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“Days of Thunder” is over 30 years old now, yet it holds a special place in the hearts of some car enthusiasts. In the film, Tom Cruise’s character and other NASCAR drivers vie for racing dominance. Still, the character car fans care about is the black Mello Yello-sponsored number 51 Chevrolet Lumina. Tom Cruise would go on to act in many other movies, but what happened to the Chevrolet he drove?

Not a great movie, but a good “bad” car film

The genesis for the Days of Thunder movie sprung from Tom Cruise’s relationship with car-crazy celebrities Rick Hendrick and Paul Newman. They were all talking at the track and discussed making a movie to give fans a better understanding of a driver’s life. After convincing financial backers and NASCAR, the movie was given the go-ahead. 

Tom Cruise would go on to play Cole Trickle, the movie’s lead character. Interestingly, Cruise likes to perform many of his own stunts, so a racing movie was right up his alley. For the movie, he did drive an actual NASCAR racecar. Specifically, the Mello Yello Number 51 car he drove in the movie was not a show car or movie prop. Instead, it was the real deal fabricated by Rick Hendrick. In fact, Mr. Hendrick fabricated many cars for the movie.

The Chevrolet Lumina from “Days of Thunder”

A Days of Thunder car restoration | via

In 1990, the year the movie hit the theaters, the Chevrolet Lumina hit the road. A front-wheel-drive (FWD) replacement for the Chevrolet Celebrity, the Lumina starred in “Days of Thunder” alongside Tom Cruise. The Lumina, however, would be a short-lived nameplate for the automaker, as the last American-market Luminas were 2001 models, per Curbside Classic.

After the movie’s production, some of the cars used for filming continued to race. Moreover, the Lumina that Tom Cruise drove in the film continued to race in NASCAR.

What happened to the Lumina racecar driven by Tom Cruise

Tom Cruise sits in a NASCAR race car in a tribute to "Days of Thunder."
Tom Cruise | Rusty Jarrett via Getty Images for NASCAR

So, what happened to the car driven by Tom Cruise? The number 46 Chevrolet City Lumina is in the possession of Rick Hendrick. As for the Mello Yello car, a black Lumina that claimed to be the one in “Days of Thunder” showed up for sale in 2018. According to the ad, that Lumina underwent a restoration by Laughlin Race Cars. Furthermore, the advertisement claimed that the chassis was set up for road racing with a Chevrolet 502 cubic inch V8 that pumps out 650 horsepower. 

Unfortunately, there also seems to be no clear understanding of the specific car that Cruise drove or what happened to it. One firm told us that even if they had any knowledge of the car, they could not share ownership information. It’s an understandable conclusion, but heartbreaking nonetheless.

For now, sadly, the whereabouts of the specific car will have to remain ambiguous, if not unknown. 

Editor’s note: HJ Pizarro contributed to this article.


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