Race Weekend Central

Reel Racing: The Best (& Worst) Movie Paint Schemes of the 2000s, Pt. 2

Yesterday, we tackled the back half of the top 10 movie-themed NASCAR schemes from the 2000s in part one. North of 75 cars ran paint jobs inspired by more than 50 film releases throughout the decade, ranging from blockbusters like all three of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins to odd or obscure choices, such as the 2008 horror film Mirrors, the comedy Swing Vote from the same year or the 2004 release of Passion of the Christ.

Brendan Fraser, Tobey Maguire and Adam Sandler rank among the stars with the most movies featured during the decade with three apiece: Fraser for two Mummy films and Journey to the Center of the Earth, Maguire for all three Spider-Man films and Sandler for a trio of separate comedies in three consecutive years (the latter’s films all on Evernham Motorsports entries).

Without further ado, let’s finish off the list.

5. Robby Gordon, Spider-Man (2002)

The wonderfully silly but fun Spider-Man hit theaters in 2002 and became an instant success, essentially changing the face of the superhero movie genre as we know it and spawning two more sequels with director Raimi at the helm.

Raimi was primarily known for his Evil Dead trilogy between 1981 and 1993 — the first two in particular are often cited as two of the best horror films ever made, and he created two instant classics with Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2 (with clear influences and callbacks to his background in horror). Spider-Man 3 is incredibly divisive, but after a re-watch last summer I enjoyed it quite a bit.

The first installment received sponsorship on two different cars, but it’s Robby Gordon’s Chevrolet that makes the list. Lyndon Amick’s No. 26 Xfinity Series car paired normal backer Dr. Pepper with the film, but in a much more limited capacity than Gordon’s No. 31. Amick’s car ran at the secondary division’s races at Texas Motor Speedway and Auto Club Speedway, while Gordon ran the car in back-to-back races at Auto Club and Richmond Raceway.

Gordon’s car was treated to the works: an x of webbing over the door and roof numbers as well as on the bumpers, depictions of Spider-Man on the hood and TV panel and the masks of the web-slinger and the Green Goblin, the film’s primary antagonist played brilliantly by Willem Dafoe, near the quarter panels.

Cingular, Gordon’s sponsor at the time, allowed much more of the car to be designed for the film, and it turned out beautifully.

4. John Andretti, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

The late John Andretti took to the banks of Charlotte Motor Speedway in this scheme that would not come anywhere close to actually running in current-day NASCAR.

While several variations of the No. 43 Star Wars car were offered as mail-in promotions in 2002, only one ran: the one that featured characters of the prequel trilogy’s middle film 10 days after its release.

The car was split down the middle; the driver’s side represented the light side of the Force, with Obi-Wan Kenobi on the hood and Anakin Skywalker, Yoda and Mace Windu on the side. The passenger side is a bit more sinister, featuring Jango Fett on the hood as he faces off with Kenobi (alluding to their battle on Kamino in the film) while bounty hunter Zam Wesell and Sith lord Count Dooku populate the door panels. Two clone troopers face off on the rear bumper, hinting at what’s to come in Episode III.

A planet looms behind each of the door numbers to complete the ensemble, but the two completely different sides would instantly kill its ability to run per NASCAR’s current rules. Terry Labonte was originally set to run a final ride scheme with sides themed for his iconic Kellogg’s and Piedmont cars, but the sanctioning body nixed the idea before it hit the track at Talladega Superspeedway.

John Hunter Nemechek, though, ran a half-green, half-red truck at Chicagoland Speedway with sponsorship from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (not the movie) in 2017. Andretti was the original, though:

Andretti even posed with some Imperial henchmen, leading me to find his lack of faith in the Force disturbing.

None of Star Wars‘ sequel trilogy films ended up sponsoring NASCAR schemes, probably due to all three being released in December; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was released in the last month of 2016 as well, but Solo: A Star Wars Story had a midsummer debut but failed to make it into the racing world. Perhaps — especially for the three sequels and Solo — it’s for the best.

3. Tony Raines, Cars (2006)

As mentioned in part one yesterday, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby was one of two 2006 films that brought NASCAR to the masses. The Will Ferrell comedy was released two months after an animated film geared toward kids hit theaters, starring the voices of Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Paul Newman and others.

That film was Cars, which followed the adventures of sentient automobile Lightning McQueen as he chases the fictional Piston Cup. The Pixar release ended up as the sixth-highest-grossing movie of 2006, paving the way for two sequels, several spinoffs and — more importantly — several paint schemes.

