Days of Thunder is an 1990 American romantic drama film released by Paramount Pictures and produced by Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Tony Scott. The cast includes Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Robert Duvall, Randy Quaid, Cary Elwes and Michael Rooker. The film also features appearances by real life racers, such as Rusty Wallace, Neil Bonnett, and Harry Gant. Commentator Dr. Jerry Punch, of ESPN, has a cameo appearance, as does co-producer Don Simpson.
Cole Trickle is promising race car driver with aspirations of one day racing in NASCAR. A wealthy team owner Tim Daland, played by Randy Quaid, sees Trickle race and is convinced that he has the skill to become the next great racer. Daland successfully convinces Harry, played by Duval, a retired pit chief to see Trickle take a few laps. Having never driven a NASCAR vehicle, Daland arranges for Trickle to drive current NASCAR champion Rowdy Burn's car. Trickle posts the fastest lap of the day, beating Rowdy. Impressed with what he sees, Duval agrees to come out retirement to coach Trickle. Cole's first several races are not impressive as he has much to learn from the experienced Duval. At this time, Rowdy is making it hard for Cole to succeed as he taunts and messes with Trickle during races. As time progresses, Trickle's performance improves and he establishes himself as one of the better drivers. Things would come to a screeching halt when a major crash occurs at Daytona. Many drivers are hurt including Cole and Rowdy. Both are injured severely and must go through extensive therapy. It is during this time that Cole takes a liking to his brain surgeon, played by Nicole Kidman. Eventually, Trickle becomes romantically linked with the brain surgeon and his once uneasy relationship with Rowdy become something of a friendship as both offer support during their recoveries. Still unable to race, Daland hires hot shot driver Russ Wheeler, played by Carey Elwes, to take Trickle's spot. Rowdy's condition begins to worsen and comes to terms that he will not be able to race. He asks Cole to drive his car for him while he recovers. Trickle wants to get back into a race car but has serious doubts about his own confidence. Trickle convinces Harry to come back and act as his Crew Chief. Trickle shows signs of his old self, but Russ Wheeler, through intimidation and dirty racing, always seems to get the best of Cole. Daytona, the biggest race of the year, finally arrives and Cole is determined to win. Before the race, Harry tells Cole that the original engine was leaking oil and that he had put a new one in. Curious as to how Harry managed to get another engine, Cole looks too his right and sees Daland smiling. Daland has given Trickle a new engine even though he no longer races for him. The race starts and not long after a large crash occurs. Cole becomes scared as the condition of this crash is exactly the same as the one that nearly took his life. Trickle summons enough courage and drives through the carnage and smoke. Having made through unharmed, Trickle has a new sense of confidence and begins to move up the leader board. As the race reaches its conclusion, Trickle and Wheeler are fighting for first position. On the last turn, Trickle attempts to pass Wheeler on the right, a move that Wheeler is expecting. As Cole accelerates and moves closer to the wall, Wheeler jerks his wheel to the right allowing Cole to then move back slightly and then pass Wheeler on the left. Cole successfully tricks Russ Wheeler and has thus won his first Daytona 500. Cole drives into Victory lane and is met with his pit crew and girlfriend. As Cole looks around to see where Harry is, he spots him sitting alone on a concrete barrier near the pit stop. Cole walks up to Harry and they embrace. Cole then challenges Harry to a foot race to victory lane.