NASCAR is an exhilarating and popular motorsport that dazzles fans with its adrenaline-pumping races, charismatic drivers, and thrilling atmosphere. Hollywood has never shied away from bringing the excitement and heart-pounding action of the sport to the big screen, with a slew of memorable films accurately capturing the heart of the competition.
Audiences everywhere watched as comedic genius Will Ferrell delivered an unforgettable performance as the immature titular racer in Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, becoming an instant classic and another impressive entry in Adam McKay’s repertoire. Owen Wilson helped launch an enduring franchise when he voiced the cocky race car Lightning McQueen in Cars, reprising the role for two sensational sequels. Here are 10 of the best movies about NASCAR, ranked.
10 Six Pack
Country music legend Kenny Rogers headlined the zany 1982 dramedy Six Pack, focusing on skilled race car driver Brewster Baker as he finds himself becoming a surrogate parent to a group of rambunctious and auto-savvy orphans who stole parts off his car while at a remote gas station in Texas.
After learning that the kids were being forced to steal on behalf of the town’s crooked local sheriff (Barry Corbin), Brewster enlists the children to work in his pit crew, and he goes toe-to-toe with the corrupt lawman. Six Pack features early performances by Diane Lane and Anthony Michael Hall and is a playful and eccentric flick.
NASCAR was given the musical treatment when rock and roll icon Elvis Presley teamed up with fellow singer Nancy Sinatra in the 1968 toe-tapping extravaganza Speedway. The music trailblazer portrays the big-hearted racing extraordinaire Steve Grayson as he attempts to get his friend and manager out of a sticky financial situation by entering into a series of races with large cash prizes. Grayson meets the beautiful IRS agent Susan Jacks overlooking his manager’s money woes, and the pair fall in love as he hustles to make up the funds needed to keep his pal out of jail, breaking into sensational songs along the way.
8 Stroker Ace
The always charismatic and wildly entertaining Burt Reynolds starred as the titular NASCAR driver in the 1983 action sports comedy Stroker Ace, following the arrogant and overly-confident character as he signs up to be the face of a fried chicken chain after losing his contract with his original sponsor, and quickly realizes he bit off more than he could chew with the dicey deal.
The combative Ace has a hard time being told what to do by his new superior and detests the promotional gimmicks he’s forced to partake in, so the scheming racer sets out to find a way out of the unpleasant deal. While not a major cinematic feat, Reynolds is in all his charming glory in the lively farce which is reason enough to check it out.
7 Greased Lightning
Comedy trailblazer and beloved performer Richard Pryor portrayed real-life stock car racing driver Wendell Scott in the 1977 biographical film Greased Lightning. The movie recounts the exceptional career of the trailblazing sportsman from his early years as a World War II veteran to his illustrious and decorated racing career. Scott became the first Black NASCAR driver to win a race at premier level, coming out on top in the 1963 Grand National Series race at Speedway Park in spite of facing racial prejudice and death threats within the sport.
Prior shared the screen with Beau Bridges and Pam Grier in the uplifting picture, demonstrating his skills and range as an actor while bringing the famous racer’s engrossing story to the big screen. While the funnyman showcased his comedic chops in the film, he also proved himself to be a serious performer and handled the role impressively.
6 Days of Thunder
With a spectacular ensemble cast led by Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, and Robert Duvall, Tony Scott’s 1990 sports action drama Days of Thunder centers on hotshot NASCAR rookie Cole Trickle and his bitter rivalry with seasoned veteran racer Rowdy Burns (Michael Rooker), as the men engage in a dangerous competition that leaves them both severely injured. After the serious accident bonds the drivers and they become friends, Trickle makes it his mission to honor Burns and use his car in the Daytona 500 against the devious up-and-comer Russ Wheeler (Cary Elwes).
Days of Thunder was a smash hit at the box office, grossing over $157 million and earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Sound, though critics weren’t too impressed and deemed it a run-of-the-mill tale. Though not directly based on a true story, the character of Cole Trickle is said to have been inspired by race car drivers Geoff Bodine and Tim Richmond, incorporating real-life moments from their NASCAR careers.
