Tuesday, May 02 2017 12:46

The Road to Cars 3: Honoring NASCAR History + an Adventure at Sonoma Raceway!

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As a kid, I grew up around racing. My dad was a track announcer, traveling on occasion with World of Outlaw/UARA Midgets - an era in which I got to see a lot of the short tracks across the Midwest. For awhile, he was also a regular announcer at the famed Santa Fe Speedway near Chicago, so I had plenty of chances to get up close to some high-octane fun. As an adult, I've seen my girls become enthusiastic about racing, and it all goes back to when our oldest daughter first saw Disney•Pixar's Cars. That was the start of the fascination here, and that makes it even more special that I've had the opportunity to work with Disney in promotion of Cars 3 - in theaters on June 16, 2017. During the early press days for the film, I found myself on the track at Sonoma Raceway - the road course formerly known as Sears Point - for a ride-along, along with some time spent doing a "Pit Stop Challenge" and witnessing a presentation on the history of NASCAR racing, presented by Cars franchise Creative Director Jay Ward and former Hendrick Motorsports Crew Chief, Ray Evernham. If you love racing, Cars 3 is going to mean a lot to you... but even if racing isn't your thing, you just might learn a lot, and find something new to love.

Video: An inside look at the on-track and pit stop challenge experience at Sonoma Raceway as part of the #Cars3Event

Cars 3 is very much a film about mentorship, and with that comes an emphasis on knowing and respecting those who came before you. In the film, Lightning McQueen reconnects with the past by meeting those who knew his personal mentor, the late Doc Hudson, best. Legendary real-life racers like Junior Johnson, Wendell Scott, Louise Smith and Smokey Yunick have inspired characters that reflect he rich history of racing, while also honoring those who broke new ground in crashing through the social barriers of their time.


In the old days, the motto was "race on Sunday, sell on Monday," the way that automakers could justify having their brand-new "stock" cars on the track in the years after a sport rooted in moonshine runners and bootleggers first got started, racing on the sands of Daytona Beach. Fast-forward to the present day, and new-school racers like Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney make their way into the voice cast, lending their sound to next-generation Cars characters.

Creative Director Jay Ward and Ray Evernham Presentation

Sonoma Raceway is a challenging track in that it's a road course - a rarity for NASCAR, which usually races in oval or tri-oval configurations. For our on-track experience, we hit 95mph - a significant number in Cars lore, in that Lightning McQueen's #95 is inspired by the year that Toy Story first hit theaters: 1995.

Toyography: Of course I had to take some toys! Here's come of Mattel's 1:55-scale Cars on the track at Sonoma Raceway

The speed on the track is relative to the type of car your driving, and while 95 seemed fast and exhausting, many cars like the McLaren supercars we checked out at Robin Automotive (a garage specializing in vintage racing and restoration) could take those turns at 185mph since they're built for it. A typical NASCAR Cup car will hit speeds averaging 200mph on the oval. 

How fast will Lightning McQueen go when he faces off against newcomers like Jackson Storm? Find out this June...

About Disney•Pixar Cars 3: Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician, Cruz Ramirez, with her own plan to win, plus inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet and a few unexpected turns. Proving that #95 isn’t through yet will test the heart of a champion on Piston Cup Racing’s biggest stage!

See Cars 3 when it races into theaters on June 16, 2017!

James Zahn

James Zahn is not a journalist, nor a blogger, though he may be credited as such by others, or even accept the title... depending on the circumstance.  Instead, he considers himself largely to be an "entertainment and lifestyle writer," bringing 25+ years of experience in the entertainment and publishing industries into the family realm as THE ROCK FATHER™.

As a media personality, commentator, adventurer and raconteur, James now finds himself raising a pair young girls - The Rock Daughters™ - along with his wife from their Illinois home.

He is a member of The Toy Insider Parent Advisory Board, has contributed to The Toy Book and regularly serves as a Brand Ambassador and spokesperson for several Globally-recognized pop culture and lifestyle brands in addition to consulting for a number of toy manufacturers. 

Creatively, James has directed/edited music videos, lyric videos, and album trailers for bands such as FEAR FACTORY, has appeared as an actor in feature films and commercials, written comic books, and performed in bands. He currently serves as an artist manager and video director for PRODUCT OF HATE, whose debut album was released by Napalm Records in 2016, distributed by ADA/Warner Music in the U.S. with Universal Music handling global.

James and/or his work have been featured in/on CNN, FOX Business, NBC, ABC, WGN, G4, The Chicago Tribune, BusinessWire, Babble, Fangoria, Starlog and more. He's appeared as a music expert on CNN's AC360 alongside Anderson Cooper, and has been interviewed by Larry King. In the past he served as a writer for the Netflix Stream Team,  Fandango Family and PBS KIDS, penned articles for Sprout and PopSugar, and was a contributor to Chicago Parent.

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