NASCAR hasn’t just captured the imagination of its race fans, but also of much of the wider world through the medium of film. Over the years, there have been a number of fantastic Hollywood blockbusters depicting NASCAR drivers, their triumphs, and their losses. On top of this, there have been many other fictional portrayals set against the dramatic backdrop of thundering stock cars. In today’s blog, we’re going to take a closer look at some of these titles, what they’re about, and who’s in them.
Days of Thunder is a NASCAR movie that even non-NASCAR fans have probably either heard of or seen before. Riding at a high point in his career after smash hits like Top Gun, Tom Cruise plays Cole Trickle, a successful open-wheel driver who has been invited to compete on the NASCAR circuit in the Winston Cup Series. Trickle finds early success, but then gets into a bitter rivalry with the reigning champion Rowdy Burns (played by Michael Rooker).
After a serious crash takes him and Burns out of the sport temporarily with serious injuries, Cole’s teammate replacement steps into the breach and finds success. When Cole returns, however, he finds new rivalries and new dilemmas as he finds his new teammate is not above dubious tactics to win. The film also stars Nicole Kidman as a brilliant neurosurgeon who develops a close relationship with Cruise’s character.
For those who might find Days of Thunder a bit heavy and dramatic, then this Will Ferrell movie should provide some comic relief.
Talladega Nights tells the story of Ferrell’s character, Ricky Bobby, and his best friend Cal (played by John C. Reilly), two NASCAR drivers on top of their game until they are suddenly challenged by the arrival of a new former F1 driver from Europe, Jean Girard, as they head to a key decisive race at the Talladega 500. Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame takes on this role.
The movie details the relationship between Ricky and Cal, the rivalry with Girard, and carries a key message of appreciating your teammates and others supporting you when you’re involved in the sport of NASCAR — or indeed any other walk of life.
Fans of this film may well have had a double take when they saw it was a relatively serious movie that for some reason stars comic genius Richard Pryor. In this film from the late 1970s, Pryor takes on the role of real-life NASCAR driver Wendell Scott, the sport’s first African-American driver.
The film was groundbreaking not just in telling this amazing story of one driver’s fight against prejudice, but also in showing the range and talent of Pryor, who was always known for his comedic roles. Wendell Scott’s story is a fascinating one, showing how the kinds of talent one needs for sports like NASCAR can be found in the most seemingly unlikely of places.
Few names in the NASCAR world create as much divided opinion as Kyle Busch. While the other entries in our list have been either fictional or biographical in nature, this one is the first of the documentary format.
This doc gives an in-depth look at the racing career of Kyle Busch, how tragic events and the loss of friends have shaped his life, and how being in a sport like NASCAR has impacted the relationship he has with his brother, fellow NASCAR driver Kurt Busch.
Those who are interested in getting to see Kyle Busch up close and personal, as well as getting greater insight into his rivalry with Dale Earnhardt Jr. As NASCAR films go, this one is a must-see for fans who keep up with every NASCAR season.
This film stars Jeff Bridges and is based upon the life of Junior Johnson, who began his NASCAR career back in 1955. Bridges’ character in the movie has a slightly different surname, Jackson, but it was Johnson’s real-life events that inspired the picture.
The film gets its name from a series of articles written by Tom Wolfe, where Wolfe used the descriptor “The Last American Hero” to refer to Johnson.
For those interested in the early days of NASCAR, and who are interested in seeing how drivers in those early days got along, raised money, and made their name, this is a must-see film. Junior Johnson himself has praised it for its realism. Those wanting a gritty story brimming with determination should add this to their “Watch Next” list.
Another great biographical choice in our list is 43: The Richard Petty Story. Despite its name, the film actually places a great deal of attention on Richard’s father, Lee Petty. The son plays himself, and Lee Petty is portrayed by Darren McGavin of A Christmas Story fame.
It’s a bit low budget compared to some of the other titles in this list, and the filmmakers certainly took some license with the real Lee Petty story, but it does contain a lot of real racing footage, and offers fans of the Petty Enterprises brand a great deal of insight into how that company got its foothold in the world of NASCAR.
