Former IMSA Driver’s Involvement in “The Art of Racing in the Rain” Goes Back Many Years
Thursday, July 25, 2019

IMSA and sports car racing are poised to receive a major nationwide promotional boost with the pending release of the feature film, “The Art of Racing in the Rain.” And it’s thanks in part to a past champion in the Rolex 24 At Daytona.

The genesis of the film, based on the book of the same name, can be traced to noted driving instructor Don Kitch Jr. A document Kitch wrote long ago detailing “the mental and physical disciplines for drivers to become efficient driving a car in the rain” has not only helped racers become more prolific in wet race conditions, it serves as title inspiration for the New York Times bestseller by Garth Stein and now the 20th Century FOX drama that premieres Aug. 9.

“Who’d have dreamed it would have gone to where it’s gone now?” Kitch said in an interview from Pacific Raceways, the track near Seattle where he operates ProFormance Racing School.

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” centers on Denny Swift, an aspiring road racer who works in a Seattle auto repair shop as he strives to become a successful professional sports car driver. The story is told through the eyes and thoughts of Enzo, a dog that possesses many humanlike qualities and fancies racing. Enzo is voiced by Academy Award and Golden Globe winner Kevin Costner.

Since the book was published, Kitch adopted a dog he named Enzo, who seems to have some of the same attributes as his namesake in the book and film.

“There’s no place more that dog loves to be than the racetrack,” said Kitch, co-driver of the Nissan/Lola that won in the SRP II class at the Rolex 24 At Daytona in 2003. Kitch, who turned 72 on July 16, competed nearly 20 times in the prestigious IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race from 1995-2012.

Stein, the book’s author, knew of Kitch’s essay on how to succeed driving in the wet when he attended ProFormance and was tutored by instructor Kevin York. Stein saw a way to apply some of the overriding themes of successful wet driving to overcoming obstacles in life. An idea was born.

Released in 2008, the book raced onto the bestseller list. At the time, Kitch was co-driving at some events with actor Patrick Dempsey, including the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2009. Dempsey was then starring in the hit TV drama “Grey’s Anatomy,” which is set in Seattle. Coupled with Kitch’s passion to raise millions of dollars for Seattle Children’s Hospital through his racing, it forged their relationship. Dempsey eventually acquired the filmmaking rights to “The Art of Racing in the Rain” with the intent to play Swift.

By the time the movie was made nearly a decade later, the younger Milo Ventimiglia was cast in the lead role. Dempsey is a producer of the film directed by Simon Curtis.

In the book and film, Swift’s mantra for racing in the rain is to anticipate what lies ahead and not react to what has already happened. Be smooth, gentle and avoid sudden movements or changes in direction. They are ideas taken from Kitch’s essay, something he often reminds fans of when he autographs copies of the book.

“Sometimes,” Kitch said, “I sign with a quote: ‘Possess the car. You own it, you’re the boss of it. You don’t get in a race car; you put it on, it becomes a part of you. You and it are one, but you’re the boss of it.’”

Swift carries that same thought process – “stay focused on where you want to go and don’t let anyone steal your dream” – into how he lives his life in the film, especially when he encounters a series of setbacks along the way.

While Stein used his driving instructor York as the basis for Denny Swift, there is a Don Kitch character in the film – portrayed by veteran actor Gary Cole, known for many roles including Will Ferrell’s father in “Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby.”

Kitch will attend a screening of the movie in Seattle hosted by 20th Century Fox on Aug. 8 as a guest.

The filmmakers also saw to it that a lot of Pacific Raceways and Seattle were included. The crew spent several days shooting in the Pacific Northwest city. Among other film locations, with the aid of IMSA, was Canadian Tire Motorsport Park in Bowmanville, Ontario, site of an annual WeatherTech Championship event.

Kitch said the assistance from IMSA and one of its top teams, Turner Motorsport, was instrumental in making the film what it is.

“This movie couldn’t have been made without IMSA,” Kitch emphasized. “I hope everyone enjoys it.”

For more information on the film, visit