There is no denying that the world of Cars was inspired by NASCAR and the racerst hat helped build the sport. But in Cars 3, they bring back to the roots of the sport and the drivers. With the new Cars exhibit at the NASCAR Hall of Fame the exhibit brings it full circle. Moderated by Ray Evernham (voice of Jackson Storm), the NASCAR Hall of Fame had a panel discussion about Cars 3 and how it was influenced by NASCAR last month on the opening of the new Cars exhibit they have in the museum. The film features 16 NASCAR racers and legends that are featured in the film, and also in the exhibit. The panel included Director Brian Fee, Animator Jay Ward, NASCAR Racer Kyle Petty and Director of NASCAR Archivist and Historian Buz McKim.
How did the story line come to life and pay homage to NASCAR and the real life legends?
Fee: When we make these films it takes many years. We work on the story over, over and over again. But one thing that was there from the very beginning was we wanted to tell the story of mentorship. To tell the story of paying back to those who got you where you are. Obviously the next step is to pay it forward. And we also wanted to have a love letter to racing. So when we came out to Charlotte for our first research trip, we didn’t know all of the details or how it was going to pan out. But what we had our back pocket, we were looking for stories and relationships. Stories of the crew chief and the drivers, and how that relationship makes all the difference. We were paying attention to that. When you started passing that moonshine, and sharing your stories – I’m not sure if they’re all true. But there was a soul there, and that’s how it got started and the relationships exist within the story.
Jay – You’ve been involved in all 3 of the Cars films, and you’re considered the Godfather of the Cars franchise – what did you like best about making this film?
Ward – Cars 3, for me, is a return to the roots. I think what people loved about the first cards film, is because of the characters and the relationships in it. It’s because of these characters you can relate to that are cars. And we wanted to get back to that with this film. The first thing we decided was this film had to have a deep emotional core. That’s what Pixar all have. This film to me is the most emotional of the three films. I think it tells some really amazing stories. I think was special for me working on it was getting to tell stories that we hadn’t told before that really got into the roots of NASCAR. The roots of racing. Finding out how Doc Hudson got his start, I just loved that stuff. Doc Hudson is my favorite character, so getting to see where he raced back in the day was cool.
Kyle – when you were playing on the track as a kid, the greats were on the track. Your grandfather, Fireball and the legends were on the track. You’ve seen that all the way up to now. How do you think Pixar did capturing all of those generations?
Petty – A great job, on all of them – each of them. Each one has come along, and Junior Johnson is here. When you reach back to Junior Johnson, and Richard Petty – that group of drivers and you bring them in. It was amazing to me, when the first movie came out kids would walk right past Dale Jr to say “There’s Mr. The King!” He hadn’t been in a race car since ’92. Who’s this old guy in the cowboy hat and sun glasses? That’s what these movies have accomplished. It’s about relationships. And it’s about the relationship from this generation to the next, to the next. And I felt very blessed to be in this one. When my dad was in the first one, he and my mom went to dinner with John Lassiter, and my after John got up from the table he said “we’ve got to get a part for her”. So my mom was in the first one. So to close the loop – to be in the third one with my Dad and be a voice in this one. It’s really special for my family. And you have Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott and all of the young guns in this one. It’s really special for the sport to have that.
Buz – For so many of the NASCAR legends being part of the film and the actors scene. Tell us about the Hall of Fame and how you were involved in getting some of that together.
McKim – First of all, as a lifetime NASCAR fan – I’ve been waiting and asking “When are they going to make a decent racing movie? And they finally did. It wasn’t hokey, it was realistic and the multi-generational stuff came through. There are multi-generations of fans in the family and competitors. It really told the right story. So I was so excited about how the story was filmed and they chose the right story. And the legends that they picked, they all had their own stories. Like Louise Nash – and early female driver when females weren’t even allowed in the pits. You had to be a tough guy to race, and she held her own against all of those ruffians. Like with Wendall Scott, the pioneering African American driver, and the stuff he had to put up with. What he brought to the story and to pass that onto future generations. And like with Junior, he was already a legend before he even got into racing. Every time you look around – you just see it. Smokey was the original master strategiest. I have to believe that had a big part getting Ray Evernham where he is today.