Tony Raines and Scott Riggs ran schemes promoting the movie at Charlotte’s Coca-Cola 600 in May; Riggs’ car wasn’t much different than his normal Valvoline livery, but Raines’ Hall of Fame Racing car got the VIP treatment, probably because his No. 96 was one digit away from McQueen’s No. 95 car in the film. The Chevrolet ended up being a close-to-perfect replica of the character’s look, down to the lightning bolts on the sides (but, unfortunately, no eye decals covered the windshield).

Riggs qualified on the pole and finished 13th; Raines qualified 42nd and ended up 40th after engine issues ended his day.

For what it’s worth, Riggs ran a similar scheme again more than five months later at Texas to promote Cars’ DVD release. He qualified 12th and was running third with three laps to go, but Kevin Harvick either took air off the No. 10 or made contact with him, sending Riggs hard into the wall and down to a finishing position of 31st.

2. Ryan Newman, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor (2008)

The Mummy trilogy is a series that I personally haven’t gotten around to, but its latter two installments sponsored a pair of Cup rides. In 2001, The Mummy Returns ended up on Jimmy Spencer’s No. 26, finishing seventh at Auto Club in the spring and qualifying on the pole at Charlotte in the fall.

The film’s sequel, Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, was released in 2008 to almost universally negative reviews, but that didn’t mean the designers didn’t go all out with their NASCAR ideas.

Ryan Newman piloted this Dodge Charger for Team Penske at Chicagoland, landing it among my all-time favorite movie schemes and as one of the best of the decade. The No. 12’s livery incorporates a stylized dragon stretching the length of both sides of the car, quarter panel to headlight, as well as a striking title graphic. The red-and-black base of the scheme works incredibly well with the stark yellow dragon, and Newman rode that dragon to a 10th-place finish.

1. Kyle Busch, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008)

A foreword to this selection: I absolutely loved this car when it ran in 2008 and still do to this day. It’s easily one of my all-time favorite schemes as a whole.

To tie in with the release of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008, M&M’s debuted a mint crisp flavor. I don’t necessarily remember the candy, but I did see the movie in theaters and, despite the hate it gets, have a soft spot for it despite having yet to re-watch it in the 13 years since.

Kyle Busch ended up receiving the dual candy-and-movie sponsorship for the 2008 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, featuring designs emblematic of the film’s ancient temples and carvings, jungle setting and more: an appropriately grumpy Harrison Ford appears in character on the quarter panel, brandishing Indy’s trademark whip.

Three M&M characters also make appearances, alongside a faceless green candy on the hood in Jones’ garb: a hat, belt and whip.

Busch qualified sixth and drove the No. 18 to victory, leading 169 laps, but didn’t escape Darlington without a significant wall scrape that streaked the right side of his Toyota.

The car was the third Cup — and fourth overall — movie scheme to go to victory lane, and the last to do so until 2012.

Honorable Mentions

– David Stremme and Justin Allgaier, Star Trek (2009)

Spring 2009 saw the reboot of the classic TV series Star Trek finally hit theaters, starring the likes of Chris Pine, Zoe Saldana and Simon Pegg under the direction of JJ Abrams. It even brought back Leonard Nimoy, the original Mr. Spock, and found its way onto a couple of Team Penske rides.

In the midst of his first full-time season, Justin Allgaier ran a Trek-inspired Dodge in the April Xfinity race at Richmond, featuring a mostly black overlay with blue-and-white outlines of planets along the sides and roof. The USS Enterprise also appeared on the quarter panels, and deep blue wheel rims completed the look. Allgaier couldn’t find speed similar to the Enterprise, though, and finished 38th.

The next day at the track (and the next week at Darlington), David Stremme piloted a nearly identical scheme for Penske in the Cup event, although it suffered a bit from being placed on the Car of Tomorrow; the Trek scheme flowed a bit better on Allgaier’s ride.

– Kasey Kahne, The Longest Yard, Click, I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry (2005-2007)

All three of Kasey Kahne’s Adam Sandler schemes land here, although the scheme for The Longest Yard in 2005 left a lot to be desired (featuring simply prison bars, barbed wire and footballs).

Kahne’s other two schemes, though, were firing on all cylinders. The 2006 film Click was on Kahne’s car at Michigan International Speedway, where the No. 9 ended up going to victory lane (just the third overall and second Cup movie scheme to do so).

