By CHRIS JENKINS
AP Sports Writer
Ron Howard got to drive the pace car that led the field to the green flag of last Sunday’s Brickyard 400. He wasn’t just visiting the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to enjoy the thrill of racing, though.
The award-winning director is working on a motorsports-themed movie _ “Rush,” the story of the 1970s rivalry between Formula One stars James Hunt and Niki Lauda. And while the scene in NASCAR is wildly different than Europe’s F1 series, Howard still saw value in getting a close look at what a driver experiences in a top racing series so he can reproduce that feeling on film.
Howard, who won Oscars for Best Director and Best Picture in for his 2001 film “A Beautiful Mind,” also has directed blockbusters such as “Apollo 13,” “Backdraft” and “Cinderella Man.”
Asked to name his favorite racing-themed movie, Howard could have gone with one of the more dramatic racing films, such as “Grand Prix” or “Le Mans.” But while Howard appreciates those two movies, he went in a different direction.
His movie will be significantly more serious, telling the story of the showdown between the fast-living Hunt and calculating Lauda. It is expected to be released in the fall of 2013.
At Indy, Howard spent time with Jeff Gordon and was introduced at the prerace drivers’ meeting to a loud ovation.
Howard says he’s a huge sports fan, but not a particularly big racing fan. Getting involved in the movie and spending time at Indy has heightened his appreciation for the sport.
Howard said he came across the Hunt-Lauda rivalry through screenwriter Peter Morgan, whose family knew Lauda.
But is the story too obscure to appeal to a U.S. audience?
With that in mind, Howard said they didn’t have to embellish the story to make the movie appealing.
Howard frequently posted behind-the-scenes photos on his Twitter account while the movie was being filmed, getting positive feedback from fans _ including Hunt’s brother, who initially was skeptical about the project but ended up visiting the set.