Blindsided by a new generation of blazing-fast racers, the legendary Lightning McQueen (voice of Owen Wilson) is suddenly pushed out of the sport he loves. To get back in the game, he will need the help of an eager young race technician with her own plan to win, inspiration from the late Fabulous Hudson Hornet, and a few unexpected turns. Proving that #95 isn’t through yet will test the heart of a champion on Piston Cup Racing’s biggest stage!
To explore what was next for Lightning McQueen filmmakers consulted NASCAR veterans, including four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and Ray Evernham, who served as Gordon’s crew chief for three of his championships. Gordon proved to be a key resource. “He talked a lot about how young racers are full of energy,” says co-producer Andrea Warren. “They like to go fast and hard, while a more experienced driver knows he doesn’t have to do that. They get to know the game well enough that they can play it in a different way.”
“We did a lot of research,” says director Brian Fee. “We looked at athletes in other sports, but really focused on NASCAR drivers. They start at such an early age and their lives are centered around driving. We even talked to a sports psychologist who explained that many of these drivers can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Lightning McQueen is a world-champion racer who’s riding high with five Piston-Cup wins under his hood. Suddenly, he finds himself faced with a new generation of racers who threaten not only his dominance in the sport—but the confidence that got him there. Determined to get back into the pole position, #95 must decide if his love for racing is enough to fuel the comeback of his life. “We were really intrigued by what happens to athletes who are in the twilight of their careers,” says director Brian Fee. “All Lightning McQueen has ever wanted is to be a champion—and he’s done that. Does that mean his life is over? He doesn’t know anything else.”
Cruz Ramirez is a tech-savvy, unconventional trainer at the Rust-eze Racing Center. She expertly arms the team’s talented rookies with cutting-edge tools to tear up the track—but she nearly stalls when Piston-Cup champion Lightning McQueen shows up. While she’d love to help him find his way back to the top, she knows the competition is faster than ever, and victory is all about speed—or is it?
Jackson Storm is fast, sleek and ready to win. A front-runner in the next generation of racers, Storm’s quiet confidence and cocky demeanor are off-putting—but his unmatched speed threatens to redefine the sport. Trained on high-tech simulators that are programmed to perfect technique and maximize velocity, Jackson Storm is literally built to be unbeatable—and he knows it. “Jackson Storm epitomizes the next-gen racers,” says Armie Hammer, who voices the character. “They’re young, brash and confident. Jackson Storm is newer and faster. He can calculate the drag coefficient on the spot. It’s hard to compete with that.”
Former Piston Cup team owner Smokey teamed up with the Fabulous Hudson Hornet back in the ‘50s. His gruff exterior and strong opinions served him well as crew chief—and he owns what’s arguably the best dang garage in town. He still wrestles with trusting his head or his gut, but when it comes to his friends—he’s all heart.
Piston-Cup legend Junior “Midnight” Moon got his start running homemade “fuel” through the wooded back roads with only the moon to light the way.
River Scott came from modest beginnings, but his hard drive and never-quit attitude made him a trailblazer in the Piston Cup—racking up seven circuit wins in the early ‘50s. Scrappy and improvisational, Scott wore his dents proudly.
Known as the “First Lady of Racing,” Louise “Barnstormer” Nash didn’t have an easy start as one of the first and only females in racing—she had to steal her racing number to compete in her first race. But her fearless driving style soon won her the respect of every car she raced. Nash took on the Fabulous Hudson Hornet in the early days of the Piston Cup, winning three back-to-back races.
“Cars 3” also welcomes back Lightning McQueen’s gang of friends from Radiator Springs, including Lightning’s best buddy Mater, and #95’s No. 1 fan Sally. Friends supporting their hometown hero include Fillmore, Sarge, Lizzie, Ramon, Sheriff and Flo.
Loyal transporter Mack, big-hearted Italian Fiat 500 Luigi, and charming little Italian forklift Guido continue to support Lightning McQueen’s racing endeavors. World-renowned sports announcer Bob Cutlass is still calling the races, and Chick Hicks is back—this time as a commentator on the Racing Sports Network. The lovable duo Dusty and Rusty return as Rust-eze’s chief proprietors—though they have big things in store for Lightning McQueen.
