Moonshiners and fast women: 'Cars 3' pays tribute to NASCAR legends

Jennifer Cohron
Posted 7/14/17

In one of many memorable scenes from “Cars,” Mater shows his new friend, Lightning McQueen, that he is the world’s best backwards driver.

“Ain’t no need to watch where I'm goin’; just need to know where I’ve been,” he says as he …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

E-mail
Password
Log in

Don't have an ID?


Print subscribers

If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.

Non-subscribers

Click here to see your options for becoming a subscriber.

Moonshiners and fast women: 'Cars 3' pays tribute to NASCAR legends

Posted

In one of many memorable scenes from “Cars,” Mater shows his new friend, Lightning McQueen, that he is the world’s best backwards driver.

“Ain’t no need to watch where I'm goin’; just need to know where I’ve been,” he says as he wiggles his rearview mirrors.

At first, “Cars 3” seems to be telling the story of where NASCAR’s going — a new generation of tech-savvy racers replacing the old guard — but the heart of the film is a nod to where the sport has been.

Since Doc Hudson, the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, is no longer around to guide him, McQueen drives to Doc’s old stomping grounds in Florida searching for direction.

He finds it at a garage operated by Doc’s mentor, Smokey.

The character is based on legendary mechanic Smokey Yunick, who died in 2001 at age 77.

Yunick was a mechanical genius who never earned a high school diploma. At age 13, he built a tractor out of an old Dodge car and the rear axle of a Model-T Ford, according to his New York Times obituary.

After World War II, Yunick opened a repair shop in Daytona that inspired the name of Smokey’s Garage in the film: “The Best Darn Garage in Town.” (Of course, the real Smokey didn’t use cutesy words like “darn.”)

NASCAR’s earliest rules were more like suggestions to Yunick. Almost every recap of his life tells about the day he was asked to drain his fuel tank during an inspection, did so and then drove away on illegally-stored fuel.

In the fictional Smokey’s Garage, McQueen meets River Scott and Louise “Barnstormer” Nash, characters inspired by NASCAR legends who broke the rules just by entering a race car.

River is a stand-in for Wendell Scott, NASCAR’s first African-American driver.

In 1963, Scott became the first (and so far only) African-American to win at NASCAR’s highest level.

“My father won, but they wouldn’t drop the checkered flag until two other drivers had finished,” his son Frank told The Guardian in 2015. “My father protested the result and many hours later, when the crowds were gone, the other cars were gone, the reporters were gone — even the trophy was gone — they had checked the scorecards and they came over and said, ‘Guess what? You won the race,’ and gave him his check. But he never got the trophy.”

In fact, Scott was two laps ahead of the rest of the field during the race at Jacksonville, Florida’s Speedway Park.

Scott’s family was awarded the trophy in 2010 — 47 years after the win and 10 years after his death.

Louise Nash is a tribute to the First Lady of Racing, Louise Smith.

“Once we got on the track, we didn't want to leave,” Nash tells McQueen about River and herself.

Nash also admits to having a crush on Doc, but “he didn’t like fast women, so that left me out.”

The real Louise was just as sassy.

“I was just born to be wild,” Smith once told the Baltimore Sun. “I tried to be a nurse, a pilot and a beautician and couldn't make it in any of them. But from the moment I hit the race track, it was exactly what I wanted.”

In her first race, Smith finished third — and kept driving around the track at breakneck speed.

“They told me if I saw a red flag to stop. They didn't say anything about the checkered flag,” she said.

The next year, she told her husband that she was going to the races at Daytona. She ended up entering her husband’s new Ford and wrecking it.

When her husband asked about the car, she told him it had broken down on the way to the race. He then pulled out a newspaper — one of many that ran a photo of Smith and her crumpled car on the front page.

Smith’s racing career lasted from 1949 to 1956. She died in 2006 at age 89.

Of course, no history of NASCAR would be complete without a little moonshine.

As part of his training, McQueen’s new friends take him on a midnight run similar to the ones they used to make when they were running from the law.

The character Junior “Midnight” Moon is voiced by 86-year-old NASCAR legend Junior Johnson, who started bootlegging when he was 14.

At age 25, he was arrested for moonshining and spent 11 months in prison.

President Ronald Reagan pardoned him in 1985.

“The pardon was full and unconditional and retroactive to the completion of my sentence. It was a sign of forgiveness. It did not erase the record of conviction or indicate innocence. However, it did restore basic civil rights, which are lost upon conviction of a felony. And among those was the right to vote. Let me tell you that the loss of basic civil rights impacts you in a way you can’t imagine. You come to think of yourself somewhat less than an American citizen. It’s not a good feeling,” Johnson wrote in 2012.

In 2007, Johnson returned to his roots with Midnight Moon, which is produced by the only legal distiller in North Carolina.

“Cars 3” director Brian Fee had a taste — or two — while meeting with Johnson for the film.

“The mason jar came out on more than one occasion,” Fee told autoweek.com.

Jennifer Cohron is the Daily Mountain Eagle’s features editor.