“Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” an irreverent comedy based in the outlandish (fictionalized) world of American stock car racing, premieres in movie theaters around the United States on this day in 2006.
The comedian Will Ferrell (who also co-wrote the screenplay with director Adam McKay and served as an executive producer) starred as Ricky Bobby, a leading driver on the National Association for Stock Auto Car Racing (NASCAR) circuit. Macho and arrogant, Ricky Bobby is known for his motto “If you’re not first, you’re last!” and has no problems with the fact that his winning record is based on the willingness of his loyal friend and fellow driver, Cal Naughton Jr. (John C. Reilly) to always come in second to Ricky’s first. This arrangement is upset by the arrival of Jean Girard (Sacha Baron Cohen), a flamboyant French star of Europe’s Formula One racing. After a devastating crash, Ricky Bobby loses his job and his wife (both to Cal) and is forced to work his way back up in the NASCAR world. The climactic scene–featuring an explosive kiss in the middle of the track–takes place during the famous Talladega 500 race at Alabama’s Talladega Superspeedway.
“Talladega Nights” offered an unapologetically exaggerated version of the NASCAR world, repeatedly poking fun at the stereotypical image of car-loving “good old boys” from the American South, in the style of shows like “The Dukes of Hazzard.” It also satirized NASCAR’s affection for product placement: The cars in the movie are covered with advertisements for brands such as Wonder Bread and Old Spice and the characters are constantly singing the praises of Domino’s Pizza, PowerAde and other favorite products.
On the more authentic side, the vehicles used in “Talladega Nights” were made with the cooperation of NASCAR, and the movie was partially filmed at the Talladega Superspeedway, known to fans of stock car racing as the largest, fastest and most competitive speedway in the world. Opened in 1969, the complex was built on an expanse of farmland next to two abandoned airport runways; it has the capacity to accommodate more than 143,000 seated spectators, with thousands more packed into the 212-acre infield. Talladega is also home to the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and Museum.