The late Paul Newman can be heard in the film reprising his role as The Fabulous Hudson Hornet aka Doc Hudson. When Newman recorded for the original “Cars,” he and director John Lasseter often exchanged thoughts on racing between takes. The conversations were fortunately captured, proving invaluable to filmmakers who wanted to reignite Lightning McQueen’s love of the sport and the mentor who helped him discover it in the first place.
“Paul was a big fan of racing and really knowledgeable,” says producer Kevin Reher. “I think we all learned a little about the sport from Doc Hudson.”
Miss Fritter loves the smash-and-crash life of demolition derby. A local legend at the Thunder Hollow Speedway, Fritter’s formidable school-bus size is intimidating, but it’s her smokestacks of doom, razor-sharp stop sign and crazy collection of her victims’ license plates that usually steer her opponents in the other direction.
Sterling is a brilliant “business car” who runs Rust-eze Racing Center—one of the most successful elite training facilities in the country. Despite his dapper appearance and obvious wealth, Sterling comes across as unassuming and laid-back. But business is business, and Sterling is driven to ensure all of his investments pay off.
Natalie Certain is a highly respected statistical analyst who knows her numbers. Book-smart and mathematically gifted, Certain is a fresh voice in the racing world. While she may earn top marks in her ability to evaluate a racer’s stats, she could be underestimating the importance of determination. “She’s a confident, intelligent woman,” says directing animator Jude Brownbill. “Her movements are kind of sharp without feeling too weightless. There’s not much flourish, yet she’s still graceful. She’s all about the facts, so she’s very focused and direct.”
According to director Brian Fee, the “Cars” films have a look that separates them from the rest of Pixar’s library. “While all of our films are stylized in their own way, the ‘Cars’ films want to be more photorealistic—almost hyperreal; it’s art directed realism. With the technology we’ve implemented in the last few years, we have the ability to make these characters and sets feel more real and alive than ever before.”
“This is a world we believe exists,” says production designer Bill Cone. “It’s familiar. The term we use is believability, which is the basis for everything we do. The world of ‘Cars’ is built to accommodate its car-sized population. It is stylized. We’ve played with some metaphorical elements—cars see themselves in nature the way man sees himself in nature. It’s all done in a way that is as relatable as it is compelling.”
Although Lightning McQueen ventures far from home in an effort to rediscover what makes him a great racer, his heart will always be in Radiator Springs. But it’s been a few years since his hometown last saw the big screen. “We had to upgrade it a little,” says production designer Bill Cone. “The rest of the world will have the kind of detail we’re capable of achieving now, so we needed to bring Radiator Springs into the same movie.”
The Rust-eze Training Center is a state-of-the-art facility with high-tech equipment. “We started with the size and shape of an airplane hangar,” says Production Designer Bill Cone. “And we filled it with all of the gadgets and tools a modern racer would want: simulators, treadmills, a yoga room.”
The production designer says the facility was inspired by boutique manufacturers in Europe. “Everything is unbelievably spotless—like a hospital,” Cone says. “You could eat off the floor.”
When Lightning McQueen realizes that high-tech training may not be the key to his renewed success, he’s inspired to track down the coach who trained his mentor, Doc Hudson. He finds himself in Thomasville, where former crew chief Smokey runs an old-school garage. “Doc grew up in Thomasville—he actually raced his first race there,” says sets art director Noah Klocek. “We took research trips to the South where NASCAR got its start, spending some time in northern Georgia and South Carolina.”
Lightning McQueen and Cruz Ramirez yearn to take part in a down-and-dirty race to reignite the passion Lightning’s lost. Unfortunately, they end up in the midst of a Crazy 8—which is certainly dirty. To achieve the right look and feel for the sequence, filmmakers actually went to a night race that took place on a dirt track. “They were covered in dirt,” says Cone. “It was inspiring.”
The film features several races across the country—and filmmakers added details to make sure each track had a distinctive personality. But the final race in the film that takes place in Florida was a culmination of Lightning McQueen’s journey—so it had to be special. “We were tasked with creating a racetrack that really embraced modernism,” says sets art director Noah Klocek. “It represents what Jackson Storm and all the rest of the next-gen racers are bringing to the sport.”