NHRA - National Hot Rod Association


Five great drag racing movies

28 Mar 2016
Phil Burgess, National Dragster Editor

Whether you’re relaxing on your couch streaming entertainment or at the local movie theater, who doesn’t love a good flick? And if you’re a drag racing fan – and we know you are – what’s better than a movie about your favorite motorsport?

Here’s our list of five of the most treasured movies about drag racing, and, as part of a special double feature, here’s a list of five movies that sound as if they should be about drag racing but aren’t.

Synopsis: Filmed on location at West Coast racetracks including Irwindale Raceway, Lions Drag Strip, and Orange County Int'l Raceway and featuring racing by quarter-mile greats such as Bill Schultz, John Lombardo, Norm Wilcox, and Larry Dixon, the film has a lot to offer hard-core fans. Mark Slade is the eponymous drag racer in question, trying to get his big break in Top Fuel.

Amazon.com said: “A nice stroll down memory lane; if you grew up attending numerous drag races in the ‘60s and ‘70s you'll enjoy this flashback. For a Hollywood type movie on drag racing this is pretty good. Nothing can transport you back to the true good ole' days of drag racing, but this is a good movie.”


Synopsis: The perfect movie for NHRA’s 50th anniversary celebration of the Funny Car. It follows Jim Dunn – firefighter by day, Funny Car racer by night – and family as they race across the West with his radical rear-engine Funny Car. Fans will enjoy seeing just how cool-looking and wild the early Funny Cars were (drinking game: take a shot of Mello Yello every time a car crosses the centerline) and why kids like me fell in love with the sport back then. Today’s fans will get a kick out of how much “Big Jim” looks like today’s Mike Dunn and, even 40-plus years ago, references to him as one of the oldest drivers out there, as well as, of course, young Mike bicycle drag racing his Schwinn (complete with parachute).

Rotten Tomatoes said: “Noted photographer Ron Phillips turns director for this fast-moving documentary. Funny Car Summer is an affectionate profile of California fireman Jim Dunn. So what's a fireman doing in a film about Funny Cars? Well, it happens that Dunn spends his off-hours as a champion drag racer. Gorgeously photographed, the film follows Dunn as he enters race after race in the Southwest, manning his fantastic custom-built cars.”

Synopsis: Directed by horror master David Cronenberg (The Fly, Shivers, Scanners, The Brood, etc.), this B movie, filmed at western Canadian dragstrips and employing the skills of the likes of Gordie Bonin and Graham Light, focuses on ace driver Lonnie "Lucky Man" Johnson (played by William Smith), who wants to push the art and science of racing further, but Phil Adamson (John Saxon), who owns the motor-oil company (FastCo) that sponsors his team, doesn't care about the future of racing, or even about winning. He just wants to sell motor oil. Lots of action, fire, and explosions, and a few non-PG moments.

EFilmCritic.com said: “The races are photographed and composed far more artfully than they had to be, with quiet pauses afterwards that few drive-in hacks would bother with. You get a real sense of the firepower of these vehicles, spitting out flames as they scoot down the track, and you frequently get lurching point-of-view shots that literally take you for a ride.”


Synopsis: Directed by Jonathan Kaplan (whose 1988 film, The Accused, earned Jodie Foster her first Oscar for Best Actress), the film chronicles the career of the great Shirley Muldowney, from her early street racing days through gas dragsters and Funny Cars and ultimately to the Top Fuel championship. Lots of great vintage cars, great stunt driving by Tommy Ivo and Kelly Brown, and more. Bonnie Bedelia does a fine turn as our favorite drag racing heroine.

Variety said:Heart Like a Wheel is a surprisingly fine biopic of Shirley Muldowney, the first professional female race car driver. What could have been a routine good ol' gal success story has been heightened into an emotionally involving, superbly made drama.”



The story of drag racing’s greatest rivalry gets the Hollywood treatment, following the dynamic duo of Don “the Snake” Prudhomme and Tom “the Mongoose” McEwen through their early days, the famed partnership with Mattel Hot Wheels, and their hot-and-cold relationship through McEwen’s tragic but uplifting victory at the 1978 U.S. Nationals following the death of his son. The action footage is cool – Prudhomme even stunt-drove the Greer-Black-Prudhomme car at points – and is supplemented with actual race footage provided by NHRA, and the casting of Jesse Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) as Prudhomme and Richard Blake (Dragonball: Evolution) as McEwen works great.

The Hollywood Reporter said: “The legendary rivalry between racers Tom McEwen and Don Prudhomme is the subject of Snake & Mongoose, Wayne Holloway’s sports-themed film that should certainly appeal to, say, subscribers of Road & Track magazine. Featuring a plethora of archival footage from their races in the '60s and '70s, the bio-drama captures its milieu with an admirable accuracy and authenticity.”



What it’s about: Thirty years after the defeat of the Galactic Empire, the galaxy faces a new threat.

What it’s not about: Aging nitro Jedi sets out to battle Don Vader and the Schumacher Empire

What it’s about: Loosely based on the life and career of Broadway and film star and comedienne Fanny Brice and her stormy relationship with entrepreneur and gambler Nicky Arnstein

What it’s not about: Courtney Force, Alexis DeJoria, Ashley Force Hood, Della Woods, Paula Murphy

What it’s about: A woman suffers a series of misfortunes after being asked to serve as maid of honor for her best friend.

What it’s not about: Doug Kalitta, Ron Capps, Clay Millican

What it’s about: An FBI agent takes on a plane full of venomous snakes, deliberately released to kill a witness being flown from Honolulu to Los Angeles to testify against a mob boss.

What it’s not about: Don Prudhomme is airborne and coming to kick some asp in a Funny Car field near you.

Racer A: I see his car, but Prudhomme’s not here. Good news for us.
Racer B: I just heard from the tower that he’s on his way.
Racer A: You mean …?
Racer B: Yep, “Snake’s” on a plane.

E.T. (1982)
What it’s about: A lonely boy befriends an extraterrestrial who is stranded on Earth. He and his siblings help it return home while attempting to keep it hidden from their mother and the government.

What it’s not about: Elapsed times.