NASCAR MOVIE CHARACTER HALL OF FAME

Today NASCAR announced the 25 nominees for its first Hall of Fame class. We expect to hear a lot of debate over the next few days over who made the list and who was left out. Not to be outdone, I would like to present an even more controversial list – the five nominees for the first NASCAR Movie Character Hall of Fame.

This list was chosen by a jury of one – me. The rules are simple. The character has to appear in a movie about stock car racing. And the character has to have transcended the movie and become a part of NASCAR – or even popular – culture. The first class in the history of the NASCAR Movie Character Hall of Fame, listed in alphabetical order by last name:

Burt Reynolds is Stroker Ace, a foul-mouthed, womanizing stock car driver who plays by his own rules. (Would anyone believe a character today who fights so much with his sponsor? Me neither.) Yes, the plot of the 1983 movie is thinner than Joey Logano on Weight Watchers, but who doesn’t enjoy watching Burt Reynolds drive in a chicken suit? This is a case in which the character truly transcends the movie. Adding to Stroker’s Hall-of-Fame credentials, he has his own theme song by The Charlie Daniels Band.

In "Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby," Will Ferrell’s Ricky Bobby is the sum of all NASCAR stereotypes. He is dumb and he drives fast. There are three reasons Bobby makes the list. 1.) Will Ferrell is at the height of his game 2.) The movie debuted in 2006 at the peak of the sport’s popularity 3.) Carl Edwards entrenched Bobby in NASCAR lore when he ran across the finish line after his wreck at Talladega. When a real driver acts out a scene by a character during a race, that’s Hall-of-Fame-worthy.

Voiced by Owen Wilson in the 2006 animated Pixar movie "Cars," Lightning McQueen is a brash, rookie car who lives by his own rules before learning some important lessons in the soon-to-be-meth-infested badlands of Radiator Springs. McQueen makes the list because he is the anti-Digger, a character beloved by old and young who has turned children onto stock car racing and cemented adults’ love of the sport. The late, much-respected NASCAR sportswriter David Poole called "Cars" his favorite racing movie. That’s a Hall-of-Fame vote if I’ve ever heard one.

No way we can leave him off. A surefire member of the real Hall of Fame’s first class, Richard Petty makes ours, too. Petty starred as himself in the 1974 film "43: The Petty Story." Let me repeat that. He starred as himself. This was not a cameo. While the movie was not a hit in theaters, it did well in the South. The story focused on Petty’s turbulent relationship with his father, Lee, which required the star driver to actually act. He had to act like himself, but still, it takes some doing.

Before people knew Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., they knew Cole Trickle. The 1990 movie "Days of Thunder" pushed NASCAR into the mainstream. Trickle is a brash, young driver who plays by his own rules. (I think I see a pattern emerging.) There are plenty of flaws in the movie – too many to discuss here – but the film succeeds spectacularly in one area. It makes stock car racing sexy. Tom Cruise is sexy. Nicole Kidman is sexy. The way the racing scenes are filmed is sexy. Everything but John C. Reilly is sexy. Days starred the biggest movie star on the planet in his prime. It’s a Hall-of-Fame no-brainer.