had a ton of fun. I think it's going to be great for the sport and great for NASCAR."
While racing footage illustrates Kwasniewski's on-track progress, the series is as much about his growth as a person as his growth as a driver. Accordingly, the most important relationship in the series isn't driver-crew chief, but mother-son.
Jen Kwasniewski has taken care of her son and his racing career since her husband, Randy, died in 2010. Life as a single parent is hard enough, but keeping tabs on the racing business, moving the family from Las Vegas to North Carolina to be closer to the majority of NASCAR teams, and managing the free-spirited personal life of a teenager is a monumental task. It's one she handles with aplomb, and one that the cameras zero in on in a genuine manner.
"For sure, they captured our relationship, and it was authentic," Jen Kwasniewski said. "He's really responsible and I think after his dad passed, he really had to grow up sort of fast. Trying to teach him how to be a responsible adult is just what you do as a mother."
Even though the on-camera skirmishes between the two play out with a certain mix of seriousness and humor, the younger Kwasniewski said he's a better person for having a strong parental figure guiding him.
"She's a tough cookie, but she's got to be like that," Kwasniewski said. "She's being a mom. She's got to make sure I'm doing what I need to do. It may be overbearing sometimes, but I'm glad that she's so hard on me. I get to have a stern talking-to and I'll make sure I'm well-disciplined, too.
"It's tough mixing business and a personal relationship at the same time, but we find a way to do it without ripping each other's hair out all the time. I absolutely love my mom to death. She's the one that took my racing under her wing when my dad died and she did a great job. Now she can kind of relax, be herself and just take it all in while I go up through the ranks."
As his budding racing career has taken off, so have the demands on his personal time. That balance is a focal point of the series, which shows Kwasniewski celebrating his 18th birthday with a cake and candles at the track on one race weekend, and receiving his high school diploma during driver introductions at another race while his classmates graduate back in Las Vegas.
Zane Stoddard, NASCAR's vice president of entertainment marketing and business development, said that documenting all of the personal and racing travel was a difficult, "all hands on deck" dance, but that the payoff was bringing Kwasniewski's charisma to the screen.
"I would say, for a professional athlete who's used to giving interviews and being on camera, he probably has an edge, but the challenge is to get the driver out of the mode of post-race," Stoddard said. "They recap a race strategically, throw in their sponsors, and the interview is over. Great content is about access, not just the physical access with what's happening in their lives, but emotional access. People need to know how you feel about things in order to care about them.
"That's one of the things we realized about Dylan right away is that he's an emotional kid, in a good way."
Despite having a production crew following his every move, Kwasniewski said the adjustment period once filming began was a short one.
"Once the cameras were on, like I said a million times before, those guys were so comfortable to work with that I just forgot about the cameras being there," Kwasniewski said. "I was really nervous coming into it. I didn't know how it was going to come off on camera. One episode into it, I started laughing at myself and at what was going on. I thought it was really cool."
As for the racing side, Kwasniewski holds a 40-point lead in the K&N East tour with three races left and is working hard to secure plans for 2014, potentially in the NASCAR Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series. With his life getting a taste of the Hollywood treatment, he'll do so with a little extra star power on his side.
"In these next two months, I think we'll definitely have our plan," Kwasniewski said. "We'll figure out which teams we want to go with, what we want to do with our sponsors, whether it's Truck or Nationwide, but we're definitely stepping up. That's the plan, and I'm excited to see what the future holds for me."
- Sports & Recreation
- Motor Racing
- Dylan Kwasniewski