Joined The Augusta Chronicle in 1996 after spending nine years at The Aiken Standard. Served as copy editor, South Carolina bureau chief and Metro Editor before being named Sports Editor in April 2000.
Posted May 26, 2011 01:18 pm - Updated May 26, 2011 03:06 pm

Best auto racing movies


In honor of all the big races this weekend - Indy 500, Coca-Cola 600 and yes, even the Monaco Grand Prix - I've gotten into the spirit by attempting to identify the best movies about auto racing.

Thanks to my Facebook friends and some help from, I've gained a lot of knowledge on the subject this week. Not that I'm an expert, mind you, but it's been a fun conversation

First, let me clarify what constitutes an auto racing movie. (At least in my mind.) 

  1. It must be a race with multiple cars competing against each other. That lets Smokey and the Bandit out. (Buford T. Justice's police car doesn't count.)
  2. No drag or street racing. Sorry, Fast and Furious fans. (Tokyo Drift was awful.)
  3. No chase scenes. Which kills me, because I love Bullitt.

 Let's break it down by categories: 


Talladega Nights seemed to draw the most responses, or at least the most quoted dialogue, according to my friends. A sampling: "If you're not first, you're last." And "Shake and bake!" And "my boys Walker and Texas Ranger." I daresay Talladega Nights is the Caddyshack of auto racing movies.

Days of Thunder has better racing action, and co-star Robert Duvall actually wore Georgia and Florida caps during the movie, Tex pointed out.

Greased Lightning, the true story of black driver Wendell Scott (portrayed by Richard Pryor), isn't bad.

There are also movies that pay homage to real-life drivers Junior Johnson, Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.

Don't forget: Six Pack with Kenny Rogers and "a very young" Diane Lane, or Stroker Ace with Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson.


Grand Prix, starring James Garner, is in a fierce race with Le Mans and Steve McQueen. Both get high marks for being the most authentic racing movies. And I'm probably pretty safe to say that McQueen was the best actor to also race cars, although Paul Newman would be a close second. His homage to the sport was in Winning, set against the backdrop of the Indy 500.

Our resident motorsports experts, Rainier and Glynn, both say Grand Prix is the ticket, so who am I to argue?

The consensus is that Sylvester Stallone should stick to boxing. Driven is his turn behind the wheel.


Cars, the animated hit with Lightning McQueen in the starring role, seems to be the winner of this category. I prefer the old Speed Racer cartoons to the movie. Any of the Herbie the Love Bug movies also would qualify, although I don't count any that don't have Dean Jones in them.


You can't go wrong with Cannonball Run, can you? With Burt Reynolds James Bond (I mean Roger Moore), Farrah Fawcett and Dom DeLuise and a cast of thousands, you really can't.


At least three Elvis movies were set against thin backdrops of auto racing: Viva Las Vegas, Spinout and Speedway. The plots were usually similar, just change out the leading lady (Ann-Margaret, Shelley Fabares or Nancy Sinatra). Me? I'll take Viva and Ann-Margaret, hands down.

Elvis wasn't the only one to indulge his desire to race in the movies. Plenty of other movies were made that featured the sport in a romance/drama.

Among big-name stars, Al Pacino took his shot in Bobby Deerfield and James Caan did it in Red Line 7000. No evidence that Clint Eastwood made a racing movie, but I could be wrong.


Warm up for this weekend's races by checking out one of the above movies. Don't expect an Oscar-worthy performance, but have some fun and look for some good racing, a little bit of danger and a plot revolving around women, money or both. And winning the race, of course.