One of the many great things about Pixar is how every little thing seems to have a backstory or a reason to it, and Cars is full of them. For example, Lightning McQueen's number 95 is the year the first Pixar movie came out, and Chick Hick's number 86 is when Pixar was founded. Also, Doc's license plate reads 51HHMD — '51 is the year actual Hudson Hornets started being produced, HH stands for Hudson Hornet, and MD is for Doc.
But when it comes to Doc, that is just scratching the surface. He has an immense background and I think uncovering it may be the secret to how Lightning will end up victorious in #Cars3.
If you'd prefer to watch these mind-blowing facts unfold, you can check out the video below. If videos aren't your thing, continue on to read the full theory.
In Cars, Doc Hudson, also known as the Fabulous Hudson Hornet, is a retired racer. He won the Piston Cup in 1951, '52, '53, but then had a career-ending crash in 1954 and was passed up for the next rookie in line, which sounds a lot like what is happening to many of the racers in Cars 3 (We already know that Lightning is going to suffer what looks like a nearly career-ending crash probably near the start of the movie). Doc’s story is a sad one, but what’s cool about it is that it's actually based on the real-life events.
'The Fabulous Hudson Hornet'
Hudson Hornets were real cars produced in 1951 that immediately began dominating the race track. A few different drivers used them, but Doc himself seems to be inspired by a man named Herb Thomas, whose Hornet was also affectionately dubbed "The Fabulous Hudson Hornet."
Thomas wasted no time in reaching the top of his sport either. He won his first season in 1951, came in second (to another Hudson Hornet driven by Tim Flock) in 1952, and then won again in 1953. It’s probably also worth noting that despite losing on points in 1952 and 1954, he still ended up winning the most races each year at 8 and 12, respectively. After that, Thomas stopped driving Hudsons, and two years later would suffer a career-ending crash similar to Doc.
Doc isnt the only homage to Thomas in Cars 3. We’ve seen in the trailers that Lightning returns to Doc’s old training grounds, a track called “Thomasville Speedway.” There is no real-life Thomasville Speedway, so this seems like a definite nod to the old driver.
But it's not just the track itself, it's also the characters Lightning and Cruz meet while there, known as “The Legends.” Allow me to introduce you to Smokey, River Scott, Louise "Barnstormer" Nash and Junior Midnight Moon.
I’ll be honest, I didn't think much of them when they briefly appeared in the trailer, but having done some research on them, I think they are going to be awesome.
Smokey is based on Smokey Yunick, one of the best and most infamous crew chiefs of all time. After establishing a reputation as one of the best mechanics around, Yunick was initially recruited by a guy named Marshall Teague, who also drove Hudsons, and his first job was to prepare a Hornet for Herb Thomas to drive, and it won its first race!
Known for his signature white jumpsuit, hat and pipe, Yunick was known as the “Master of the gray area of racing” and it's not hard to see why. He was constantly finding loopholes in the rules and coming up with creative ways to exploit them. For example, race cars are only allowed to have a certain size gas tank, but the rules said nothing about the fuel line that feeds the tank, so he used a three meter tube with a two inch diameter, which added a shocking five extra gallons of fuel to his cars.
He once built a frame that lowered the roof but then raised the floor so that it was the same height, resulting in a fractionally smaller-sized car, which is obviously a lot lighter.
Yunick was also known to put an inflated basket ball in the gas tank during testing so it would take up space, then deflate it before the race, giving him more room for fuel. It might sound like cheating, but these are the kinds of things that eventually shape a sport, and Yunick made plenty of other genuine contributions to racing as well.
In any case, what it means for Cars 3 is that I would bet Smokey and his “Best Dang Garage in Town” (the real-life Smokey’s garage was the "Best Damn Garage in Town”) is going to have a handful of tricks like that to help Lightning overcome the faster Jackson Storm.
River Scott is another retired racer inspired by the real-life Wendell Scott. Wendell is famous for being the first (and to date, only) African American to win a NASCAR cup series race. As a boy, Wendell grew up a speed junkie, learning to be a fast and aggressive driver from his father by constantly challenging other boys to races on bikes and skates. This need for speed eventually lead him into the lucrative, yet illegal, world of moonshine running, where his job was to build and drive cars fast enough to outrun the police.
This made him a good fit for racing, but the color of his skin did not. He was initially refused by NASCAR outright simply for being black. Joke is on them though, because he decided to race one level down in the Dixie Circuit, where he won his first race in just 12 days. Pretty impressive if I do say so myself.
Although he won himself a lot of fans, he also dealt with a lot of hate and aggression on the track. Racing in the south, nobody faced greater odds on the track than Wendell, and I’m betting River has a similar story, as will Lightning, in trying to overcome the next generation of racers.
Next up is Louise “Barnstormer" Nash, modeled after a 1950’s Nash Ambassador. Louise is named after Louise Smith, also known as “The First Lady of Racing.”
As you might be able to guess, she was the first woman to race in NASCAR at the top level (well, tied for first — there was another woman in that race, too.) Although she never won a race at the premier level, she did win 38 races throughout her career in various formats, including: models, modifieds and sportsman. I would imagine Nash to play a pretty similar role as River for Lightning, both of them having overcome the stigma of finding a way to win in a sport that just didn't seem to want them around.
This brings us to maybe my favorite of these four: Junior “Midnight” Moon. Junior is actually voiced by the the real-life person he is representing, Junior Johnson. Like Wendell, Johnson was a former moonshiner before he got into racing, and if you want, you can literally go to the store right now and legally buy some of his family's moonshine.
Once upon a time, his family had gotten in some serious trouble for their moonshining, but received a Presidential Pardon from Ronald Reagan. Johnson is a Nascar icon, known in the sport as “The Last American Hero,” and is credited as being the first racer ever to take advantage of — wait for it — drafting!
This is what I think Midnight Moon is going to teach Lightning in Cars 3, because he, above all the rest, is going to understand Lightning’s struggle. He is also going to have been outpaced by a faster generation, but his Jackson Storm will have been none other than Doc Hudson himself.
Hudson Hornets were the fastest cars for their time. Sadly, Hudson Hornets were only ever produced for four years, despite producing the fastest cars that won nearly every race around. Hudson couldn’t compete with post-WW2 Ford, GM and Chevy. Hudson was forced to merge with Nash-Kelvinator Corporation, the largest corporate merge in US history at the time, and they became AMC, which was later acquired by Chrysler.
So there you have it! That is the truth about Doc Hudson and how I think his legacy will help Lightning win in Cars 3.
What do you think? Let me know down in the comments!