The auto racing world is full of legends, from the bootleggers who founded NASCAR to Formula One’s Lewis Hamilton. But at the end of the day, every race can only have one winner. This makes it the perfect arena to determine which racing icon is best: Vin Diesel’s Fast and Furious character Dominic Toretto, or Lightning McQueen from the Cars movies.
While a showdown between the Corona-sipping family man and the Piston Cup’s greatest champion may seem unlikely, we think it’s important to acknowledge all kinds of racers, and pit them against each other in dangerous competitions that they were absolutely not designed for. So in the spirit of competition, we’ve set out to figure out which is better, cinema’s ultimate driver or a sentient car voiced by Owen Wilson.
In one lane, we have Polygon’s resident Cars enthusiast Petrana Radulovic making the case for the one and only Lightning McQueen. (For the record, he is not any car in particular, though he does seem to have some characteristics of a Dodge Viper.) In the other is Austen Goslin, who will do as #family does and boost for Dominic Toretto in his 1970 Dodge Charger R/T.
Lightning and Dom come from two completely different racing worlds, so in the interest of debate, we had to figure out a way to standardize the race. So we took a leaf from the underrated film Cars 2, in which the race cars compete on a track with three different environments, so open-wheel cars and stock cars end up being even in terms of skills and weaknesses.
Thus, in this competition, we have three different rounds: a street race, a Daytona-style 500-mile race, and finally, a straight-up drag race.
Round 1: The street race
Petrana: Unfortunately, during a street race, my boy is at a severe disadvantage, because he has no headlights or proper mirrors. The Cars trilogy goes to lengths to show that Lightning is crap at driving on places that are not racetracks. When it’s dark, he is totally screwed. So when it comes to the street racing component, he’s definitely taking a loss. We don’t even need to pull up stats and numbers here — Lightning is just gonna eat shit during this round.
Austen: Yeah, a street race is definitely Dom in his element. He’s done dozens in the Fast and Furious series so far, and in the later entries, he’s usually being pursued by all manner of tanks, bank vaults, and nuclear submarines. In other words, he’s a lock here. But it does seem like Lightning might get injured. As good as Dom is at driving cars, he’s just as good at crashing them, especially the ones he is racing against.
I think we can assume that this is a friendly competition and that Dom doesn’t necessarily want to hurt Lightning. Let’s say that Lightning’s injuries are light mostly because they’re self-inflicted on account of his general street-racing clumsiness.
Verdict: Dom wins the street race, but Lightning is still drivable.
Round 2: The NASCAR race
Petrana: Lightning comes into this race at a disadvantage; it’s likely that he took a few injuries during the street race. That being said, the speedway is his forte, and we’ve canonically seen him come back from major crashes.
Cars 3 begins with him getting totaled. But while it takes months of rehabilitation to get back on his feet (er, wheels), I doubt he’d be completely wrecked by this stage. Lightning is a seven-time winner of the Piston Cup, the most prestigious award in stock car racing in this universe. He knows his way around a racetrack. Most of Cars 3 focuses on Lightning in rehabilitation as he goes through trainer Cruz Ramirez’s bootcamp. Admittedly, he has some trouble with the fancy-schmancy VR simulator, but he comes out on top and learns some important lessons. So even with some bumps and bruises, I see him racing to a smooth victory.
Austen: This one’s gonna be tough for Dom. His last experience at a professional race, at least that we see in the movies, was the day his father died. In other words, Dom doesn’t feel great about even showing up to that event. On top of that, most of his races only last about 10 minutes, and Daytona’s 500 miles usually stretch on for hours. All that on top of the fact that this is Lightning’s forte means that Dom’s getting crushed here.
Verdict: Lightning takes the gold.
Round 3: The drag race
Austen: It all comes down to this, and this is where things get complicated. We have to figure out the quarter-mile times for each of these racers.
Dom’s car can run the quarter mile in nine seconds flat, according to The Fast and the Furious. His custom Charger supposedly has 900 hp, and that’s before the boost from the NOS. While the nine-second time was with Dom’s dad at the wheel, Dom has become a vehicularly enabled superhero since then, so we think it’s fair to say he could match his old man’s time. All of this makes Dom extremely prepared for this race, which should come as no surprise, since mods and car customization are a bit of a specialty for him.
Petrana: A drag race is all about reaction time, and the very fact that Lightning McQueen is a sentient car gives him a bit of an edge here. He can react immediately and not have to go through a fleshbag. He’s a lean, mean racing machine!
However, because he is a stock car, he doesn’t have the same caliber of horsepower as Dom. We don’t know specifically what type of car Lightning is, but Dom’s canonical time is absolutely beyond Lightning’s capabilities. Even if he can manage that brief head start, by virtue of innately knowing the finer calibrations of his own transmission, Dom will eventually overpower him and reach top speeds much faster.
Verdict: Dom takes home the prize as the greatest of the two racers.
Unfortunately, Dom’s usual prize is a pink slip that offers him ownership of the loser’s car, but considering the car is sentient, this one’s probably just gonna be bragging rights only.