It feels like ages ago that snow fell at Auto Club Speedway earlier this year. Now, it’s actually almost winter, and though it doesn’t look like I’ll have a white Christmas where I live, it’s time to delve into the world of holiday films and make them motorsports-related.
I certainly have my gauntlet of films I run through each year: annual rewatches, some first-time views to add them to the all-time holiday film ranking and some short films too, but it always culminates in a (usually) Christmas Eve triple feature with my family: It’s a Wonderful Life, Die Hard and The Night Before. Drama, action and comedy, respectively, and it’s the perfect lead-in to Dec. 25 and the final week of the year.
With that in mind, I’m gonna do my best to shoehorn racing into these various holiday concepts without being too it’s-just-the-plot-of-the-original-movie-but-with-racing!, so here goes.
I’m not sure how many of these would make great double features quite like Home Alone and its sequel, or Silent Night, Deadly Night and its sequel, would, but I’ll hold out hope one of these somehow gets made.
The Night Before (the Daytona 500)
Truly the greatest underappreciated Christmas film, The Night Before stars Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie as three best friends going out for one more night of debauchery on Christmas Eve before finally settling down into their respective lives, all while seeking what’s supposedly the ultimate holiday party.
For the three leads, from Cup drivers in recent years, I’m going with Brendan Gaughan, Ryan Blaney and either Tyler Reddick or Denny Hamlin as the three leads, primarily based off the personalities of the actual movie’s trio of main characters.
I’d tweak the plot it so that the season’s well behind them, but it takes place after the awards ceremony. The three intrepid heroes are headed out on one more night of celebration of another season in the books before calling it an offseason, going out on the town in Nashville in search of the storied afterparty that awaits: full of NASCAR legends, huge celebrities and anything for which one could wish.
Scratch Nashville, change the setting to New York — one, because I’m a sucker for Christmas films in New York; two, that’s where The Night Before is actually set; and three, I feel like even more fun could be had with the environment there. Hit up Radio City Music Hall or crash into the Rockefeller tree on the way to the bash.
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Chevy
Chevy’s really the only two-syllable manufacturer currently active (at least in its colloquial form), so that’s what we go with here. Legend has it that pioneering racer Rudolph Coleman (thanks, random last name generator) had a machine so quick and so refined that it could beat any car on the track, no matter the generation, top speed or series it raced in. The mythical automotive wonder had a red, chrome front bumper, and the stories said whoever was at the wheel could see the air flowing over the nose of the car.
Then, one foggy Christmas Eve, NASCAR came to say, “we need Rudolph’s legendary Chevy to lead the way in horrendously misty conditions” (a la Texas Motor Speedway in the fall of 2020). Why don’t they just stop the race? The plot needs to keep moving. It’s fine.
The lead character, a young driver, sets out on a quest to find the car in one of the city’s many scrapyards, and just when he’s given up hope, he and his search partner (who weirdly wants to be a dentist) come across it and save the day.
Yeah, I didn’t really have to try with this title, but it was right there.
Bruce Willis is trying to win back his wife while at her company’s Christmas party (rolling up to it to “Christmas in Hollis” by Run-DMC, what else?) and it turns out said company is either Lionel Racing itself or a corporation with a massive trove of NASCAR diecasts. Let’s go with she works for Lionel. That’s fun.
A group of German terrorists (“Who said we were terrorists?”) attack Lionel’s headquarters, demanding all the prototypes, autographed raced versions and valuable cars. John McClane escapes, has to walk over shattered diecasts that bloody his feet and then survive a fall off the warehouse before dropping diecast Hans Gruber into a manufacturing machine in the factory. The tiny link that causes Gruber to detach from McClane’s wife and fall? Yep. A diecast snapping in half from the strain.
It’s a Wonderful Career
Kind of an easy adaptation into a racing-related formula, but a seasoned veteran and champion of the sport (could be a legend like Richard Petty or someone fictional) runs into hard times late in their career and is reflecting on their impact in NASCAR.