A year later, Kahne ran a livery for I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, finishing ninth in it at Daytona International Speedway. Covered in flames that alluded to the characters’ occupation as firefighters (but also possibly to something a bit offensive), it was a can’t-miss scheme on track.

– Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Ryan Newman, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

I briefly mentioned this oddity in part one, but while 2009 featured three different schemes across three different drivers and two manufacturers for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox returned for the sequel while it added the likes of Rainn Wilson and Isabel Lucas.

Kyle Busch piloted his scheme three days prior to the film’s release date, but Ryan Newman and Jeff Gordon didn’t have theirs until around four months later, when both Chevrolets promoted the DVD and Blu-Ray release of the sequel. All three schemes are phenomenal and just missed out on my top 10.

– Bobby Labonte, Speed Racer (2008)

This scheme speaks for itself, but Labonte had a host of special and one-off schemes for Richard Petty Motorsports. This one, though, replicated the iconic Speed Racer car design in advance of the upcoming film, down to the stylized M on the hood and a red circle behind the door numbers.

It would’ve been cool, however, to make the car’s number yellow for the race, if only to completely match the source material.

– David Reutimann, The Simpsons Movie (2007)

It took almost 20 years, but The Simpsons finally received a theatrical film in 2007. David Reutimann piloted this creative car in the 2007 Cup event at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the designers went for it all: Homer Simpson himself on the hood, eyeing a flaming Burger King logo; flames down the side, but all in yellow to match the show; and small but eye-catching branding above Homer’s head and on the right quarter panel.

A few special mentions before we go:

Elliott Sadler ran a car promoting Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer for Evernham Motorsports in 2007, continuing a trend of solid scheme designs for the team. Evernham had also run various cars promoting movies and pop culture in years past: teammates Bill Elliott and Jeremy Mayfield finished second and third, respectively, in cars themed for the first DVD release of Disney’s The Lion King (nine years after its initial release); Mayfield and Kahne each drove cars with MAD Magazine’s Spy vs. Spy comic strip in 2004, along with a pairing of schemes celebrating the cartoon character Popeye’s 75th anniversary the same year. Mayfield also had a Bad News Bears remake-themed car in 2005, complete with pinstripes and baseballs emblazoned on it.

Back to Sadler’s scheme, though: the car boasts the Silver Surfer himself on the hood, as well as the Human Torch’s flames stretching from the front bumper to the driver and passenger windows. The Fantastic Four’s “Fantasticar” appears on the quarter panels as well, topped by a Dodge labeling; according to a quick Internet dive, the ship in the film was supposed to be a Dodge.

Bonus points also go to this car for all four of the movie’s main cast members — Ioan Gruffudd, Sin City‘s Jessica Alba, Chris Evans (in a pre-Captain America, but still Marvel, role) and Michael Chiklis — attending the race. The quartet held a press conference before the race in the media center, hung out with Sadler at his trailer and settled into the NASCAR world around them. See part one of the 2000s ranking for a photo of the car.

Other notables include schemes driven by Riggs and Dale Jarrett for the Lindsay Lohan-starring Herbie: Fully Loaded in 2005, a trio of schemes for The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (Busch and Jimmie Johnson at the Xfinity Series’ Charlotte race, Casey Mears in the best of the three in the Cup event) and a pair for Shark Tale in 2003. Kahne ran a sea-themed version three times in NASCAR’s secondary level, while Ward Burton ran a shark edition at the Cup Talladega race; the sides and bumpers featured the teeth, eyes, gills and tail to resemble the sea creature.

Next Up

We’ll eventually get to an overall top-10 ranking of the 149 movie-themed schemes, as well as a possible ranking via the members of the Frontstretch staff. Soon, Reel Racing will also return to talking about racing movies as well, and I will keep my fingers crossed for at least one or two to release this year (as well as the return of movie sponsors).

About the author

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Adam Cheek joined Frontstretch as a contributing writer in January 2019. A 2020 graduate of VCU, he works as a producer and talent for Audacy Richmond's radio stations. In addition to motorsports journalism, Adam also covered and broadcasted numerous VCU athletics for the campus newspaper and radio station during his four years there. He's been a racing fan since the age of three, inheriting the passion from his grandfather, who raced in amateur events up and down the East Coast in the 1950s.

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