As “Cars 3” opened nationwide in theaters over the weekend, it rekindled memories of the INDYCAR connection to the highly popular Disney and Pixar animated feature-film series.
Jay Frye, INDYCAR’s president of competition and operations, has devoted much of his life to racing. Frye’s name even appears in the closing credits of the first film in the franchise, “Cars,” that debuted in 2006.
“One of the coolest things in my career is being listed in the credits of #cars movie. L McQueen engine sound is #01 ARMY car @DisneyPixar,” Frye tweeted earlier this year.
Three years before Pixar Animation Studios produced the hit movie that was released by Walt Disney Pictures, Frye pulled strings with NASCAR to have real sound recorded from a stock car during a practice at Sonoma Raceway -- site of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale. That sound was used in the movie.
Frye was involved in NASCAR then as CEO and team director of the MB2 Motorsports team sponsored by the U.S. Army. Jerry Nadeau was the primary driver of the No. 01 car, although injured at the time with Boris Said filling in. Nadeau was friends with John Lasseter, who co-wrote and directed “Cars.”
“Jerry introduced us and John and I became friends, a phenomenally great guy, unbelievable race fan, he goes to all of the events at Sonoma – NASCAR, INDYCAR, whatever,” Frye said. “John said he was going to do this movie and it was about cars. He needed the real sound of a real car.”
Easy enough, right? Not so fast.
“We had to go to NASCAR to get approval, and they’re like, ‘What? You’re not putting any recorders in the car,’” Frye said. “It was way early, before anybody really new about this thing (with Pixar).
“So I had to go to talk to (NASCAR vice chairman) Mike Helton. He said, ‘Really?’ I said, ‘Yeah, we’re going to put it in, run it for one practice, take it out, done. You can have your guys come and watch. There’s nothing to this.’ We got it done.”
Lasseter took recordings from that Sonoma practice as well as another at Las Vegas to provide the movie with the realistic audio of a revving engine, pit stops, screeching tires and a car zooming around the track. He received an Academy Award nomination for “Cars.”
Lasseter has won two Academy Awards, including a Special Achievement Award for “Toy Story,” and has become chief creative officer of Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Animation Studios and DisneyToon Studios. Lasseter even gave Frye a framed sketch with a get-well message for Nadeau that included caricatures of "Toy Story" characters Buzz Lightyear and Woody the cowboy.
The movie connection explains why Frye couldn’t resist taking a look at a Lightning McQueen car from “Cars” during January’s visit to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
“Was great seeing an old friend today,” Frye tweeted with a selfie photo next to the Lightning McQueen car, the movie’s star character.
“That was a must-do while I was at the show,” Frye said.
What made the movie credit more meaningful was sharing it with his daughters, Addy and Emmy (now 13 and 10). Frye smiled when recalling the first time he watched the movie with his girls when they were old enough to recognize their father’s name.
“It was a big deal when they saw Dad’s name in the ‘Cars’ movie,” he said. “That was big. That made me legit. This other racing stuff, they’ve been to that forever.
“It wasn’t just any movie, but the ‘Cars’ movie, a cool movie.”