Growing despondent, the hero believes that the sport would’ve been better off without them, and a friendly ghost appears to show them the true impact they did have on their sport. Can’t see anyone else in the lead role other than Jimmy Stewart if we’re going the fictional driver route, and I can’t see anyone else other than Henry Travers as Clarence, so it’d have to be those two.
Home Alone (at the Track)
Kind of a simple reimagining here, but let’s say there’s some mischief afoot in the NASCAR garages; someone’s going around and stealing parts, messing with cars before race day and threatening to ruin race day.
It’s up to our hero — Macaulay Culkin as Kevin, obviously, but NASCAR driver Kevin McCallister — to stop them. He sends Joe Pesci falling down ramps into the garage, lets loose with a bag of lug wrenches on his head and lights him on fire with a blowtorch, while Daniel Stern gets hit with a car, takes a gas can to the cranium and also gets doused with fuel.
Similar to the Micro Machines in the original film, both Harry and Marv slip at full speed on a bunch of diecasts sitting on the ground, too.
The Elmhurst Express
Starring an Uncanny Valley-esque version of Fred Lorenzen, who bore the nickname, this horrifying film is set in the same style of Robert Zemeckis’ weird obsession with photorealistic (kind of) motion-capture films in the 2000s — The Polar Express, Beowulf, etc.
I’ve been told by my parents that when we went to see The Polar Express, when I was 6, that they think we left midway through because of how much the motion capture bothered me. It’s not really animation and it’s not live action, it’s this weird meld of the two into an unnatural, off-putting abomination. I revisited it a few years back, and while there’s a couple bizarro choices I can appreciate, it’s still an incredibly odd movie and experience that ranks in my bottom 10 holiday films. Even Josh Groban couldn’t save it.
That said, Lorenzen gets the nod here (sorry, Fred) since his nickname also has the word express in it; one of NASCAR history’s most underrated drivers, for sure. The Elmhurst Express revolves around its namesake in the role of Tom Hanks’ conductor character, only he rolls up in his 1965 Ford Galaxie. Who needs a train when you have that white Holman-Moody No. 28 rumbling up to your door?
Without all those cars the train has to lug behind it, Lorenzen’s friendly-yet-slightly-terrifying tour guide character whisks the chosen few off to the North Pole at more than 150 mph in a 1960s vehicle, scaring the absolute bejesus out of them and making them simply thankful they’re alive on Christmas.
Just kidding, they get presents and that little bell or whatever (change it to a diecast car for NASCAR purposes) and all that, but I’d pay to see this in a theater.
Don’t Open Till Raceday
Here’s one maybe 1% of our readers might know: 1984’s Don’t Open Till Christmas is made by the same crew behind the cult classic horror Pieces from a couple years earlier, but might legitimately be the sleaziest film I’ve ever seen. Simple premise: guy goes around offing Santas all around London.
Feels a little morbid, but we’ll go with a similar premise. The NASCAR garage is beset by a series of attacks on drivers and cars being sabotaged, and a group of drivers have to band together to figure out the culprit.
I’ll include some elements of Bob Clark’s Black Christmas (wild that Clark directed one of the best holiday films, period, with A Christmas Story and had ALSO done the best holiday horror film nine years prior with Black Christmas) too, in that taunting phone calls continue to plague the group, until they figure out that the “calls are coming from inside the garage!” and the real culprit was among them all along. Theme song: “Merry Axe-Mas” by Ice Nine Kills.
There’s plenty of other holiday titles to adapt: Vroom Vroom Bang Bang (Shane Black’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang with Robert Downey Jr. and Val Kilmer), Happiest Offseason (Happiest Season with Kristen Stewart and Aubrey Plaza) or A NASCAR Story (A Christmas Story), but I wanted to stick with what I felt I could flesh out the most here. Maybe we’ll do a part two next year.
Our final installment of the year is a HUGE one: I sat down with Robert Nagle, the stunt coordinator for Michael Mann’s new film Ferrari, releasing on Christmas and starring Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz. We discussed working on that film, his long career and so much more. Look for that interview next week, just after the film’s release, in both article and podcast form.
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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