NASCAR meets Hollywood at sport's Hall of Fame

May 16, 2013, Kenny Bruce,

'Lights. Camera. NASCAR' opens May 17, will run through October

Kevin Schlesier calls it “one of the most challenging exhibits we’ve done.”

Judging by Schlesier’s excitement when providing a sneak preview of the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s newest exhibit, it might be one of the most enjoyable ones as well.

“Lights. Camera. NASCAR” opens May 17 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. With six vehicles and a variety of props and assorted artifacts, it is the largest exhibit housed at the hall to date.

“I think this will really hit a broad spectrum of interests and I’m excited about that,” said Schlesier, exhibits manager for the Hall of Fame.

The featured cars in a display that focuses on NASCAR and its longstanding relationship with Hollywood are:

Cole Trickle’s No. 46 Chevrolet from “Days of Thunder”

The No. 26 Wonder Bread entry of Ricky Bobby from “Talladega Nights”

“Jurassic Park: The Ride,” Jeff Gordon’s 1997 NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race winning entry

“Greased Lightning,” the 1962 Chevrolet built by Wendell Scott

Doc Hudson’s Hudson Hornet from the movie “Cars”

“Herbie: Fully Loaded” Volkswagen Beetle

The NASCAR/Hollywood connection is one that Schlesier said officials with the Hall of Fame had discussed on several occasions. The nature of the exhibit represents a move away from previous displays that have been much more competition based.

“We knew at some point we wanted to tell a very intertwined story of pop culture and NASCAR,” he said. “We said, ‘Let’s look at the other side of the NASCAR world,’ which is how it’s represented outside. Whether it’s through pop culture, music, the arts or whatever. We settled on Hollywood because it seems like a really natural fit. … NASCAR has been well represented in films since the 1950s. The excitement and drama has been an ideal backdrop for Hollywood for 60 years.”

Once the topic was determined, officials set out to decide how best to represent the various ways the two groups have crossed paths, and eventually came up with three themes.

The most obvious -- fictional movies that include NASCAR.

“The second one,” he said, “is documentaries that address NASCAR. And the third is how has NASCAR promoted movies.”

Buz McKim, NASCAR Hall of Fame historian, put together a broad list of movies that fell into each of the categories.

“Everything from ‘Stroker Ace’ to ‘Six Pack’ to ‘Cars’ and ‘Herbie,’ Schlesier said.

“We said, ‘OK, now we need to see what resources are out there and prioritize.’ And some of the things that were really big on the priority list, just from the availability of assets, had to slot down. Everybody would have loved to see the ‘Stroker Ace’ car. We called the guy who built it; he didn’t know where it went. We called the studio, they didn’t have it. We beat the bushes for three months.

“The great thing about exhibits is they have an opening date. Eventually at some point, a month or two before the opening date, we have to say ‘stop looking for the chicken car.’

“We knew we wanted ‘Cars.’ To not have ‘Cars’ and miss the kids would be bad. Herbie was sort of on the ‘it would be great to include’ list. We knew we wanted ‘Days of Thunder;’ we knew we wanted ‘Talladega Nights.’ ”

Not surprisingly, there were challenges along the way. Vehicles such as the T-Rex and “Days of Thunder” entries were still housed at Hendrick Motorsports and relatively easy to obtain. But how can an exhibit include a car, such as Doc Hudson’s Hornet, from an animated movie?

Looking through photographs from the movie’s premier held at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Schlesier noticed a picture of Paul Newman, the voice of Doc Hudson as well as an avid racer, with an actual Hudson automobile.

“It was not built by or for Pixar,” Schlesier said. “Gunnar Porsche Racing was the Porsche supplier for Paul Newman. They knew about the movie and they wanted to build one for Paul.

“So I just blind emailed them and within an hour they had written back, said ‘Yes we still have it and would love to let you borrow it.’

“This way we can represent the movie in a really big, dramatic way.”

The Chevrolet of Scott has an interesting story as well. The last car built by the former driver, it was to be used in “Greased Lightning” for filming of Scott’s lone win.

“Then the producers couldn’t find enough cars from the 1960s to film the winning scene with other cars from the ‘60s,” Schlesier said. “So they scrapped the car. If you look at the winning scene in the movie, they’re using ‘55 Chevys.”

The ‘62 Chevrolet did make its movie debut when it was used in a documentary of Scott filmed later.

“Lights. Camera. NASCAR” is scheduled to run through October.

Jeff Gordon won the 1997 All-Star Race in the Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet known as “T-Rex.”

Herbie, the star of the movie “Herbie Fully Loaded,” went through NASCAR inspections during pre-race activities for the 2005 All-Star event.

Jimmie Johnson wore a fire suit that promoted the movie “Madagascar 3” in the June 3, 2012, race at Dover -- which Johnson won.

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. ended his winless streak last year at Michigan, he did so while promoting ‘The Dark Knight Rises.’


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