25 details from 'Days of Thunder' that show how much auto racing and the rest of the world have changed since Tom Cruise was a NASCAR driver

Paramount Pictures/Getty ImagesTom Cruise and Nicole Kidman in ‘Days of Thunder.’
  • “Days of Thunder” is the biggest dramatic movie ever based on NASCAR and one of the biggest auto racing movies of all time.
  • The movie, now 29 years old, starred Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
  • While the movie is still a fun look at big-time racing, many details have not aged well and will make fans feel old.
  • Visit INSIDER.com for more stories.

It has been 29 years since Paramount released “Days of Thunder,” a movie starring Tom Cruise about a racecar driver who comes out of nowhere to take NASCAR by storm.

After three decades, the movie is still a fun look at big-time auto racing. However, many of the details in and around the actual racing have not aged well.

From some eyebrow-raising casting choices, to the lack of safety equipment, and an early look at Cruise’s yet-to-be-perfected running style, the world has changed a lot since 1990. Below we take a look at the details that will make fans of NASCAR and the movie feel old.


Look at those shorts! And those headphones!

Paramount

This movie is so old, The King, Richard Petty was not yet retired from stock car racing and is shown several times in racing scenes.

Paramount

Randy Quaid was still landing dramatic roles as a serious actor in major films.

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Pepsi stopped using that logo more than 25 years ago.

Paramount

The film zoomed-in on several Confederate Flags, including a “The South Will Rise Again” flag. These were all seen in the first 90 seconds. No matter what your opinion is on the flag, we can all agree that this would not happen in a blockbuster film in 2019.

Paramount

Fred Thompson, who plays the head of NASCAR, was seen smoking in a nice restaurant.

Paramount

Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman still liked each other. They would get married a year after this movie was filmed.

Paramount

ESPN still covered NASCAR. There was even a Dr. Jerry Punch sighting, the long-time NASCAR pit reporter.

Paramount

Sixteen years before John C. Reilly would star in another NASCAR movie, “Talladego Nights,” he was a member of Cole Trickle’s crew in “Days of Thunder.” It was the original “Shake and Bake.”

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While Chevy is still a major player in NASCAR, it has been a while since the Lumina was a star in their lineup.

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Same for the Ford Thunderbird.

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And any Buicks.

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There were also some major sponsors you wouldn’t see anymore at sporting events, including Skoal and Kodak Film.

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A young Rusty Wallace made a cameo. In 1990, he was the reigning NASCAR champion.

Paramount

It is strange to see pit crew members not wearing helmets or fire suits.

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The drivers wore open-faced helmets without any safety devices, such as the HANS head restraint device which wouldn’t become mandatory in NASCAR for another 12 years.

Getty Images

Dirty faces were the norm.

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The walls were just concrete. It would be years before NASCAR would start using safety walls made with foam.

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In a sad bit of irony, one of the main characters is Harry Hogge, played by Robert Duvall. The character starts the movie in retirement due to his driver dying in a head-first crash into the wall at Daytona.

Paramount

Some of the safety features not seen in this movie were ushered in after Dale Earnhardt died in similar fashion at Daytona in 2001. Earnhardt’s No. 3 car is seen in the movie competing at Daytona.

Paramount

At the time of this movie, one person owning more than one NASCAR team was considered controversial enough to be a plot twist. Nowadays, that is the norm and drivers often assist teammates. (Also, look at that TV on Channel 4!)

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Fresh off of “The Princess Bride” and “Glory,” the movie tried to pass off Cary Elwes as a NASCAR driver villain.

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It is also hard to imagine Hardees and Mello Yello cars battling for the lead on the final lap of the Daytona 500.

Paramount

After Cole won the Daytona 500 at the end of the film, he drove straight to pit row without taking a victory lap or doing any burnouts.

Paramount

In the final scene of the movie, Cole Trickle races his crew chief to victory lane after winning Daytona. In one of the more dated sights in the movie, Tom Cruise has clearly not yet perfected his famous movie running style. It’s like seeing a baby take its first steps.

Paramount

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