In a brief spell of boredom earlier today, I was checking out qualifying for the Fan Shield 500 on the FOX Sports app. It always amazes me just how fast the drivers burn down the straightaways and around the corners on the speedways. It amazes me more to see them do it in tight groups during races. While not my favorite sport, I have a tremendous amount of respect for auto racers because they literally put their lives on the line every time out for my entertainment. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the Days of Thunder film.
How I first came across this moment? I first came across the film in the early 90s…like the Fall of 1991. I remember because I was watching my youngest sister, who was still a fairly new infant, before my father picked me up to go to his house. I think Days of Thunder was a film he rented from Blockbuster Video but never returned. Good thing they are not around anymore to collect the massive late fee on that. I remember tuning in and seeing the race cars. It was exciting stuff for a kid of 6 in the age department.
What it meant to me then? In the moment, I loved it. I loved the racing scenes…especially the many collisions between the cars, whether it was rubbing from behind, the bumping into the walls, the spinouts, or the major crashes. I was a major fan of Tom Cruise’s Cole Trickle character. In fact, I thought he was real. Years later, when somebody asked me who my favorite NASCAR driver was, I said Cole Trickle, and they laughed at me. As a kid of that age, I collected Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. I had 4 cars from the film: the Cole Trickle #46 City Chevrolet, the Cole Trickle #46 Superflo Motor Oil Chevrolet, the Cole Trickle #51 Mello Yello Chevrolet, and the Russ Wheeler #18 Hardee’s Chevrolet. I used to race them in my room. I always gave the Russ Wheeler car the business, reenacting the “Change My Tires” scene. Days of Thunder significantly influenced my interest in NASCAR video games during my Sony PlayStation days in the mid-to-late 90s.
What it means to me now? Nearly 30 years later, I have a bit of a different understanding of the film…the complete storyline and how it incorporated a lot of the history of the sport. There was also the ESPN 30 for 30 on Tim Richmond that lent more perspective…being that it was he that the Cole Trickle character was modeled after. My biggest takeaway as a much older viewer of the film is the positions of Michael Rooker’s Rowdy Burns and Cary Elwes’ Russ Wheeler. I wasn’t particularly fond of Burns because of his disposition towards Cole initially…bullying him around the track and really being the cause of the crash in the Firecracker 400 that led to Cole’s downturn. I really hated Russ Wheeler though…he was terrible. With the benefit of age and hindsight, I’ve softened on Burns because of the off-track relationship between him and Cole. At the end of the day, they were professionals and they never really let their battles on the speedway spill into life. That was very much present in the hospital scene where Rowdy asks Cole to drive for him in order to secure funding from his sponsor. By contrast, I think Russ Wheeler was a straight-up asshole. He was literally supposed to be Cole’s teammate but he acted as if he was his archenemy. Oh…and did I mention the Hans Zimmer score work? It was A++ in my book. Anyway, Days of Thunder is still a great film. I downloaded it off the Google Play Store so I’ll have it in my library for a while and I can watch it whenever I feel that urge.