The auto racing craze has not spared the ranks of America's film stars. Whether they're in front of the camera impersonating a racer, or pursuing racing on their own, they are a part of the stock car boom.
Dean Had a Dream
The link between movie stars and race cars can be traced all the way back to James Dean. Dean befriended several professional drivers of his day and was reputed to have harbored ambitions of racing himself. A sports car fanatic, Dean was, of course, killed in an accident while driving a prized Porsche Spyder.
24 Hours of Newman
One of Hollywood's foremost popularizers of the sport is Paul Newman. Newman caught the racing bug while filming the 1968 motion picture Winning. He began driving professionally soon after, logging his first win in a sports car competition in 1972 at Thompson, Connecticut. He has also raced modified stock cars at Daytona, recently driving 114 laps to help his team to a victory at 24 Hours of Daytona. He has backed such favorites as Danny Sullivan, Bobby Rahal, Al Unser, and Keke Rosberg in the Can Am Series.
Other movie stars turned racing fanatics include Steven Baldwin, Craig T. Nelson of the sit-com Coach, and Susan Ruttan of L.A. Law fame.
In the 1990 film Days of Thunder, Tom Cruise portrays stock-car wannabe Cole Trickle, a Californian out to buck the good-old-boy establishment of the NASCAR circuit. Cruise's movie proved a harbinger of the arrival of Jeff Gordon two years later.
The movie spawned a passion for racing, and Cruise continues to hone his skills on the track.
However, while movie portrayals and off-camera interest have boosted the image of auto racing, life does not always imitate art. While filming Days, Cruise reportedly received a speeding ticket for driving 85 mph in a 55 mile zone. Better keep it on the track, Tom.
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