Ranking the NASCAR movie drivers 

June, 2, 2010

On Wednesday night's "NASCAR Now," the show's weekly "Way Back Wednesday" segment looks back on the 20th anniversary of one of the most emotionally divisive yet important events in NASCAR history.

No, it's not the introduction of radial tires.

Or the push west into Arizona and northern California. Or even restrictor plates.

No, I'm talking about "Days of Thunder" hitting theaters. Here's the trailer from back in the day.

Even now, two decades later, the flick that Robert Duvall chose to make over "Godfather III," gets race fans more wound up than asking, "How about that Kyle Busch?"

Hardcore racing folks, chief among them Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty, thought it was a joke. With all due respect to the two Hall of Famers, their irritation with its inaccuracies (how dare you show a shot of Daytona and call it Rockingham!) kept them from seeing the big picture.

Casual NASCAR observers and people who'd never seen a pit stop before fell in love with the flick. Soon they were buying tickets and T-shirts. Women drawn to the man formerly known as Maverick showed up just in time to catch a young rookie named Jeff Gordon. And the rest is history.

No, "Days of Thunder" didn't win any Oscars (though it was nominated for Best Sound), but as soon as it came out it was already the best stock car movie ever made. That's not saying much, when you look back on the Razzie-worthy likes of "Six Pack," "Stroker Ace," "43: The Richard Petty Story" and perhaps the worst film ever made, "Redline 7000."

Not the worst racing film. The worst film. Period.

Hollywood's lineup of NASCAR films is so notoriously bad that when the lights when dark in the theatre at the world premiere of "Talladega Nights," longtime racing writer Steve Waid stared at the pitch black screen and declared "Well, this is already better than 'Days Of Thunder'!"

Me? I love all the flicks. I'm guilty of jumping on Twitter whenever a racing movie pops up on TBS, AMC, HBO, or wherever and start pumping out quotes. From Harry Hogge declaring "Loose is fast and on the edge of out of control" to Harry Gant looking up ahead at Stroker Ace and Aubrey James about to wreck, "Oh hell. Here we go again."

Each week I do my Monday morning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Power Rankings on ESPN.com, devised through a mystical system of stats, trends, gut feelings, and Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum. And because I'm a team player, I will now apply skills to the characters of said films.

(Disclaimer: With all due respect to Pete Aron of "Grand Prix," Michael Delaney of "Le Mans," and Jimmy Bly and Joe Tanto of "Driven," this poll is stock cars only.)

NASCAR Power Rankings, Hollywood Edition

Ryan McGee | email

ESPN Senior Writer