Brian – The Pixar design process is so unique. Can you share how the NASCAR community helped overall with the research development process and how you brought it together on what is really important for the Pixar design of the character.
Fee – One of the things that John Lassiter always instills is authenticity. Whatever we’re trying to tell, we need to be authentic. We need to do this as authentic as we can. And it’s not just the little details, those are important, but it’s also to inspire the actual story. We also look at our own lives. A lot of my daughters can be seen in Cruz Ramirez and a lot of my relationship with them can be seen in McQueen when he realizes what Cruz means to him. We just hear the stories and hear the passion and feed off of that. Just like we take inspiration from our own lives, we take them from the stories. We’re looking for humanity, we’re looking for the stuff that inspires us and makes us feel emotional. If we can take a little of that emotion and put it in the movie – that’s what fuels us. And NASCAR is full of it because of the passion. It’s a labor of love.
Jay – How do you come up with all of the names and looks for the characters?
Ward – It’s a harder process than people things. John always said that the world of Cars exists without humans. There are no humans in the world and never will be. So the whole world has to be seen thru the Cars lens. When you look up at the sky you see a tire pattern, when you look up in the mountains you see the tail fins of a Cadillac. So we also had to think of those needs in a Cars context. Not everyone gets what we call a “carified” name. You may see some weird names and it’s because we name the cars after people at work. It’s really nice. It is hard, if your name is Joe Smith, it’s kind of hard to carify Joe Smith. Ray Reverham is easy – but they’re not all low hanging fruit like that. We like to have fun with it. All that stuff you see in the films is from the Cars perspective. So the names are just icing on the cake.
Kyle – You’ve sang, you’ve won on NASCAR’s biggest stages – did you ever see yourself being on the big screen?
Petty – Not this way. In this way no – it but it’s been amazing to watch my niece Hannah watch these. I don’t think you ever envision this kind of stuff. It is so cool, my sister called as soon as she saw it and said “I recognized your voice!” It has been really cool to not only meet children who put together Richard Petty, Kyle Petty and my mom but to have them come up with the little cars or stuff and want you to sign it. It’s cool, because I haven’t driven a car in ten or fifteen years either. So it’s a different phase of your career. What Pixar has done for the sport has been amazing. Here’s what I didn’t envision – me being in North Carolina at different times, standing in a closet, skyping or face timing. And being yelled at by Brian Fee telling me how to say the line and describing how it’s going to look like. And when I see it, I’m like “ooh yah, I can see it now – you should have just showed me the movie”
Buz – how important is it for our NASCAR legends to be portrayed in a movie like this?
McKim – Majorly. Especially from our stand pint. You can’t appreciate who you are without knowing where you came from. So many years ago this December NASCAR was formed. They were looking for a way to legitimize the sport, uniform, set of rules, a guaranteed purse. Now, 70 years later, a third of the fortune 500 companies are involved. It’s a global story, to know where it came from makes that story even more incredible. It’s one of the best stories in American sports and American business too.
I hear there is a really cool bonus part called Legendary that you’re involved with – can you tell us more about that?
McKim – We got into more detail about the characters and more into the history of the sport. And how it works for the story. Even in the first one, I was blown away.
Tell us about what we’ll find in the Hall of Fame Exhibit and what we can see in your part?
Petty – I was fortunate enough to go to Pixar and to the offices where the creative people work. If you’ve ever seen the original Willy Wonka movie that’s what Pixar was like inside. It reminded me of it, I was waiting to see the chocolate river and the Oompa Loompas. It’s so creative. And that is the goal to allow the men and women that work there to be creative – to think, to be 30 years old and be a 6 year old and think “what do I want to see”. Walking out there, and to see Junior Johnson getting his photo taken in front of his display area, and you look around and see the cars, and see the story and what it’s all about. It is, for me, our family members can come here an start on this level and see the Cars exhibit. You see Junior Johnson, you see Mr. The King, and everything from young drivers like Daniel and those guys and you’re able to see what the movie and what Pixar has done. Then you go in the next room and see the real Jeff Gordon. You go up stairs to the third for and see the history of the sport. So to me, Pixar is the gateway to the history. It’s the gateway for young fans to fall in love with the sport. The car is the gateway to loving racing. you may love the drivers, or just like the drivers. but there is someway in your heart you just love cars and are connected to cars. And that’s what, to me, racing was always about.
