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Did The Stars Of Talladega Nights Really Drive NASCAR Cars?

"Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby" is clearly a fictional tale and chock full of comedy gold. That crazy ad Ricky records for Big Red! His protracted prayer over dinner with Cal and his family, including sons Walker and Texas Ranger! The passionate kiss between Ricky and Jean Girard!

While the plot points are obviously over-the-top, the actual sport Ricky Bobby and the other characters participate in — NASCAR racing — is very much real. And the races actually look surprisingly realistic in the film. So this begs the question: Did stars Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, and Sacha Baron Cohen actually drive those race cars? 

For starters, these guys truly commit to their characters in the film. It's certainly possible that they may have actually chosen to get behind the wheel rather than handing over control to professional drivers.

From the beginning, the movie was all about partnering with NASCAR to create satire (via ESPN). So how far did these guys go for their art?

The stars got schooled

The stars of "Talladega Nights" arrived on set with comedy chops, but seriously lacking when it came to racecar driving experience. Still, they were committed to correcting that in time for filming. Ferrell, Reilly, and Baron Cohen, along with director Adam McKay, signed up for a one-day driving school with the Richard Petty Driving Experience, in North Carolina. When they arrived at Lowe's Motor Speedway, their instructor started them off slow, with a ride around the racetrack in a van (via Made in Atlantis).

But apparently it wasn't slow enough for the novice students, who screamed and jumped out to leave the track at the first opportunity. Frankly, Richard Petty's Chief Marketing Officer Chris McKee was shocked. "It was Reilly who stopped them and said, 'Guys, we can't be wusses here. We can't make a NASCAR movie and not actually experience being in a race car,'" he told ESPN.

That convinced the others to get back in the game and try again, moving on to two-person rides in a race car with a NASCAR driver. Recalling his ride (which he claimed took the car up to 180 miles per hour), Baron Cohen said, "It was one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life."

Well, at least they beat Britney Spears

You don't get to be a major Hollywood star by shying away from uncomfortable experiences, however, and Baron Cohen (who was once booed by a crowd of 90,000 people) certainly knows that. He stuck with the program for two and a half hours along with Ferrell, Reilly, and McKay, moving on after the two-person ride to driving themselves. They did about eight or nine laps around the track behind a pace car, then learned skills like how to approach curves (via Made in Atlantis). The guys kept one prize in mind. "Throughout, the three of us had only one goal: to beat Britney Spears, who had once gone 112 miles an hour," Ferrell said. "Fortunately, we all did."

They learned as much as they could, but handling a race car at top speeds of close to 200 miles per hour requires a massive amount of skill. And everyone working on the film wanted the races to look authentic. So in the end, the actors didn't actually do much driving in the movie. Judging by their comfort level in the cars, bringing in professional stunt drivers was definitely the right call. As Ferrell put it to ESPN, "The scene where Ricky comes back and thinks he's going fast, but he's really only going 25 miles per hour, totally terrified. That was pretty much based on real-life experience."