Buckle up for a ride, because it is going to be a NASCAR summer on the big screen, starting with Pixar’s Cars 3 June 16, and ending August 18 with the Steven Soderbergh’s racetrack heist film Logan Lucky.
The actual NASCAR racing season, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, began February 19 with the Advance Auto Parts Clash (won this year by Joey Logano), and ends in September with the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway. “Playoff” races start after that and run through November.
NASCAR racing covers most of the year, and miles of track. In the spirit of the race, here are 20 fun, and sometimes geeky, facts about NASCAR and stock car racing:
1. The very first professional “NASCAR Strictly Stock season” race was held June 19, 1949, at Charlotte Speedway on a ¾-mile dirt track. However, the origins of stock car racing go back to the Prohibition era when drivers ran bootleg hooch across the country. Drivers needed fast, good cars, so they did many homemade modifications to make them better. After the Prohibition ended, drivers’ desire to race and modify their cars continued. Today NASCAR is second only to the National Football League in the United States in terms of viewers.
2. NASCAR racer Danica Patrick has no shortage of fans, but the “First Lady of Racing” is Louise Smith, who secretly entered a 1947 stock car race using her husband’s Ford Coupe. She continued to compete from 1945 to 1956, and won 38 races in various formats. She is the inspiration for the Cars 3 character Louise “Barnstormer” Nash.
3. Other cars honoring veteran NASCAR legends in Cars 3 include River Scott, inspired by Wendell Scott, the first and so far only African-American to win a Cup Series race; Junior “Midnight” Moon, inspired by racer and former moonshiner Junior Johnson; and Smokey, inspired by winning mechanic, car builder, and crew chief Smokey Yunick. Of these, only Johnson is still alive, and at age 85 even lent his voice to the Cars 3 character.
4. All three Cars movies have featured many current names in racing and NASCAR, and some of the ones to look for in Cars 3 include Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney, Daniel Suárez, Bubba Wallace, Darrel Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, talk show host Mike Joy, Kyle Petty and, of course, Richard Petty.
5. On October 4, 1998, the “Batman vs. The Joker: Showdown at Charlotte” took place with a race between Dale Jarrett’s Batman-themed No. 88, and Kenny Irwin’s Joker-themed No. 28, both Ford Tauruses. There was even a promotional comic released coinciding with the event. Batman won.
6. Vortex Comics released a short-lived series, Legends of NASCAR, starting in 1990, with issues devoted to racers like Bill Elliott, Ken Schrader, Bobby Allison, and others.
7. NASCAR actually published its own comic series with ABDO Publishing from 2007 to 2009, NASCAR Heroes. It was nominated for a Harvey Award, participated in Free Comic Book Day, and had a cover inspired by Speed Racer.
8. In 2014 DC Comics teamed up with Hendrick Motorsports to pair DC characters Batman, Superman, Flash, and Green Lantern for adventures with NASCAR drivers Jeff Gordon, Kasey Kahne, Jimmie Johnson, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
9. Although the movie Logan Lucky doesn’t come out until August, it centers on a planned robbery during the Coca-Cola 600 race, held in late May at Charlotte Motor Speedway. According to the Speedway history, the first United States President, George Washington, has dined and slept at a home that later — much later — once served as offices for the Speedway.
10. Sebastian Stan (Captain America: The Winter Soldier) portrays a NASCAR racer named Dayton White in Logan Lucky, but the movie’s producer Mark Johnson told USA Today last year six real NASCAR favorites will make cameos in the film. None, however, will portray NASCAR drivers (watch for Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch as state troopers).
11. Zombieland hero Tallahassee, played by Woody Harrelson, was a huge Dale Earnhardt fan, and painted Earnhardt’s “Number 3” on the cars he drove. Earnhardt fans may have picked up on the fact both these cars were based on the color schemes of Earnhardt’s actual cars.
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. has announced his retirement this year, but the Earnhardt legacy is far from finished. Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Daytona 500 was this year in February, but it marked a history-making milestone for his nephew, Jeffrey Earnhardt, who became the first ever fourth-generation driver to compete in the race.
13. There have been many movies, television shows, and video games featuring NASCAR racing, but according to the site Ranker.com, the most popular NASCAR films are ranked are Days of Thunder, Cars (the original), and Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. However, in overall “racing” films, all these rank after all The Fast and The Furious films, Rush, Death Race, and the Steve McQueen classic, Le Mans.
14. Everyone knows the black-and-white checkered flag marks the end of a race, but non-racing fans might not know what all the other flags mean. Think of it like a traffic light. Green means “Go” (start the race); yellow means “slow down” (caution, the track might have dangerous conditions due to weather or debris); and red means “stop” (cars need to pull over to a designated location until the track is safe). Other colors include a white flag (one lap left), black flag (a driver’s racing behavior or car condition is under scrutiny); black flag with white diagonal stripe (a driver isn’t paying attention to the black flag, so their scoring is suspended); and the blue flag with diagonal yellow stripe (reminds slower drivers they aren’t in the lead lap).
15. Keanu Reeves is one the latest actors set to portray a driver in the upcoming film Rally Car, about an ego-centric NASCAR driver who tries to boost his career in a rally car race across China. No release date for the film has been set.
16. The first siblings to win NASCAR driving championship were Bobby and Terry Labonte. Bobby won in 2000, with Terry having two victories in 1984 and 1996.
17. There was NASCAR-themed animated sci-fi, NASCAR Racers, with a racing war of good Team Fastex versus evil Team Rexcor. It was originally released on FOX, and lasted two seasons.
18. There have been many video games devoted to NASCAR, but the online racing community iRacing, first introduced in 2008, takes it to the next level. Members can design more than 80 race cars, and participate in races on more than 80 tracks in full-bodied stock cars, race truck variants, open-wheel cars, and more.
19. The coolest NASCAR mascot is the Thing-like “Miles the Monster,” a 46-foot-high monster that lurks outside the entrance of Dover International Speedway. Miles, who was built in 2008, gets his name from the track’s own nickname, “The Monster Mile.” Yes, that is a real car he is holding and, yes, it is possible to shimmy up the interior of his arm to sit in it, but no, this is not something allowed by the general public (so don’t ask).
20. What driver has won the most Daytona 500s? That would be racing’s “The King” himself, Richard Petty with seven wins. He also has the most wins of any driver in stock car racing history: 200 wins (although Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt share the record with Petty for most series championships). Petty’s Cars character “The King” is pretty much identical — down to the “Dinoco blue” — to Petty’s famous 1970 Plymouth Superbird.
By the way, this Superbird can bee seen at the Richard Petty Museum in Randleman, N.C., so there’s plenty of time between NASCAR-inspired movies this summer for a road trip.