Movies and cars appeared around the same time, so the connection isn’t surprising. Here’s 10 of Hollywood’s biggest actors who pursued professional racing.
To show that actors and racing aren’t a recent phenonium, consider Wallace Reid. A silent screen heartthrob in the 1910s and 1920s, Reid made a series of motion pictures with a racing theme, including The Roaring Road, Double Speed, Too Much Speed, and Excuse My Dust. He had qualified to enter the 1922 Indianapolis 500 in a Duesenberg but had to withdraw as the studio that held his contract refused to let him race. Sadly, he didn’t have another chance as a morphine addiction (that started after a train wreck injury) took his life the following year.
Most readers are likely too young to recall Nelson as the title character on the Coach television series that ran from 1989 to 1997, but some may recall his role in the TV drama Parenthood (2010-2015) or at least recognize his voice as Mr. Incredible from the Pixar film. This actor’s racing career started at the 1991 Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race at Long Beach, and now bitten began competing in semi-pro road racing. He moved up to a pro series (IMSA), where he was named Most Improved Driver. His team entered the 24 Hours of Daytona three times, with a best finish in the IMSA series of fifth at Road Atlanta.
An accomplished dramatic actor and comedian, Bana has starred in films such as Blackhawk Down, Troy, and Star Trek. Unlike Craig T. n Nelson, Bana was an automotive enthusiast from childhood. At 14, he purchased a 1974 XB Ford Falcon muscle car. In 2004 and 2005, Bana drove a Porsche 944 in Australia’s Porsche Challenge. He moved up to a Porsche 911 for 2006 and 2007. For 2007-2008 he drove a Porsche 996 GT3 in various series around Australia. He’s also competed in the Bathhurst 1000 KM three times.
Tim Allen is best known as the star of Home Improvement and Last Man Standing, but he has also had a side career as a racing driver. He formed a partnership with Mustang tuner Steve Saleen to operate the Saleen-Allen “RRR” Speedlab team. He later wrote of the experience, “(it) was truly, a dream come true. To actually be a part of the racing team and participate in SCCA World Challenges is well… beyond comprehension. First, you learn the rules of racing. Then you get out on the track in a race, and you’re going fast—really fast. All you care about is getting round that next corner, shoving on the gas, and getting round the next corner. Nothing else in your life really matters at that moment—it’s all testosterone and technique.”
Actor James Dean, who played credited roles in just three films (East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant), started racing as soon as funds allowed. He purchased a Porsche 356 Speedster after filming for East of Eden had concluded, in which he competed in several SCCA races, putting in top finishes. After production of Giant ended, Dean purchased a Porsche 550 Spyder, which he drove with his mechanic to a race at the Salinas, CA airport. Of course, they never arrived.
The actor is perhaps best known for his starring role in the film The French Connection, in which he did much of the stunt driving. As a wheelman, he competed in IMSA racing, often in lesser classes. The highlight of his career was a seat in Dan Gurney’s All-American Racers GTU Toyota Celica in the 1983 Daytona 24 and Riverside 6 Hour races. The following year he competed in the same two races in a Mazda RX-7 though his racing career waned after those events.
Then competing as Bruce Jenner, the Olympic medalist and reality television star, had a successful racing career. Bitten by the bug after winning the Pro/Celebrity Race at the Long Beach Grand Prix in 1979, Jenner pursued a career in racing.
His first race was the 24 Hours of Daytona, just ten months later. Jenner went on to compete professionally for much of the 1980s. In 1986, Jenner, with co-driver Scott Pruett, took first in class, fourth overall in both the Daytona 24 and Sebring 12 Hours.
In 2004, Dempsey had his first competitive driving experience with a three-day Skip Barber Racing School course that was a gift from his wife. In 2005, Dempsey’s racing competition began with the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race in Long Beach, the Miata MX-5 Cup and the Panoz GT Series.
In 2011, Dempsey took a career-best third in the Daytona 24. He then scored fourth place in class at the Le Mans 24 Hours in 2013 in a Porsche. In addition, took second at Laguna Seca and third at Austin. From 2013-2019, Dempsey-Proton Racing entered a Porsche 911 in the World Endurance Championship.
Bullitt and Le Mans star Steve McQueen started with a Cooper T52 in Formula Junior and also raced an Austin-Healey Sebring Sprite (he shared with Stirling Moss), Porsche 356, and Lotus Eleven. In 1970, McQueen, along with teammate F1 driver Peter Revson, finished second overall and first in class in McQueen’s Porsche 908/2. Shortly after, the same Porsche was entered as a camera car for the 1970 movie Le Mans, which depicted a fictional 24 Hours of Le Mans race. McQueen wanted to drive in the actual 24-Hour race. However, the studio threatened to pull their support if he did.
After starring in Winning, a 1969 movie about drivers in the Indianapolis 500, Newman developed a love for competitive racing. He started in SCCA Club Racing, first beating then joining Bob Sharp Racing, moving with the team from amateur competition to professional racing. Newman also participated in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, finishing second in a Porsche 935, with teammate Rolf Stommelen. He was the oldest driver to be part of a winning team at the top level of the sport in 1995 when he raced the 24 Hours of Daytona at the age of 70.