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Film / Days of Thunder

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It's like Top Gun, but ON WHEELS!!!

A 1990 action drama starring Tom Cruise as Cole Trickle, a USAC Indy Car race car driver who enters the world of NASCAR. His attitude gets him into trouble with not only other drivers, but his own team as well. Directed by Tony Scott, the film co-stars Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Cary Elwes, and Cruise's then girlfriend, Nicole Kidman.

These tropes seen in this film include:

  • The Alleged Expert: Cole comes into NASCAR with numerous accolades for his sprint car experience, but finds out that a stock car handles very differently than he's used to. Also see Uncertified Expert below.
    Harry: Now look, when you were racing open wheels out west, the tires were twice as wide and the car weighed half as much. Now the car weighs twice as much and the tires are half as wide, and you're slipping and sliding, and burning them up.
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  • Ambadassador: After Cole and Rowdy's first few dustups, NASCAR head Big John sits them both down and lets them have it in no uncertain terms.
    Big John: If you two wanna turn yourselves into a greasy spot on a country road somewhere, go right ahead. I don't give a shit and I don't think anybody else does, regardless what they say to your face. But you two monkeys are not going to do it on my racetrack...You trade paint one more time, you so much as touch, I'm gonna Black Flag the two of you, and take apart your racecars for three-hundred laps. Then, if you pass inspection and you put your cars back together, I might let you back into the race.
  • Arc Words: Harry's "I'll RACE your ass!"
  • Artistic License – Sports: Despite the official cooperation of NASCAR and several race teams,note  the movie still has some howling inaccuracies. As Richard Petty once said, there are only two things the movie has in common with real NASCAR: "The cars have numbers on them, and they go fast. That's about it." Here are some of the more egregious things that any NASCAR fan or driver will point out:
    • A NASCAR Cup Series team needs more than one car. This is not just a question of repairing damage and having a backup car ready, but of suitability. In actual NASCAR seasons, a team builds numerous cars for each team: restrictor plate cars for Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway, cars exclusively for the road course races at Watkins Glen, Sonoma as well as the Pocono races,note  cars specifically built for the short track races at venues like Bristol and Martinsville, cars specifically built for the non-plate superspeedways, and cars built for the intermediate length tracks.
      • While not common in the 1990's (due to the massive influx in spending in the sport at the time), many teams ran with one car and do today. It is even more common in sports like Indy, F1 and sportscars (both prototype and GT) in which teams will replace most of the cars aero and parts when switching from say Le Mans to Spa or such. Risi Competizone had to sit out most of the 2018 Weather Tech Sportscar Championship (aka WTSC, The top North American Sports Car series and formerly named the ALMS [American Le Mans Series]) after they destroyed their Ferrari 488 at Le Mans that year (The World Endurance Championship's [WEC] "Global All Stars" race that invites top teams from the WEC, WTSC, And ELMS/AsLMS (European & Asian Le Mans Series respectively).
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    • Or that even Trickle couldn't pass everybody else in the race in the last three laps at Daytona. Unless he's an AI driver who has superhuman abilities that even Dale Earnhardt was incapable of making.note  During the Darlington race earlier in the movie, the driver would have lost a lot more than just two positions with the extra time he spent on pit road under green, due to the egg-shaped configuration.
    • A driver would probably be banned from NASCAR (and probably all motorsports) for life if he went out and rammed the winner from behind during his victory lap.
    • On many occasions, Cole seems to be missing the mandatory yellow rookie stripe from his rear bumper.
    • After the caution in the final race when Cole beats the pace car out of pit road, the race restarts with Wheeler, the leader, starting on the inside line. Wheeler's car should have been on the outside line, since, prior to June 2009, double-file restarts in NASCAR only happened in the non-point events and on the initial start in points races. Prior to June 2009, lead-lap cars restarted on the outside line and lap down cars restarted on the inside line.note 
  • Award-Bait Song: The Last Note Of Freedom by Whitesnake's David Coverdale and Show Me Heaven by Maria McKee.
  • Badass Driver: Goes with the territory.
  • The Cameo: Popular NASCAR drivers Rusty Wallace, Richard Petty, Harry Gant, and Neil Bonnett all appear in cameo roles as themselves, as do TV personalities Bob Jenkins and Dr. Jerry Punch.
  • Car Porn: As befitting a movie about NASCAR.