Not everyone can get into a film that’s entirely about NASCAR, so why not combine the elements of a heist movie with the dramatic adrenaline-fueled backdrop of NASCAR? That’s what you get in Logan Lucky.
The film stars Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Riley Keough playing a group of brothers who plan a robbery at the Charlotte Motor Speedway during race weekend itself. Marvel fans will be pleased to see Sebastian Stan also take on the role of one of the NASCAR drivers.
Burt Reynolds fans will love this classic 80s racing movie. While it certainly was never to everyone’s tastes — especially the most serious and die-hard NASCAR fans — it remains an enjoyable option for those who want a good story set against a racing background.
Stroker Ace tells a story of a fictional NASCAR driver of the same name whose antics during races, despite bringing him success, lead his sponsors to drop him. The result is that the only way he can continue to race is by accepting a more humiliating deal from a new sponsor: The Chicken Pit.
The film deals with Ace’s conflicts with his new sponsor, and him trying to get out of his contract without having to yield to the sponsor’s most important and demeaning stipulation: that Ace can be released from the contract without incident if he should be sure to lose the final race of the season, and thus the championship.
Red Line 7000 (1965)
Red Line 7000 tells the story of three drivers competing for a team owned by a young woman who has inherited it from her father. The film features intense racing scenes, romantic entanglements, and the drivers’ personal struggles, including dealing with the death of a teammate.
the late James Caan, in his first leading role, delivers a standout performance in this action-packed film that captures the thrill and danger of NASCAR racing.
Thunder in Carolina (1960)
Thunder in Carolina centers on Mitch Cooper, a young driver who moves to a small town to compete in the local dirt-track races. Cooper quickly becomes a fan favorite and catches the eye of a wealthy businesswoman who sponsors his racing career.
However, Cooper’s success attracts the jealousy and resentment of other drivers, leading to dangerous on-track clashes. This film, shot on location in North Carolina, features stunning racing footage and a compelling storyline that will keep viewers on the edge of their seats, at least according to the poster!
The Big Wheel (1949)
“The Big Wheel” stars Mickey Rooney as Billy Coy, a brash young driver who dreams of winning the Indianapolis 500. So actually more of an open Wheel movie, though it does have midget cars in it, but its got Mickey Rooney in it! so we popped it here as well.
Along the way, Coy must navigate the politics and pitfalls of the racing world, including a scheming rival who will stop at nothing to beat him.
Thomas Mitchell delivers a memorable performance as Coy’s tough-but-fair mechanic, providing a solid anchor for the film’s high-speed thrills and emotional drama.
Winning stars Paul Newman as Frank Capua, a rising star in the world of open-wheel racing who falls in love with a divorced mother played by Joanne Woodward. As Capua’s career takes off, he must balance his ambition with his commitment to his new family, leading to conflicts both on and off the track.
With thrilling racing scenes, although liek the movie above focussing on IndyCar not NASCAR, a touching love story, and a standout performance by Newman, “Winning” is a classic sports movie that has stood the test of time. just don’t ask Quentin Tarantino to watch it! (see the link)
Six Pack (1982)
Six Pack follows a washed-up racecar driver named Brewster Baker, played by country music star Kenny Rogers, who takes on a group of orphaned children as his pit crew. Along the way, Baker and the kids face numerous challenges, both on and off the track, as they try to turn their fortunes around.
Diane Lane delivers a standout performance as a young mechanic who helps Baker and the kids get back on their feet. With plenty of heart and humor, “Six Pack” is a feel-good movie that will leave viewers cheering.
Over the years, NASCAR has inspired several Hollywood blockbusters and fictional portrayals that have captivated not only race fans but also the wider world. Some of the most popular movies include “Days of Thunder” featuring Tom Cruise, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” starring Will Ferrell, “Greased Lightning” starring Richard Pryor,
Each of these films offers a unique perspective on NASCAR racing and is worth a watch for both NASCAR enthusiasts and those who enjoy entertaining movies. Hopefully we will be seeing some more NASCAR themed movies soon.