CONCORD, N.C. – NASCAR hasn’t been the vehicle for a major Hollywood feature film since Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby a decade ago.
That’s set to change with Logan Lucky, a heist movie starring Channing Tatum that filmed several scenes at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Sunday. It’s scheduled to wrap up filming next week.
But unlike the 2006 Will Ferrell comedy, NASCAR this time will be “on the inside of the joke” when the film hits theaters next fall, NASCAR vice president of entertainment marketing Zane Stoddard told USA TODAY Sports.
“We wanted to make sure it was the antithesis of Talladega Nights,” said Stoddard, who is also an executive producer on the film.
Enter Tatum, director Steven Soderbergh (Traffic) and producer Mark Johnson (Breaking Bad, Rain Man), who came to NASCAR with a script in hand and wanted the sanctioning body’s assistance to make the film as realistic as possible.
The plot is an Ocean’s Eleven-type heist – Soderbergh also directed that film – in which Charlotte is robbed using an underground hydraulic tube system (which exists in the movie but not in real life). In addition to Tatum, other stars include Daniel Craig, Seth MacFarlane, Hilary Swank, Katherine Heigl, Adam Driver, and Riley Keough.
“It’s a heist movie – and (Soderbergh) has done pretty well with those heist movies,” Johnson told USA TODAY Sports. “… This movie is designed to be a lot of fun. This isn’t the King’s Speech. The audience better have fun with it.”
The filmmakers believe that will be the case. Logan Lucky is independently financed with no studio involvement, though the plan is to have a wide theatrical release (scheduled for Oct. 2017). In addition to the all-star cast, it marks Soderbergh’s return to film after he announced his retirement out of frustrations with the studio process.
“All of us believe in it,” Johnson said. “Nobody is taking real money. It’s sort of a symbolic up-front money, but most of the reason for participation in the movie is that we believe it’s going to be that successful.”
Most of the filming was done at Atlanta Motor Speedway, which is similar in size and style to Charlotte (they are both Speedway Motorsports Inc. tracks and have some of the same grandstand characteristics). The crew had the walls painted yellow at Atlanta in order to resemble Charlotte and get the details right.
Sometimes, the shooting had to get creative. In one scene, Craig walks near the Atlanta concession stands, but the shot had to be framed to remove Atlanta’s identifying characteristics.
“Otherwise, you know there are going to be a lot of fans that say, ‘Wait a minute, that’s not Charlotte,’” Johnson said.
And there were weather problems. Hurricane Matthew caused a postponement of Saturday night’s race, so the filming from earlier in the weekend under cloudy skies didn’t match Sunday morning’s blue skies.
One of the highlights for NASCAR fans will be six driver cameos in the movie. Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch play West Virginia state troopers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano are security guards, Kyle Larson is a limo driver, and Ryan Blaney is a delivery boy.
“The non-NASCAR fan, those roles won’t stand out,” Johnson said. “I think the NASCAR fans will go crazy and say, ‘Wait a minute! That’s Joey!’”
Though the movie isn’t about NASCAR, the sport is used as the background for the plot. And that’s actually a good thing when thinking of the comparison to Ocean’s Eleven, Stoddard said.
“These guys were real clear from the beginning: NASCAR is sort of going to be the Bellagio of this,” Stoddard said. “It’s going to be a glossy view of NASCAR. And that sets the heist up better.”