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Film / Days of Thunder

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

A 1990 action drama film starring Tom Cruise as Cole Trickle, a USAC IndyCar race car driver who enters the world of NASCAR. His cocky attitude gets him into trouble with not only other drivers, but his own team as well. Written by Robert Towne and directed by Tony Scott, the film co-stars Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Michael Rooker, John C. Reilly, 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 open-wheel 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.
  • 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 of 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).
    • 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.
      • The race was not under a green flag at the time. The entire field (or at least all lead lap cars) pitted with 3 laps to go, something that would never happen under green, because they had been running under green flag conditions for 68 laps and no-one had enough fuel to finish. Of course, that means anyone not getting tires, or only 2 tires, would be very quickly overtaken by those on fresh tires, so not changing tires would be a stupid choice. However, under the rules of NASCAR at the time, the race would likely have finished under caution, which they were allowed to do at the time. With 3 laps to go, there would be at least 1 lap with the pace car lights on to collect the field and another with them off, indicating that at the end of the lap the pace car will leave the track and the race will go green when the field comes to the start/finish line. Therefore, there would only be 1 lap to get the track ready for green (or they won't turn the lights off on the pace car), and only 1 green flag lap to finish the race. If the yellow was just for Rowdy's spin as Cole took the lead, it is possible that just the last lap could happen under green, since there would not be a lot of clean-up required. It is not obvious that this is why the yellow came out, as Rowdy saved the car, and his spot on the lead lap, and no-one else crashed. This was slightly before NASCAR would red flag a race to clean up after a wreck in an attempt to finish under green (of course the pits would be closed for a red flag), and several years before they started doing the Green/White/Checker finishes, after the scheduled number of laps were completed, like they do now.
    • 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.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Tim Daland is definitely more interested in having a winner driving his cars, and when Russ Wheeler takes over for Cole after Cole's crash and succeeds Daland stops providing support to Cole and Harry in favor of his new meal ticket.
  • 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 a 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.
  • He's Back!: After Cole deftly maneuvers through a crash very similar to the one that nearly killed him, he gets his confidence back and goes charging after Wheeler.
  • 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: Neurosurgeon Claire Lewicki, as portrayed by Nicole Kidman.
  • I Coulda Been a Contender!: A third of the way through the film, an exhausted Cole confides in Harry that the reason he's joined the stock car circuit is that he's fleeing from a scandal that embroiled his previous racing career. The team owner of his old life used his victories to promote the sale of junk bonds and stolen yachts. When his crimes came to light, Cole was forced to leave that sport in disgrace despite having been acquitted as a potential accomplice for the scams and thefts. Said owner being Cole's own father didn't do much to help his image either.
  • 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.
  • Loophole Abuse: Daland orders Wheeler's pit crew to help Cole's crew push his car out ahead of the pace car. When a race official says he can't do that because it isn't his car, Daland says it's his engine in that car and he ordered his guys to push his engine.
  • The Mentor: Harry to Cole.
  • My Greatest Failure: Harry "retired" from NASCAR after an accident that killed driver Buddy Bretherton. Daland coaxes him back by telling him there won't be any investigation into Bretherton's death.
  • Nervous Wreck: According to Harry, what killed Buddy Bretherton wasn't any problem with the car, but his own fear after a previous wreck.
    Harry: When Buddy hit the wall in turn two, he was jabbering on the microphone about as fast as he was driving! 'Unconscious' my ass, that was the loudest talking unconscious man you ever heard in your life! There wasn't nothing killed Buddy but his own imagination.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Nicole Kidman's Australian accent repeatedly slips through as she plays Claire, who is supposed to be American.
  • 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.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: During the film, a Failure Montage of Cole continously wrecking early in the season is set to the Spencer Davis Group's upbeat Gimme Some Lovin'.
  • Taking the Heat: It's implied Harry did this in the wake of Buddy Bretherton's fatal crash: it was rumored that, as crew chief, he overlooked a flaw in the car's design which led to his driver's death, and Harry let that stand instead of telling the truth, that Buddy's nerves got the better of him and made him lose control.
  • Tempting Fate: Wheeler's crew chief radios him and tells him Cole will try a slingshot pass on the last turn. Wheeler brushes it off, saying he knows Cole and Cole will always try to make the pass on the outside.
    Wheeler: He's going high!
    (Wheeler maneuvers to block, and Cole instead dives down to the inside)
  • 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 IndyCar 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.