‘If You Ain’t First, You’re Last’: 15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby’

“Will Ferrell as a NASCAR driver.” 

Those six words were all it took for Sony Pictures to greenlight Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. The story about a man who wants to go fast remains one of the funniest comedies Adam McKay has ever made alongside Will Ferrell, with the film’s infinite number of quotable lines cementing its spot among the best sports comedies ever to grace our screens. So let’s give a shoutout to Powerade, say a prayer to Baby Jesus and rev our way into the making of the movie that made fun of NASCAR, the French and America…

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The City of Charlotte Was Turned Into a Working Set

Most of the filming took place in Charlotte. The crew turned a shutdown sports bar into The Pit Stop, where the NASCAR guys meet Jean Girard (played by Sacha Baron Cohen). 

A church doubled for the hospital scenes, and the Talladega Superspeedway, the abandoned North Carolina Motor Speedway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway were all used for the racing sequences. Charlotte locals were reportedly frustrated when a recently completed highway was cordoned off to film the Colombian Bam-Bam police car chase.

The Idea Came While Ferrell Was Filming ‘Elf’

McKay said that he and Ferrell started talking about NASCAR while the actor was playing a giant elf in the 2003 Christmas comedy. “We were in New York City, and he was set to take a break before we started work on Anchorman,” McKay remembers. “We noticed how fascinating the world of NASCAR racing had become. It’s gigantic. We weren’t even huge NASCAR fans at the time, but after we started going to the track, we got swept up in the phenomenon. As soon as we heard the roar of the engines, we knew there was something here to make a movie about.”

Ferrell added: “The challenge for us became writing a movie that was both a comedy and a racing film because we really wanted the audience to experience the amazing visceral reaction we had had while watching these cars fly around the track at 200 miles per hour.”

The DVD Commentary Tracks Are Bonkers

There are two commentary tracks for the movie. The first unrated edition has McKay and actor Ian Roberts (who played Kyle, a pit crew member) joke about how they created animatronic robots to play Ricky Bobby’s sons, Walker and Texas Ranger. They also claim they paid Sean Penn $3 million to be a background extra in a crowd scene. Then there’s the “25 Years Later” edition, where the year is 2031. McKay has been eaten by a hammerhead shark off the coast of Catalina, John C. Reilly has become a militia leader on the “island state” of Michigan and Talladega Nights has changed the world significantly.

Sacha Baron Cohen Brought His Antics to Charlotte

Reilly once told Yahoo! that he got to see the actor and comedian pull his stunts in front of the locals while filming in the North Carolina town. (Note that Borat was released three months after Talladega Nights.) “I remember going to a restaurant with Sacha Baron Cohen in this very conservative part of Charlotte,” Reilly said. “We sat down, and the waiter said, ‘Oh, we have this meat special tonight,’ whatever, and Sacha said, ‘I don’t eat meat. Do you have any fish? I’m a Jew, you see.’ And the waiter didn’t know how to respond. (Baron Cohen) was like, ‘Do you have many Jews here?’ That’s when I really started to fall in love with Sacha. He’s just such an amazing provocateur.”

McKay and Ferrell Wrote the Character of Cal Jr. for John C. Reilly Specifically

McKay and Ferrell had asked Reilly to join the cast of Anchorman, but he was already committed to The Aviator at the time. “I was crushed by that, because I knew that that movie was gonna be amazing, and sure enough, it’s like this classic now,” Reilly remembers. “When they called (about Talladega Nights), I said, ‘Well, that’s great, I’ve played the best friend a lot, and of course, I want to work with you guys, and I would love to, but this has to be the ultimate best friend. If I’m gonna be the best friend again, it has to be the ultimate best friend.’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, whatever you want; if you have any ideas,’ and from that very first phone call when they called me, they started soliciting my ideas.”

NASCAR Was Heavily Involved in the Production — And Even the Script

Not only was NASCAR happy to be part of the film after reading the script, but some of their people even pitched better jokes that made it into the film. “And then we were embarrassed that they could ride cars at 150 miles per hour and be funnier than us,” producer Judd Apatow once joked.

“We said give us the inside jokes from the people who do this for a living, and we’ll roll with it,” Ferrell told ESPN about working with the NASCAR folks. “That’s where characters like my wife, Carley, came from.”

Moreover, NASCAR designer Sam Bass and NASCAR executives Richard Glover and Sarah Nettinga worked closely with the filmmakers to ensure the costumes’ accuracy (called “fire suits”) and that the branding of the cars was all up to snuff.

Reilly Was the Fastest on the Track

“They taught us how to take a line on the track, how to approach curves,” Ferrell said about the cast’s crash course where they learned how to drive racing cars. “I think I was going about 135 miles an hour. You kinda get hooked right away.” He went on to say that Reilly ended up being “the world’s fastest actor” and that he “got up to 143 miles an hour.”

Ferrell’s Dad Sings a Song in the Movie

Lee Ferrell, who used to perform with the Righteous Brothers, wrote the song “Goodbye Cowboy” for his son’s movie. “Having my dad’s song in the movie is neat because it’s not like I said, Hey, put my dad’s song in the movie,’” Ferrell explained. “It was the director and the other creative decision-makers that wanted to include it, so that is so satisfying for both me and my dad.” Lee also wrote the song “Brother” for Step Brothers.

The Movie Was Promoted on ‘Big Brother’

As part of the film’s promotion blitz, the 2006 Big Brother: All-Stars season featured the contestants divided into two pit crews called “Team Bake” and “Team Shake” and saw them having to fix a stock car while wearing Talladega Nights shirts and hats.

Cal’s Mustache Was Reilly’s Idea

Sony Pictures

Reilly said he came up with that glorious mustache while looking at some of NASCAR’s old-school drivers. “I was thinking, ‘What do I want this guy to look like, what should he be like,’ and then I looked at a lot of pictures of the drivers of today, and they all look pretty clean cut, like very fit, clean cut, they look like athletes or engineers or something, they look really serious and straight edge,” Reilly has shared. “And then I looked at this book of the history of NASCAR, and I was looking more in the ’60s and ’70s like, ‘These are my people.’ Big mutton chops, sideburns and crazy facial hair. They look like they’re doing a bit of partying off the track and a little paunchy. And I thought those are the guys I want to base my thing on, the ones that were running away from the Feds when they were trying to hide their stills up in the mountains.”

Ricky Bobby’s Mansion Went on Sale This Year

The price for the North Carolina property was set at $9.9 million in March, with one lucky buyer presumably getting the chance to eat Domino’s, KFC and Taco Bell somewhere around its massive interior.

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