Old School Americana & Nostalgia

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All About the ‘Days of Thunder’ Race Car and Where It Is Now

All About the ‘Days of Thunder’ Race Car and Where It Is Now

The 1990 film Days of Thunder, starring Tom Cruise, is often cited as helping to bring race car culture to the mainstream. The high-octane racing flick reteamed Cruise with Top Gun director Tony Scott. Though it underperformed upon its release, it’s enjoyed a cult following and growing fanbase over the decades.

The film follows Cole Trickle (Cruise), a young hotshot with raw talent but little stock car driving experience. His skill on the track earns him a car and the support of crew chief Harry Hogge (Robert Duvall), a NASCAR legend who sees Cole’s potential. Cole also falls for a doctor (future wife Nicole Kidman) he meets after a near-fatal accident. Through mentoring and challenges, Cole undergoes self-discovery, becoming a better driver.

NASCAR veteran Hut Stricklin as well as Tom Cruise himself drove the Chevy Lumina race car featured in the film. Reportedly, Cruise even destroyed a $100,000 camera spinning out a grazing a wall on a track.

However, the Days of Thunder race car wasn’t simply used in the film. To capture footage for the movie featuring the Chevy Lumina, the Mello Yello #51 actively raced in Cup events during 1989. Bobby Hamilton, making his Cup debut in Phoenix, drove the car, according to Hot Cars. Despite leading the race at one point, the engine failed with 100 laps remaining. Hamilton later competed in 371 cup races during his 15-year career, establishing himself as a prominent NASCAR figure.

Besides being driven by Bobby Hamilton, Tom Cruise, and Hut Stricklin, the Melly Yello Chevy Lumina was also piloted by Greg Sacks and Tommy Ellis at numerous NASCAR races during both the 1989 and 1990 seasons. These include events at Phoenix, Darlington, and Daytona.

Under the Hood of the ‘Days of Thunder’ Race Car

The film’s Chevrolet Lumina was powered by a Chevy Small-Block NASCAR V8 engine with a billet crankshaft producing 642 horses via forged pistons and an amplified clutch, paired with a four-speed racing transmission.

Why did Chevrolet feature the Lumina, a family car designed to rival the Ford Taurus, in a NASCAR-themed movie? Of course, it looks like Chevy took a shot at revving up Lumina sales by riding on this spotlight.

The movie was released in 1990, coinciding with the debut model year of the car, with over 278,000 units manufactured and sold. This marked the peak annual production for the Lumina. By 2000, the Lumina ceased production, making way for the all-new front-wheel-drive Impala to take the spotlight.

Many replicas of the Days of Thunder race car have popped up at trade shows and auctions. However, one is available for the public to see seven days a week. A screen-used “hero car” from the film is currently on display in the Hollywood Stars Car Museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee.