Top 10 NASCAR movies

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Ryan McGee

Ah yeah, NASCAR is racing in Hollywood. OK, maybe we aren't really racing in Hollywood per se, but we're in Fontana, which is near Tinseltown... sort of. Hey, they filmed the big climactic chase scene from "Terminator 2" in a warehouse next to the California Speedway, so that counts, right?

Not so long ago, NASCAR was begging Hollywood to make movies about racing. These days, it seems to be the other way around. This weekend in Fontana, Lindsay Lohan will be shooting scenes for "Herbie: Fully Loaded", a remake of the old "Love Bug" movies. (Rumor has it that Herbie may actually make his way onto the track during the pace laps, but somehow I don't see NASCAR president Mike Helton letting that happen.)

But wait, there's more! Famed producer Irwin Winkler is hard at work on "Dirt", based around the rough-and-tumble days of NASCAR's post-World War II youth. Will Ferrell is scripting a comedy called "Talladega Nights", and "NASCAR 3-D: The IMAX Experience" has pocketed nearly $18 million at the box office, making it the ninth highest-grossing IMAX movie of all-time.

All of this is good news. Why? Because, for the most part, NASCAR-themed movies have been really, really bad. Case in point — last year, Sports Illustrated released its list of the top 50 sports movies of all time. Only one motorsports movie, 1966's "Grand Prix" with James Garner and Eva Marie Saint, made SI's poll, coming in at 45th and sandwiched between "Any Given Sunday" and "The Deadliest Season", whatever the hell that is.

So, in the name of sanity and in honor of this week's holiday weekend in L.A., we have compiled a list of must-see NASCAR movies... or at least the best of the worst of what's available.

10. "Redline 7000" (1965)
The fact that this disaster is even listed is testament to the lack of good NASCAR movies in existence. James Caan leads a pack of speed crazies, including George Takei (Sulu from "Star Trek"), from track to track and song to terrible song. This is watchable only because it includes great race footage from the mid-1960's.
NASCAR Cameo: Curtis Turner and Tiny Lund, who walked out on the film during its world premiere in Charlotte when Turner stood up in the Carolina Theater and announced, "This is terrible! Tiny, let's get the hell out of here!"

9. "Six Pack" (1982)
Kenny Rogers is Brewster Baker, a down-on-his-luck driver who finds inspiration and direction from a group of six kids who also happen to be little mechanics. The oldest of the six pack is teenager Diane Lane, long before she became one of the sexiest women on the face of the planet.
NASCAR Cameo: Buddy Baker as a rival, along with Ken Squier and Mr. "Two and Two" Chuck Woolery, as track announcers.

8. "Stroker Ace" (1983)
Then-Winston Cup car owners Burt Reynolds and director Hal Needham brought us this story of love and racing. The tagline: "He's hot on the track... and off!" Unfortunately, when your crew chief is Jim Nabors and your sponsor is a fried chicken joint called The Cluck Bucket, you can only be so hot.
NASCAR Cameo: Harry Gant, driver of Reynolds and Needham's Skoal Bandit Buick. His most memorable line of dialogue — "Oh hell, here we go again."

7. "Greased Lightning" (1977)
Richard Pryor plays Wendell Scott, the only regular African-American driver in NASCAR history. It's the Cliffs Notes version of Scott's life, but in an effort to document the hardship he had to face, "Lightning" turned out to be one of Scott's biggest disappointments. He never saw a dime from the production, swindled by Hollywood lawyers.
NASCAR Cameo: Bill Connell, longtime PA announcer at the Lowe's Motor Speedway lends his legendary pipes for a little play-by-play.

6. Thunder in Carolina" (1960)
Worth viewing to see footage of the 1959 Southern 500 at Darlington. Stars career character actor Rory Calhoun and Alan Hale Jr., the Skipper from "Gilligan's Island", who ironically plays the role of a little buddy.
NASCAR Cameo: Darlington maestros Buck Baker, Joe Weatherly and Curtis Turner in their prime and taming the Lady in Black.

5. "The Cannonball Run" (1981)
Another Reynolds-Needham collaboration. I know, I know, it's not really a NASCAR movie, but it is still funny as hell.
NASCAR Cameo: Donnie Allison's number one Hawaiian Tropic Oldsmobile is driven by Mel Tillis and Busch Series team owner/NFL on FOX analyst Terry Bradshaw... straight to the bottom of a motel swimming pool.

4. "The Last American Hero" (1973)
Writer Tom Wolfe's legendary 1964 Esquire article on Junior Johnson comes to life with Jeff Bridges playing Elroy Jackson Jr., a.k.a. Junior Jackson. The tale of moonshine running and stock car racing also features Ned Beatty and Gary Busey. At the Charlotte premiere, Johnson gave it the thumbs up by saying, "It was pretty much the way it was."

3. "Speedway" (1968)
Shot in and around the Charlotte Motor Speedway, Elvis Presley sings and drives his way to paying off a $145,000 IRS back tax bill. His love interest is Nancy Sinatra ,and the manager who fouled up the books is Bill Bixby from "The Incredible Hulk" TV show.
NASCAR Cameo: Cale Yarborough, Buddy Baker, Tiny Lund and Richard Petty... making Speedway the only joint on-screen appearance by The King and The King.

2. "Days of Thunder" (1990)
I know, I know, NASCAR traditionalists will tell you that this movie was concocted by the devil himself, full of inaccuracies and just plain B.S. But the tale of Rowdy Burns vs. Cole Trickle vs. Russ Wheeler also revolutionized the way we look at the sport. How many TV commercials have copied director Tony Scott's style since? Every damn one. It also introduced us to one Miss Nicole Kidman, who is only slightly less hot than the sun.
NASCAR Cameo: Harry Gant, Neil Bonnett and Rusty Wallace, who proclaims that Trickle "is wide open and just wants to win... I like that!"

1. "43: The Richard Petty Story" (1974)
I'm not sure, but I think that they made 43 for $43. Keeping that in mind, how cool is it to see Richard Petty playing himself, killer race footage from throughout his career and father Lee Petty played by Darren McGavin, the dad from "A Christmas Story"?
NASCAR Cameo: The King playing himself is plenty. This is also the only place where you can find footage of his near-fatal crash at Darlington in 1970. Consider that a little pre-DVD bonus material. My lifelong search for a copy finally ended last summer when I was directed to a VHS copy that was up for auction on eBay. Why was it so hard to track down? I'm pretty sure Petty has rounded up all the copies and burned them.

Ryan McGee is the managing editor of Totally NASCAR, and NASCAR This Morning on Fox Sports Net. He can be reached at his e-mail address:

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