Cars Premiere: Hollywood meets NASCAR
by Pete McCole

May 27, 2006

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It wasn’t the checkered flag that got all the attention Friday night but the red carpet as Hollywood met NASCAR at Lowe’s Motor Speedway for the world premiere of the new Disney/Pixar film, Cars.

More than 30,000 fans braved the wind and rain as the speedway was turned into one of the largest outdoor theaters for the world premiere.

Four giant custom movie screens, each measuring 115 feet wide and 50 feet tall, were used to screen the movie, turning the entire Diamond Tower in Turn 2 into one of the largest outdoor theaters ever. Each screen had three DLP Cinema 2K digital projectors dedicated to it. A state-of-the-art sound system was also created and installed for the event.

The film stars Owen Wilson as the voice of Lightning McQueen, a rookie stock car who becomes sidetracked en route to the Piston Cup Championship in California, winding up in the sleepy town of Radiator Springs.

Along the way, McQueen gets to know several of the town’s characters, who help McQueen discover that life is about the journey, not the finish line.


Photos by Rhonda Hogue and Pete McCole

Wilson was among those on hand for the premiere, along with co-stars Paul Newman, Bonnie Hunt and Larry the Cable Guy, who stars as Mater, an old 1955 tow truck.

“John Lasseter told me ‘this is your character, make it your own’ so I was able to stray from it if I wanted to, change lines around, pretty much make it my own,” said Larry the Cable Guy. “He told me to make it me, and I made it me.”

NASCAR drivers Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Darrell Waltrip also had roles in the film, as well as former Formula 1 Champions Mario Andretti and Michael Schumacher and seven-time NASCAR champion Richard Petty.

“The studio was amazing,” said Earnhardt, Jr., who plays a car named Junior, based on his no. 8 Budweiser Chevrolet. “Actually working and doing the part was a lot of fun. Even though it’s a small part, they really took it seriously and they wanted me to do a good job. I wish I’d had a lot more to do and it would have been fun if I had a bigger part.”

Lowe’s Motor Speedway President and General Manager H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler also has a “drive-on” role in the film as Tex, a 1975 Cadillac Coupe de Ville.

“I have loved automobiles and the world of racing for a long time and Cars is a very personal story to me,” said Wheeler. “This premiere event is the perfect way to debut our film to racing and movie enthusiasts.”

The locations and characters were inspired by the legendary Route 66 – a 2,347-mile highway that runs from Chicago, Ill. to Santa Monica, Calif.

Cars director John Lasseter recruited historian Michael Wallis, author of "Route 66: The Mother Road”, to guide the production team on several road trips along Route 66.

“John Lasseter sought me out five years ago and said ‘I really have a project that you will want to work with us on’”, said Wallis. “So we talked about it and I immediately told John and the team that they have to understand the road. I took them out on the road and gave even more to them – I gave them all of my road, so they understood all the nuances and that’s why it’s reflected so well in the film.

“I knew I wanted to make a movie about cars. I love racing. I love this whole world,” Lasseter said this week. "And I was really inspired by what happened on Route 66 ... the story of these old towns that were bypassed and their lifeblood was taken from them by the modern interstate.”
The creators also visited several racetracks, including Lowe’s Motor Speedway last October, to get the feel of a real NASCAR race.

“Every film they do, they try to outdo themselves,” said John Ratzenberger, who has provided voice work for all five of Pixar’s feature films and stars as Mack the Truck in the film. “They’re smart enough to know who their audience is. They actually go out and do the research. They actually drove down Route 66, they met people, and a lot of the characters in the movie are based on people they met on their journey, so they really understand their audience.”

Disney is hoping for blockbuster success with the movie, the first produced by Pixar since Disney's $7.4 billion purchase of the company in January. The film opens nationally on June 9.

The author can be contacted petem@autoracing1.com

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