  • Defictionalisation: There are several of those.
    • Kyle Busch being nicknamed 'Rowdy' Busch as a nod to the movie. The name has stuck.
    • Kyle's Truck team has used the #51 in one of his teams as a reference for this movie, with almost the same font type as Days of Thunder's #51 too.
    • Bobby Hamilton made his NASCAR debut as a result of the movie. He was hired to drive the "Rowdy Burns" racecar, even qualifying the non-competitive car in fifth and actually briefly leading the race before he retired with an engine failure at Phoenix in 1989.
    • Cole Trickle's Mello Yello scheme would later be used by Kyle Petty during the 1991-1994 season, and by Kyle Larson for an one-off throwback at the 2015 Southern 500. For Kyle Petty, that scheme is considered his most successful one, with his only realistic chance of a title, in 1992. Coincidentally, both Petty and Larson drove for the exact same team (Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates) and the exact same number (42) while driving this scheme.note 
    • Kurt Busch drove the City Chevrolet scheme at the summer Daytona Nationwide race in 2013. He finished 4th in that race.
    • William Byron drove a car with a scheme based on Cole's #46 City Chevrolet car at the 2019 Southern 500.
  • Fair Cop: Subverted in that she wasn't really a cop
  • Honest Corporate Executive: Big John, a high-ranking NASCAR official basically implied to be the head of the organization (and expy of Big Bill France), who takes a Serious Business view towards Cole's and Rowdy's unpredictability and tells them to cut it out. The fact that he's played by Fred Thompson helps in making him come across as a Badass Corporate Executive.
  • Hospital Hottie: Nicole Kidman in a lab coat. Enough said.
  • Improbable Age: Nicole Kidman was only 23 when cast as a neurosurgeon. At that age, she would at most be only halfway through medical school.
  • I've Heard of That — What Is It?: Inverted with Cole, who confesses that he doesn't understand any of Harry's car jargon.
    Cole: I don't know what that means, "a turn here", "a wedge there", I don't know!
    Harry: ...How is that possible?
    Cole: Does it matter? They, they told me to get in the car and drive, and I could drive.
  • The Mentor: Harry to Cole.
  • Odd Couple: Young hotshot driver Cole and jaded veteran crew chief Harry.
  • Product Placement: All over the place in terms of sponsorships. As the movie is about NASCAR, this could also be fairly construed as Truth in Television.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: "Cole Trickle" was derided by some critics as too much of a stereotype NASCAR sounding name. Except that the name is a Shout-Out to Dick Trickle.
  • Rivals Team Up: Cole and Rowdy, by the end.
  • Society Marches On: One of the ways Cole shows Rowdy how sick he is following his head injury is illustrating Rowdy's failure to name what should be a quite obvious racing trophy he'd won: the Winston Cup, awarded for winning the final standing championship in NASCAR's highest-level series. In real life, because of the decline in the acceptance of smoking, the championship is now sponsored by energy drink company Monster Energy (previously communications company Nextel, and then Sprint once Sprint merged operations with Nextel).
  • Spiritual Successor: Tom Cruise controls (pilots) an extremely fast piece of machinery, deals with a crisis about 2/3's of the way in following a traumatic accident involving a friend, only to come out of it at the end and win the heart of his higher-class love interest. All with a power ballad soundtrack. This movie was also directed by Tony Scott.
  • This Is Gonna Suck: In one race, Cole is pulling in for a pit stop, when another car pulls out in front of him. Swerving to miss the other car causes Cole to skid out of control such that he's heading for the pit's wall at (by pit-stop standards) a high speed, to which Cole remarks "Uh-oh, this is gonna hurt." He ends up hitting both the wall and Mark Martin's car.
  • Uncertified Expert: Early on, Harry tries explaining to Cole how he's driving inefficiently, using standard technical terms every driver should know. Cole tells Harry he doesn't understand any of what Harry has just told him. When Harry asks how Cole can drive race cars without understanding stuff like G forces or aerodynamics, Cole replies that he started driving cars on a lark years ago and was naturally good at it, so he never had to learn any of the terms or science. Harry quickly learns to break down his explanations into terms Cole can understand.
  • Understatement: "You boys are late."-Big John "We, uh, had, car trouble."-Rowdy. Cut to the valets finding two smoking, torn-up rental cars in front of the restaurant...
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: Cole Trickle was based on Tim Richmond and crew chief Harry Hogge on Harry Hyde. Richmond being a former Indy Car driver and an upstart outsider who started winning when paired with a gruff veteran NASCAR engineer. Richmond sadly passed away from AIDS in 1989 and Hyde passed away from a heart attack in 1996.

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