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.
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.
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!