NASCAR: Ranking the Top 6 Greatest Fictional Stock Car Drivers

Jerry BonkowskiFeatured ColumnistOctober 19, 2012

NASCAR: Ranking the Top 6 Greatest Fictional Stock Car Drivers

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    Over the years, there have been about a dozen—give or take a few—movies made that have centered around the world of NASCAR or simply stock car racing (like when the producers couldn't get NASCAR licensing or endorsement).

    The strange thing is that in most cases, fictional portrayals of NASCAR or stock car drivers have made for successful plots. 

    Sure, there have been some great movies based on true-life stories like the life of Junior Johnson (The Last American Hero) or Wendell Scott (Greased Lightning), but their overall success in most instances pales in comparison to the figments of some screenwriters' imaginations.

    And there have been so-called racing movies like Gumball Derby and Cannonball Run, but those really didn't have much in terms of actual organized racing.

    So when it comes to some of the best (and admittedly throwing in a few of the worst, as well) racing movies, we tend to lean towards fiction over truth.

    It's with that in mind that Bleacher Report has come up with what we like to call NASCAR: Ranking the Top 6 Greatest Fictional Stock Car Drivers.

    We present them here, and as always, we welcome your comments and thoughts. Did we perhaps miss some unknown gem of a flick or performance? If so, let us know.

    Also, follow me on Twitter @JerryBonkowski

No. 6 Brewster Baker (Kenny Rogers, Six Pack, 1982)

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    The Bad News Bears of stock car racing.

    That's the theme here, where Brewster Baker (country music star Kenny Rogers) is a driver who, unable to get any other help, enlists six kids to serve as his pit crew.

    There were some notable cameo appearances including the recently deceased Chris Economaki and the far-from-believable Chuck "Love Connection" Woolery.

    But Rogers as a driver? Well, at least he tried, which isn't saying much in the long run.

    In fact, we could very easily eliminate Rogers and his performance from this overall list and it wouldn't suffer whatsoever.

    In fact, it might actually improve the total believability of the overall list.

    Still, Rogers tried to put in a semi-decent performance behind the wheel that ultimately merits inclusion in this list.

No. 5 Steve Grayson (Elvis Presley, Speedway, 1968)

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    Come on, I dare you, name me one—just one—Elvis Presley movie that had even the slightest semblance of believability.

    In Speedway, Presley plays Steve Grayson, a driver who is trying to pay off a huge IRS bill for back taxes results of the mismanagement of his former manager (Bill Bixby).

    And sure, just like in real life, Presley starts to romance the very IRS official who is auditing him, Nancy "These Boots Are Made for Walking" Sinatra.

    Yep, that happens in NASCAR every day, right?

    Presley does two things right in this movie: one, obviously, is his singing. And second, while there are lots of canned scenes and stationary shots, Presley at least tries to give the impression he knows what he's doing as a stock car driver—when he really doesn't.

    Perhaps that's why he almost always had a driver to chauffeur him around whenever he needed to get somewhere in real life.

No. 4 Mike Marsh (James Caan, Red Line 7000, 1965)

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    One of actor James Caan's first leading roles, this 1965 flick was one of the worst stock car racing movies ever made, bar none.

    It featured Caan as main character Mike Marsh, alongside two racing buddies trying to be stars, and three women that constantly anxious for their men to return safe and sound after crossing the checkered flag.

    Unfortunately, one of Caan's buddies dies, and the rest of the movie essentially becomes lots of soap opera and little racing.

    George Takei (Mr. Sulu of Star Trek fame) is unbelievably miscast.

    While Caan offers a moderately believable performance, the rest of the movie is pure, unadulterated fantasy.

    In fact, legend has it that when the movie premiered in Charlotte, drivers Curtis Turner and Tiny Lund went to see it—and reportedly stuck around for just 10 minutes before they both walked out.

    To quote Turner, "This is terrible, Tiny. Let's get the hell out of here!"

No. 3 Stroker Ace (Burt Reynolds, Stroker Ace, 1983)

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    Burt Reynolds in a chicken suit.

    That's all you need to know about the plot of this movie.

    It actually was a bit ahead of its time, in that it stressed the importance of getting sponsors involved to fund the actual racing.

    This 1983 movie—has it really been almost 30 years—blended the manly good looks of Reynolds with the cheesecake hotness of Loni Anderson (remember her?).

    Reynolds was a former athlete, having played several high-school sports, and was a college football star, but as a race car driver, he's way out of his element.

    This movie actually made my book, Trading Paint: 101 Great NASCAR Debates (2010, Wiley & Co.) as the No. 2 worst movie in NASCAR history, behind only Herbie Fully Loaded.

    But at the same time, Reynolds' performance bears inclusion in this entry.

No. 2 Ricky Bobby (Will Ferrell, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby)

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    The pre-release hype of this 2007 movie was incredible, lasting for close to half a year before it actually hit the screen.

    And while most folks knew that what would eventually be released would be a comedy, I wonder how few knew just how buffoonish and how much of a joke Talladega Nights actually made out of NASCAR and the sport of stock car racing.

    Sure, it's a hysterical movie for the most part, but 90 percent of the storylines are completely unbelievable.

    Will Ferrell plays an excellent Ricky Bobby, but some of his supporting cast are so ridiculous that any semblance of believability is quickly overtaken by the sheer lunacy of the plot.

    All that being said, while this movie didn't necessarily play well to the diehard NASCAR fans, the lampooning storyline (and NASCAR's endorsement) proved that NASCAR isn't afraid to make fun of itself sometimes.

    And that, frankly, is refreshing.

    Truth be told, though, I'm still waiting for a sequel that will pit Farrell's Ricky Bobby with Tom Cruise's Cole Trickle. And I have the perfect name, borrowing from both movies:

    Days of Daytona.

No. 1 Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise, Days of Thunder, 1990)

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    While this is supposedly a fictional account of NASCAR in the late '80s, there's a whole lot of truth in this movie, disguised as fiction.

    Trust me, scenes where Cole Trickle (Tom Cruise) is frisked in a fake traffic stop are closer to reality than fiction in the NASCAR world.

    And the off-track antics of Trickle and arch-rival Rowdy Burns are right out of some real drivers' journals or diaries.

    In fact, this movie portrayed so many real-life folks in the sport, that it's not too hard to see who is who in real life.

    As for Trickle specifically, Cruise plays a great role and, while some of his actions are slightly hard to believe (like his romance with his "doctor," Nicole Kidman), this is without question the closest movie that bridges NASCAR fiction with NASCAR.