Over the past decade, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby has edged into the category of legendary sports movies and has certainly become one of the most well-known sports comedies of all time. The film gave us the delightfully colorful Wonder Bread car—which inspired a real-life stock car driven by Kurt Busch in 2013—and such unforgettable quips as “If you ain’t first, you’re last!”, yielding enough pop culture references to warrant 10th anniversary celebrations throughout the sports and entertainment media worlds.
Talladega Nights originally debuted on August 4, 2006, and has gone down in history as one of the highest grossing movies starring Will Ferrell. The comedic icon plays the title character Ricky Bobby, a legendary stock car driver who has risen to national notoriety alongside his best friend and racing partner Cal Naughton Jr. (John C. Reilly), the constant runner-up to his first-place finishes. But when an accident forces Ricky Bobby to adjust to life outside the spotlight, he must regain his confidence and racing prowess to defeat his arch rival Jean Girard, a French Formula One racer played by comedic chameleon Sacha Baron Cohen.
Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby co-starred such recognizable actors as Leslie Bibb, Amy Adams, Jane Lynch, and the late Michael Clarke Duncan. It grossed nearly $163 million worldwide and received the 2007 ESPY Award for Best Sports Movie. Here are five things you should know about this laugh out loud-worthy comedy:
It all began with a legendary pitch.
As the story goes, Talladega Nights required only a six-word pitch to get Hollywood studios hooked on the concept: “Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver.” The possibility of a comedy centering on the larger-than-life world of stock car racing reportedly launched a bidding war between production companies.
Hollywood’s enthusiasm for the project was due in part to the recent successes of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, who partnered to write the NASCAR-centric sports comedy. The two filmmakers had recently co-written the largely successful Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy (2004), with McKay helming the project as director and Ferrell starring in its leading role. This was one of many noteworthy roles played by Will Ferrell in a relatively short timeframe. In addition to a seven-year stint on Saturday Night Live, the comedian had audiences in stitches with performances in Zoolander (2001), Old School (2003), and Elf (2003).
In addition to co-writing and directing Anchorman, Adam McKay spent several years writing and directing shorts for Saturday Night Live and was a member of both the Upright Citizens Brigade and Second City comedy troupes. Together, he and Ferrell boasted an impressive history of comedic writing and acting, which promised to lend itself to a hilarious cinematic take on NASCAR culture.
The filmmakers worked closely with NASCAR.
Established in 1948, The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) is the United States’ preeminent organization for motorsports racing. Now facilitating over 1,200 events throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, and Europe each year, NASCAR has developed into a multibillion organization known for its state-of-the-art technology, passionate fan base, and exhilarating events.
To create Talladega Nights, the film’s cast and crew tapped into NASCAR’s extensive resources and expertise. The organization was amicable from the very beginning, connecting the producers to its Los Angeles sanctioning office established specifically for Hollywood collaborations. The resource helped the Talladega Nights team link up with the racing community and inject an air of authenticity into their film. While many aspects of the movie, such as car designs and sponsorships, required approval from NASCAR, the organization’s representatives helped the filmmakers gain access to tracks, teams, and corporate sponsors. They even pitched a number of their own jokes, which, according to producer Judd Apatow, were occasionally funnier than the screenwriters’ lines.
Director Adam McKay leveraged this partnership to make his film as realistic and engaging as possible, striving for authenticity rather than parody. According to Will Ferrell, these genuine intentions help to ease negotiations with both the studio and NASCAR while contributing to the quality of the film. In addition to filming on location at race tracks in both Alabama and North Carolina, the crew enlisted the help of an on-set NASCAR representative and Chip Ganassi Racing to portray the ins and outs of stock car racing as accurately as possible.
It took the actors a while to warm up to the world of racing.
Director Adam McKay and actors Will Ferrell, Sacha Baron Cohen, and John C. Reilly attended the Richard Petty Driving Experience to receive a crash course in stock car racing. However, they were a bit reluctant to dive into the high-speed world of NASCAR. Baron Cohen described his introduction to the class, in which he rode shotgun alongside a NASCAR driver at speeds of 180 miles per hour, as “one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life,” while McKay, Ferrell, and Reilly were ready to leave the track after just riding in a van for one lap. Ferrell admitted that one of the film’s most memorable scenes, in which a terrified Ricky Bobby discovers that he’s only traveling at around 25 miles per hour, draws inspiration from the cast’s actual experiences. Of course, all four cast and crew members summoned their bravery to complete their NASCAR introduction.