You know, when I was figuring out what to write this week, the Bristol Dirt Race swung me in the direction of checking out the portrayals of racing on dirt in motorsports films.
Outside of blasting Alice in Chains’ iconic 1992 album Dirt all week long, I wanted to prep for the weekend in another way besides having tracks like “Them Bones,” “Rain When I Die,” “Rooster” and “Would?” on repeat … but was slightly foiled.
Turns out there’s not nearly as many dirt-populated racing films as I expected, but let’s take a look anyway.
Arguably the most famous racing-on-dirt instance in a motorsports film isn’t even the main focal point of said production: the “turn right to go left” sequence in 2006’s Cars.
Likely one of the most-quoted racing movie moments — and most accessible, considering its popularity and rating — it still applies to reality. Lightning McQueen also uses it to save his car during the climactic championship race between him, Strip Weathers and Chick Hicks.
We’ll see these NASCAR Cup and Craftsman Truck series drivers throwing their vehicles into the corners at the half-mile track, turning left and then right as they slide through the turns.
Though I was a huge fan of the Trucks’ “Mudsummer Classic” at Eldora Speedway and would personally prefer the tour visit a permanent dirt track for such a race, I thoroughly enjoyed last year’s Easter Sunday race and can’t wait for this week. The Tyler Reddick – Chase Briscoe battle was an instant classic.
In two consecutive years to close the past decade, we got a couple of chiefly dirt-themed productions: 2018’s Dirt and 2019’s Trading Paint.
Dirt featured Kevin Dillon of Platoon and The Blob fame, who had also portrayed Doors drummer John Densmore in The Doors. Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine (Blood Diamond, Queen of Katwe), Matthew Glave (Argo, First Man) and others also star.
In fairness, it’s an off-road truck racing team rather than our typical motorsports films, but Dirt is a fun movie and is also underseen — solid fare, for sure.
Trading Paint is on the opposite end of that spectrum: more names attached to it, what with the likes of John Travolta, Michael Madsen and Shania Twain, but its quality is far lower than that of Dirt.
Sure, Travolta and Twain are icons of their respective industries, and Madsen is no slouch himself. Between his status as a Quentin Tarantino staple, from the ear-cutting Mr. Blonde in Reservoir Dogs to roles in Kill Bill Vols. 1 & 2 and The Hateful Eight, to turns in everything from Sin City to Die Another Day to The Doors (hey, there’s that movie again!), Madsen is a legend in his own right.
That said, Trading Paint misses a lot of marks and ranks right alongside Travolta’s vehicle The Fanatic (directed by Limp Bizkit frontman Fred Durst and one of the worst things I’ve seen in the past decade) near the bottom of my 2019 ranking. That one is hilariously misguided, at least — Trading Paint just doesn’t work as a racing movie.
It follows a lot of the same beats as many other sports dramas, from the conflict between the father-son racing duo to the moment that brings them together (a horrific crash in which the latter nearly dies, who would’ve guessed).
The Last American Hero, loosely based on the life of Junior Johnson, is a movie I haven’t seen in nearly a decade and need to revisit. Scrubbing through it on YouTube, there’s absolutely some dirt racing in it, but it’s been far too long since I last watched it.
Weirdly, the best recent portrayal of dirt racing came in season 1, episode 7 of the Peacock series Poker Face, entitled “The Future of the Sport.” I already wrote about it here, but the series is a creation of Knives Out‘s Rian Johnson and stars the wonderful Natasha Lyonne. It nails the look and feel of dirt racing in the installment.
Because I can’t resist a good song parody, and because our own Michael Massie came up with his own Miley Cyrus-themed spoof post-Richmond, here’s a bit of one that paraphrases the title track from Dirt:
Racing on the dirt
Is chaos and debris
Drivers try to avoid mayhem and claim victory
NAS, NASCAR’s so special
They have the talent
to truck in tons of dirt
And they, they use their talent
to dig Bristol under
And cover it with dirt
About the author
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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