We’re chronicling 100 days of Indy 500 history on #SpeedRead leading up to the historic 100th Running. With 20 days to go, Jeff Vrabel continues exploring the many tie-ins between the Indy 500 and pop culture.
More Vrabel: Wonder Bread is born | Million-dollar mistake | Sullivan on “Miami Vice” | SNL’s “Superfans” | Harroun and the rearview mirror | “500” in Hollywood’s glory days | A.J. Foyt has a secret | Late-night TV hosts at Indy | The “500” in reality TV shows | In old TV | In silent movie | In “Cars” | In “Turbo” | The Beatles at IMS | Pace Car drivers | Snake Pit rebirth | The ultimate “500” playlist | David Letterman, pit reporter | Indy 500 on Atari 2600 | On “Jeopardy!” | More 100 days blogs
Alright, we may be a little biased in saying so, but we’ve come to regard the Indy 500 as a movie star. The race — and its people — have appeared in both films you know (“Cars,” “Days of Thunder”) and maybe a few you don’t, which is why we rounded up this helpful of possibly lesser-known Indy appearances in recent film. Scan through and organize your Netflix queue as needed:
• “The Blob”: In the 1958 horror classic, the Blob eats/consumes/gelatinizes two mechanics in a garage right in front of an Indianapolis 500 poster, which, luckily, goes uneaten, because the Blob knows not to mess with a quality souvenir like that.
• “A Christmas Story”: In the Jean Shepherd classic, which is probably airing on cable package somewhere right this second (we know it’s spring but whoever schedules that movie is relentless), the narrators explains a scene in which his Old Man changes a flat tire by saying the patriarch had always dreamed of being “in the pits at the Indianapolis Speedway in the 500.”
• “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”: In this reasonably bonkers sequel to “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” Bill and Ted are murdered by lookalike robots from the future. (If this seems a curiously dark plot for a pastel-colored early ‘90s comedy, yes.) They go to hell and meet Death, who promises their freedom if they beat him in a series of games. Long story short, Death helps them return to life and becomes a global celebrity, and the closing credits show a cover of Motor Trend magazine that reads “Reaper Wins Indy 500.” Rumors persist of a third “Bill and Ted” movie to this day, which we’re not sure will actually happen, but will probably be light on fictitious racing demons.
• “Grease”: Appropriately enough, the “Greased Lightnin’” scene features an accurate Firestone Indy 500 advertisement poster in the background. We’re not sure if it appears in the Fox remake, which we boycotted because of the 5,000 commercials they put on Hulu.
• “Apocalypse Now”: In the film on this list probably the least about racing, Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) opines accurately that “Charging a man with murder in this place (Vietnam) was like handing out speeding tickets at the Indy 500.”
• “Days of Thunder”: Well, sure. Tom Cruise’s character says his goal in open-wheel racing is “Indianapolis, but you can’t win Indy without a great car and my name isn’t Unser or Andretti.” Nope, it’s Cole Trickle, which we should really be able to say without giggling by now, yet here we are.
• “JFK”: In the film, assistant district attorney Susie Cox (Laurie Metcalf) reports talking to a car salesman who said Lee Harvey Oswald took curves on a test drive “like A.J. Foyt at the Indy 500.” A.J. Foyt’s appearance in the Indy 500 is about the only uncontested fact in this movie.
• “Speed Racer”: In the highly weird update helmed by the team behind “The Matrix,” the winner of the grand prix is seen drinking a bottle of milk. Frankly it’s one of few things in the movie that makes sense.