Original “Days of Thunder” Cars Rescued From Abandonment as Restoration Guru Brings Icons Indoors

Published 01/07/2024, 8:31 PM EST

Follow Us

Days of Thunder”—now that’s a movie that’s probably found its way into the hearts of every NASCAR and motorsports enthusiast out there. First off, it stars Tom Cruise, which is reason enough to give it a watch. But the cherry on top? The characters in the movie are like a nod to some of the racing greats, including the likes of Dale Earnhardt Sr and Richard Petty.

America’s Favorite Video Today

So, why are we suddenly bringing up this blast from the past? A top-notch restoration shop, known for its magic with 1967-1981 Pontiac Firebirds and 1964-1972 GTOs, stumbled upon a real treasure. Deep in the woods of Florida, they unearthed not one but two cars that had their moment of fame in ‘Days of Thunder’. They gave these relics a good pressure wash, cleared out the cobwebs and clutter, and got them rolling again. Joe Jackson, the head honcho of the restoration shop, also dropped some not-so-great news. 

The legendary NASCAR cars from the Days of Thunder were found in Florida

ADVERTISEMENT

Article continues below this ad

You see, during the movie’s production, the folks at Hendrick Motorsports rolled up their sleeves and got busy building and fixing up the race cars that zipped around on screen. Some of those movie stars didn’t just retire after their Hollywood stints. They kept burning rubber on the NASCAR tracks, including the Lumina that Tom Cruise, the main man himself, drove in the film.

Speaking of Tom Cruise, instead of just acting the part of a racer, he got behind the wheel of a bona fide NASCAR racecar for the movie. That Mello Yello Number 51 car wasn’t just a pretty prop; it was the real McCoy, crafted by none other than Rick Hendrick.  Hendrick whipped up quite a few cars for the film.

Trending

Get instantly notified of the hottest NASCAR stories via Google! Click on Follow Us and Tap the Blue Star.

Follow Us

Joe Jackson, the restoration wizard, found not just the famous No. 51 car but also the No. 18 car, modeled after Rusty Wallace. He gave them a good clean-up, but he revealed that, despite his expertise in bringing cars back to life, he believes these movie legends are beyond saving. But one thing that is on everyone’s minds might be how these pieces of cinematic history ended up abandoned in the woods. While some of the ‘Days of Thunder’ cars, like the No. 46 Chevrolet City Lumina, stayed with Rick Hendrick, the mystery deepens with the No. 51 and 18 cars.

Adding to the intrigue, a black Lumina, which was featured in the movie showed up for sale in 2018. The ad said it was spruced up by Laughlin Race Cars and boasted a Chevrolet 502 cubic-inch V8 engine, delivering a whopping 650 horsepower. It was even tweaked for road racing. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any more interesting, here’s a juicy little nugget: Dale Earnhardt Sr was almost cast in a role in ‘Days of Thunder’. Imagine how that would’ve turned the tide in the movie world!

What role could Dale Earnhardt Sr. have bagged in the movie?

Tom Cruise played Cole Trickle’s character, which was inspired by real-life racer Tim Richmond. Besides that, many characters in the movie were inspired by actual NASCAR personalities. Take Robert Duvall’s character, the seasoned crew chief; he was modeled after Harry Hyde. Then there’s Rowdy Burns’ character, Cole Trickle’s rival, who was played by Michael Rooker.

Many have long suspected that Rowdy was inspired by none other than Dale Earnhardt Sr, who was busy carving his legacy in NASCAR at the time. But the fact that there’s a chance that the role of Rowdy Burns was not just inspired by Earnhardt but written with him in mind is something interesting.

ADVERTISEMENT

Article continues below this ad

Watch This Story: 32 Classic Nascar Cup Series Cars Are Up for Sale

As per Dale Earnhardt Jr., Cruise and the directors had a meeting with his father. “They go into Dad’s office, and they come out 30 minutes later. … I guess they were picking Dad’s brain. The rumor was, they offered Dad the role of Rowdy Burns. I don’t know if that was really true or not, but that was kind the rumor. But my dad turned it down because he didn’t want to play the bad guy. Just a rumor, I don’t know if it’s true or not.”

“I was so young. You know you hear the rumor later. I never did get a chance to really figure out whether it was true or not.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Article continues below this ad

Considering the movie already had cameos from NASCAR legends like Richard Petty, Rusty Wallace, Neil Bonnett, and Harry Gant, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine Dale Earnhardt Sr joining the party. Even commentator Dr. Jerry Punch from ESPN and co-producer Don Simpson made appearances. So, it’s not a stretch to think that Earnhardt could have been part of this Hollywood-meets-NASCAR mashup. 

NASCAR Fanatics Refuel Fires Surrounding Dale Earnhardt Sr’s Tragic Death With HANS Device Controversy

SHARE THIS ARTICLE :

ADVERTISEMENT

Written by:

Neha Dwivedi

897Articles

One take at a time

Controversies, gossip, and breakneck speeds? Count me in! While F1 has its charm, NASCAR helps me relive those "Roadrash" gaming days. My favorite among the drivers has to be Tyler Reddick. The 23XI Racing pilot is not only likable but also a complete beast when he is on track, more specifically, road courses.
Show More>

Edited by:

Shivali Nathta

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

EDITORS' PICK

America’s Favorite Video Today