5 Red Line 7000
Acclaimed director Howard Hawks enlisted the talented and suave James Caan to star in his 1965 action sports drama Red Line 7000, telling the story of three ambitious racing drivers and their supportive but perpetually worried significant others as their conflicting personalities and temperaments threaten the longevity and success of their racing team. Caan appears alongside fellow newcomers like James Ward, Laura Devon, and John Crawford in the exhilarating film, with Hawks specifically choosing Hollywood newcomers for the project.
NASCAR driver Larry Frank helped production of the drama by mounting cameras on his car for the film crew and capturing footage during his races. Famous racetracks were featured in Red Line 7000 including Atlanta Motor Speedway and Daytona International Speedway, much to the delight of racing enthusiasts across the world.
4 The Last American Hero
Jeff Bridges portrayed an unruly Southern man and highly-skilled driver in the 1973 sports drama The Last American Hero, appearing as career moonshiner-turned-NASCAR racer Junior Jackson as he sets out to climb the ranks in the fan-favorite motorsport and prove the naysayers of his small North Carolina town wrong by becoming the greatest stock car racer of all time. After his father is sentenced to a year in prison, Jackson steps up to provide for his family and makes it his mission to make an honest and lucrative living doing what he loves most in the world.
The engrossing film is loosely based on both the life of real-life racer Junior Johnson as well as Tom Wolfe’s Esquire essay “The Last American Hero Is Junior Johnson. Yes!,” and despite failing to make a splash at the box office garnered critical acclaim. Bridges was lauded for his compelling performance and the drama was praised for its uplifting and inspiring themes of determination and tenacity.
3 Logan Lucky
Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, and Riley Keough portrayed the titular family members who hatch a plan to rob the Charlotte Motor Speedway in the 2017 heist comedy Logan Lucky, with the cash-strapped clan devising the risky plot to execute the robbery during a major NASCAR race with the help of an eccentric criminal (Daniel Craig) revered for his safe-cracking skills. The Logans find their bold mission complicated when a savvy FBI agent (Hilary Swank) is brought in to investigate the robbery dubbed “Ocean’s Seven-Eleven.”
Logan Lucky was a critical and commercial success, with director Steven Soderbergh coming out of retirement (with the filmmaker intending to do so after 2013’s Behind the Candelabra) to helm the massively entertaining flick after reading the script, calling it an “anti-glam version of an Ocean’s movie.” The comedy earned appreciatio for its humor and slick storytelling, as well as its fun twists and turns.
The always charming Owen Wilson lent his distinct and easygoing voice to the 2006 smash hit animated sports comedy Cars, appearing as the talented but extremely self-centered rookie race car Lightning McQueen.
The car ends up stranded in the rundown and remote small town of Radiator Springs, where he is given a few life-altering lessons in the importance of friendship and being humble. McQueen meets a slew of colorful characters including the laid-back rusty tow truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy) and feisty Porsche 911 Sally Carrera (Bonnie Hunt), who provide a much-needed attitude adjustment for the go-getter racer.
Cars was a slam dunk at the box office and went on to gross $462 million, launching a lucrative and enduring film franchise that spawned two direct sequels and two spin-off films. Decent Films wrote in their positive review of the flick, “Cars is Pixar’s most improbable success to date, a film that could easily have misfired, but somehow does not.”
1 Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Side-splitting Hollywood superstar Will Ferrell once again delivered comedy gold when he starred as the eponymous NASCAR racer in Adam McKay’s 2006 sports farce Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, portraying the skilled but childish driver as he finds his cushy and successful existence completely turned upside down the arrival of his eccentric French archrival Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), who knocks him off his game and threatens the empire he’s built in the world of sports.
John C. Reilly, Michael Clarke Duncan, Amy Adams, and Leslie Bibb round out the star-studded cast, with many of NASCAR’s most famous faces also popping up in the uproarious flick including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jamie McMurray. Talladega Nights features epic race scenes, zany humor, and a refreshing insight into the inner workings of the motorsports, and is one of both Ferrell and McKay’s finest flicks.