I am not a fan of reality television. Except, maybe, for the evening news.
I have never seen “American Idol.” The only reality show I have watched to conclusion was the one where INXS chose a new singer to replace Michael Hutchence, which was a preposterous idea from the start, because one does not replace Michael Hutchence.
With that said, there’s much to like in “Flat Out,” the new AOL docu-series that focuses on Dylan Kwasniewski, the 18-year-old NASCAR phenom from Las Vegas who recently moved to the Charlotte, N.C., suburbs to accelerate his career.
(He’s leading the points in the K&N East Series despite being involved in a hard crash at New Hampshire Saturday that left him dazed but otherwise uninjured.)
There are 10 episodes of “Flat Out” (on.aol.com/flatout) but each lasts only a tightly edited seven minutes. There are no commercials, so you can watch the entire first season in one sitting. Producers of “Duck Dynasty,” take note.
The last time I spoke with Dylan Kwasniewski he was 16. He was kind enough to practically drive to my doorstep on his way to a race in Lake Havasu, Ariz. We met at Buffalo Wild Wings at a Henderson strip mall but we talked at the food court patio outside; he was much too young to sit at the bar.
He was driving a customized flat-black BMW 335i Coupe. As I wrote then, when I was his age, I was driving my old man’s Pontiac Tempest station wagon, which had the power steering of a grain thresher.
Young Kwasniewski still was driving that flat-black Beemer during the filming of “Flat Out.” Only he had a Justin Bieber haircut. Some guy here in town, sporting a lot of tattoos, styles the budding leadfoot’s hair in a studio that looks more like a hipster storage shed, right down to the corrugated roll-down door. That was part of one of the seven-minute episodes.
By episodes 8, 9 and 10, Kwasniewski’s hair wasn’t that poofed up anymore. By then he had moved to North Carolina, where the hair stylists still are called barbers. If I had to guess, a lot of the barbers back there do not know how to give a Justin Bieber-style haircut; this is why Juan Pablo Montoya probably cuts his own hair.
Dylan Kwasniewski spends much of “Flat Out” pouting about stuff: moving to North Carolina; having to race in Iowa on the night his classmates graduated from Faith Lutheran High School; not being able to go to Spain with his best pal Cameron; being scolded by his mother, Jen, for throwing a loud, unsupervised party in Las Vegas before he moved away.
These are real dramas, and without drama — manufactured or real — there cannot be a reality show.
In “Flat Out,” Jen Kwasniewski is shown administering tough love to Dylan about throwing loud, unsupervised parties. They almost get through the segment without smiling.
She does not, however, administer a grounding to Dylan, or even take away the keys to the Beemer, because this was the week her son with the heavy right foot was racing at historic Greenville Pickens Speedway. Or was it historic Bowman Gray Stadium? Or historic Langley Speedway in Virginia? There sure are a lot of historic speedways in the Deep South.
There also are a lot of historic NASCAR fans down there, who ask questions in a way Dylan Kwasniewski is not accustomed. Such as this exchange during an autograph session:
Older female fan: “Are you kin to Brad?”
Kwasniewski: “Am I what?”
Older female fan: “Kin to Brad?”
Kwasniewski: “Kid to Red?
Female fan: “Brad.”
Female fan: B-R-A-D. Brad Keselowski.”
Kwasniewski: “What about Brad — Oh, Brad Keselowski? Oh, no, no, no. I got, the like, same ‘ski’ at the end of it.”
Having a “ski” at the end of it doesn’t make one kin to the NASCAR champ. Or even to a sports columnist.
By far, the most compelling of the “Flat Out” episodes is Episode 4. This is the one where Dylan discusses the death of his father, Randy, the former president and CEO of the Hard Rock Hotel.
Randy Kwasniewski was found dead of an apparent suicide; Dylan and his mom say Randy was under a lot of stress and on sleep medication, and that sleep medication makes one do crazy, terrible things sometime.
Dylan Kwasniewski did not pout at all during this episode.
He was the same way when he was 16, when I asked about his dad, and his dad’s passion for auto racing.
He just said his father would never quit on anything or anybody, much less his family. (Dylan has a sister, Taylor, who goes to Cornell in the Ivy League.)
Jen Kwasniewski says in front of the cameras that sometimes it is difficult being both a father and a mother to Dylan.
I am sure this is true even when the cameras aren’t rolling.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski