Dan Wheldon The Lionheart
Late race car driver Dan Wheldon pictured in The Lionheart. Photograph by Michael Voorhees/HBO

When Laura Brownson began making The Lionheart, a new HBO documentary about late British race car driver and two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon, the director knew she wanted the story to be more than just a story culminating in his tragic 2011 death.

Instead, she decided to make it as much about Wheldon’s incredible achievements in racing as it was about the the continuation of his legacy through the wife and two sons left behind when he died after his race car wrecked during the IZOD IndyCar World Championship at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Telling the story of Wheldon’s rise to fame, his dedication to his family, and the racing career his young sons are forging in his memory, The Lionheart premieres on HBO and Max at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Tuesday.

The Lionheart is executive-produced by Chapman and Maclain Way, with whom Brownson previously worked on an episode of the Netflix sports documentary series Untold.

With much involvement from Wheldon’s widow, Susie, Brownson decided to tell the racing legend’s story through the lens of their sons Sebastian and Oliver Wheldon, who represent the next generation of racing. It also takes a close look at Susie’s struggle to watch her sons partake in the sport that took her husband from her.

The Lionheart Director Laura Brownson on Telling the Dan Wheldon Story

Susie, Sebastian, and Oliver Wheldon pictured in The Lionheart. Courtesy of HBO.

“Dan’s story is definitely a film in and of itself, but I feel like that story wouldn’t necessarily touch the broader audience,” Brownson told MovieMaker.

“I think that by interweaving Sebastian and Oliver’s story in with Dan’s — and even maybe more importantly, Susie, their mother’s story — suddenly, we have this really relatable film,” Brownson adds. “I really related to Susie’s kind of palpable dilemma. I wanted to understand — why would the boys want to do what took their father from them? And how can Susie let them?”

Part of the doc’s wider appeal is that audiences don’t need to be familiar with racing or motorsports to get something out of The Lionheart, Brownson says.

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“You don’t have to be the mother of a racecar driver to understand: how, as parents, do we step aside and put our baggage and our fears and our insecurities aside to allow our kids to follow their dreams?” she says.

Brownson, a mother herself, got to know Susie Wheldon very well while making the documentary — which allowed the widow to open up about her husband’s death and her son’s burgeoning racing career in a new and vulnerable way.

“Documentary films, at least the ones that I make, take a long time, which is good and bad. But I think the upside of taking so much time is that you really develop a relationship with the person you’re making a film about. And so, it took time to go there,” Brownson says.

“But Susie’s also kind of uniquely vulnerable, or at least she was with, with us, with me. She really went deep, and there’s a lot of sadness just kind of under the surface for Susie. But she, I guess, trusted us enough to tell her story in a dignified way. And I feel really lucky that she was willing to go there.”

Telling the story through the lens of Sebastian and Oliver Wheldon was well-timed, considering that when filming began, the boys had just signed to their father’s former Indycar team, Andretti. And it was a way for Susie Wheldon to feel that her husband’s story didn’t end with his death.

“I think she was approached many times by filmmakers who she didn’t want to let them tell the story, because it was sort of like the story ends with Dan’s passing and that’s that. But the way that I wanted to tell the story was, the story continues. The legacy continues. The boys are now doing what their father did, and it’s not the end of the story. It’s kind of only the beginning.”

The Lionheart begins streaming Tuesday on Max.