Jay – you guys really nailed bringing these characters to life. And as Kyle said, he’s been out to Pixar and I’ve been out there. Can you explain how much work goes into that detail?
Ward – It is hard to understand how much work goes into one of these films until you’ve done it. But like Brian said, it’s 4-5 years to make one movie. That’s about how long it takes to make a real car from scratch for an automotive manufacturer From clay to being on the streets. Unlike shooting live, we don’t get anything for free. We can’t say “I’m going to Detroit, going to” When we say that we have to build Detroit, build the actor, build the time of day and build every prop in the background one at a time. The amount of work that it takes to build the film, is a lot. Yes we use a computer, but that’s just a tool. 250 people working 4-5 years of our lives to make a film. That’s the love we put into it. People always say “why are Pixar films so good?” Yes, it’s the story, definitely the story, but it’s also we care about every detail.
Fee – There’s a level of tediousness that you didn’t go into. But there’s a moment where Cruz is training her cadets, they’re on treadmills. As their RPMs come up, there’s a little tiny screen. That shows their RPMs and their speed. We had Jay comb over that animation of those dials on that screen, so somebody like Jay or yourself would say “that is the right RPM for that speed. And we know that that’s lost on the large majority of viewers, but it’s really important for us for the people that do know.
What does it feel like for you, as the director, that Lightning McQueen is now in the NASCAR Hall of Fame?
Fee – It’s pretty cool. I knew this exhibit was being worked on, but it blew me away when I walked in and saw it. It kind of takes you to that place where you’re 10 inside. I’ve watched these life-sized Cars we’ve taken them on tour and to NASCAR races. I’ve watched how kids react when they see the life-sized versions of their favorite characters. It’s a bit of a celebrity sighting. Even when we unveiled some life-sized characters, the racers were geeking out. They were taking pictures.
Ward – That’s the crazy thing for us. We made the first Cars film 11 years ago. So some kids who were 10 years old, are 21 and out on the track now. We’ve inspired a new generation of drivers.
Fee – We are still waiting for McQueen to be inducted into the Hall of fame.
Cars 3 Trailer:
About the Cars 3 at home release:
Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is
suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race
technician, Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo), with her own plan to win, plus inspiration from the late
Fabulous Hudson Hornet and a few unexpected turns. Proving that #95 isn’t through yet will test the heart of a
champion on Piston Cup Racing’s biggest stage!
In honor of world-champion racer #95 on his date-sake 9/5, Disney•Pixar is proud to announce the in-home arrival of Disney•Pixar’s “Cars 3”! “Cars 3” surged to the front of the pack opening weekend with audiences racing to see the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) and spirited trainer Cruz Ramirez (voice of Cristela Alonzo) team up to beat the new generation of blazing-fast racers. Now, this summer’s high-octane hit cruises home—loaded with bonus features like the all new mini-movie starring the demolition derby legend Miss Fritter— Digitally in HD and 4K Ultra HD™ on Oct. 24, and on Blu-ray 4K Ultra HD™ and Blu-ray™ on Nov. 7.
Race fans of all ages are invited to ride along with the “Cars 3” crew for hilarious and heartfelt extras, including an exclusive new mini-movie, “Miss Fritter’s Racing Skoool,” taught by the queen of the Crazy 8; a feature detailing how real-world race training influenced filmmakers; the journey taken by voice actor Cristela Alonzo and team while shaping tech-savvy trainer Cruz Ramirez; behind-the-scenes access to the story team who crafted Lightning McQueen’s third chapter; deleted scenes; and much more.
“Cars 3” is Disney•Pixar’s first in-home title released in stunning 4K Ultra HD format, the next-generation viewing format with four times the resolution of HD and exceptional high dynamic range (HDR), resulting in brilliant highlights, vibrant colors and greater contrast on compatible displays than ever before. With 4K Ultra HD, viewers will feel like they’re at the center of the action—holding their breath during the dramatic crash that launches Lightning’s journey, feeling the pulse-pounding action at the Florida International Super Speedway, and getting down and dirty at the Crazy 8 demolition derby.