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Will Ferrell as the man, the myth, the legend, Ricky Bobby, in Talladega Nights.

Mr. Movie: Car racing

I recently saw director Ron Howard’s (remember Opie?) bang-up car racing movie, Rush (2013). It is about the Formula One (open wheel) rivalry in the 1970s between handsome, charismatic Brit James Hunt and stolid, matter-of-fact Austrian Riki Lauda. It’s a very good story, with mostly unknown actors, and the racing parts are edge-of-your seat convincing. And, this film put me in mind of other movies about racing. There are dozens; these are my favorites.


While most Americans have nev-er heard of Ayrton Senna, he was Argentina’s Formula One champion in the 1990s and Senna (2010) is an outstanding documentary about his life, on the track and off. It’s hard to fathom what a big deal he was in his home country — think Michael Jordan, Mickey Mantle and Richard Petty rolled into one. Tragically, he was killed in a freak racing accident at the height of his powers. 


Days Of Thunder (1990) is about NASCAR racing. Director Tony Scott gets the racing parts on the screen quite well. This film has an excellent storyline, and a dy-namite cast featuring Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Randy Quaid and Robert Duvall. There are also cameos by some real life racers, like Rusty Wallace, Harry Gant and Neil Bonnett. 


The world of drag racing will never be the same after the impact Shirley Muldowney made in the late 1970s as the first woman in the sport. Heart Like A Wheel (1983) is her story, and Bonnie Bedelia is superb playing her. There is the usual stuff about girls can’t do this, but this girl absolutely can and proves it by winning three championships. 


Le Mans (1971) and Grand Prix (1966) are both good Formula One movies. The first stars Steve McQueen and had so little dialog and so much racing footage from the actual 1970 Le Mans race that American audiences didn’t like it (but car race fans love it!). The latter stars James Garner and was a big hit with US audiences. 


The Last American Hero (1973) features Jeff Bridges as NASCAR legend and fellow Tar Heel Junior Johnson, and is fairly accurate for a Hollywood bio.      


Last but not least, Will Ferrell is wonderfully clueless in the hysterically funny Talladega Nights (2006). A movie that makes fun of just about everything NASCAR, it is not well-loved by race fans, but everyone else laughs their heads off. It is not in the least accurate, but it is in the most really funny. 


All of the films in this column are fine for 10 and over.  I must admit that because of the subject matter, almost all of them would be better on the big screen. Well, we can’t always have every-thing we want! 


- Rusty Hammond, a former judge, has been watching, studying and reviewing movies for various publications.