You never know where an errant conversation will lead. It could just steer you right back on track.
That’s certainly the case with writer, producer and director Laura J. Milliken. Unsure of whether or not she wanted to stay in the TV business anymore, the Anishinaabe entrepreneur, and founder of Big Soul Productions, was chatting with Glenn Styres in 2018. She and the winningest driver at, and owner of, Ohsweken Speedway discussed a possible show, which eventually evolved into Friday Night Thunder.
“I had been to that track a few times, but I was by no means an avid racer,” Milliken says over the phone. “[Co-creator/producer/composer and fellow driver] Derek Miller has shown me some documentaries on Ayrton Senna and Drive to Survive on Netflix, and I became really inspired and obsessed.” Her racing education continued through track visits to watch Indy, Formula 1, NASCAR and dirt tracks.
The result? A documentary series heading into its third season. Returning Friday at 8 p.m. Eastern on APTN, Friday Night Thunder spotlights 11 Indigenous sprint car drivers—including Styres, Miller, Brian Nanticoke, Aaron Turkey and Alex Hill—as they navigate the highly dangerous open-wheel sport in the Six Nations community just outside Brantford, Ont. And as cool as it is to watch the drivers and their cars jockey for position in heats and finals, Friday Night Thunder shines with its storytelling.
In Episode 1 of 13, it has been over 993 days since the COVID-19 pandemic closed Ohsweken Speedway. Now it’s open for business, but missing an integral part. Vera, Glenn’s mother, has passed away since the Season 2 finale. This gave Milliken and her team not only the opportunity to re-tell how, in 1994, Glenn built the 3/8 mile oval Ohsweken Speedway—the only of its kind in an Indigenous community in North America—on 80 acres of family-owned land but also those early days and the support Vera provided him right up until her death. It’s an emotional, deeply personal episode that cements the community around the track and the drivers, crew and audience on it.
“The show is really about the people,” Milliken says. “It’s exciting to see Indigenous people doing something that we don’t know they’re doing. This is the most fun I’ve ever had telling stories in my entire life.”
Friday Night Thunder airs Fridays at 8 p.m. Eastern on APTN.
Image courtesy of Big Soul Productions.