The Academy Award-winning actress Katherine Heigl trained for nine months to play professional female race car driver Rene Chun in her upcoming film Unforgettable. But on Thursday, as Chun drove the Porsche that he’s driving in next week’s Thunderhill Raceway 300, the female-led film attracted the attention of racing fans on the track, even if Heigl wasn’t driving.
“She’s got the green flag,” the driver of the No. 18 Porsche GT3 came over the radio. “Get her on. Get her over there.” Heigl stopped at the ninth turn for a pit stop. NASCAR driver Darrell Waltrip followed. One of the sport’s leading cheerleaders, Alaina Klein, raced by in her pink helmet.
Jeb Cobb, the man who took over the NASCAR competition series last summer, followed by taking over as the track announcer. As the lights went on, the drivers turned onto their cars in the race to the the raceway, less than four miles outside of Bonneville, UT.
“You’ve got Nascar, you’ve got private-dealers, you’ve got Waltrip Racing, you’ve got KMR Racing, you’ve got the Henry Cox Motorsports racing team,” Cobb said. “There’s a race anywhere out there.”
At this point the race was four laps from restarting. A second restart would mean that all drivers would start from the back. A time out would mean a full pits stop for all drivers, forcing them to move their cars down one or two rows. But first, one of the big villains in the film could end up winning. His name is Taylor, and he is the son of lead character Craig Chandler, played by Rosario Dawson. It wouldn’t take long for the drivers to remember him.
Though the track had been witness to plenty of NASCAR action over the years, this was its first film feature. Colin Croft, who directed the film, said he wanted to explore the core drama of the story: two rival families and a woman who hopes to put a stop to them.
Back on the track with the green flag out, Heigl’s Porsche sat still for a few minutes. It was still on the track at the fifth lap. When it started buzzing over the lap marker, everyone stood up. Stunned.
When two cars collided, and sent the other vehicle spinning across the track, no one dared move any more. There was blood. A man fell over in pain. But with no laps to run, a halt to the race was the safest solution, and everyone stayed in the pits.
Cobb called over an announcement.
“No announcement? What’s wrong with you?” he asked.
“It’s just that we’re not there yet.”
“There isn’t a place at Thunderhill for an announcement,” Cobb continued. “We’re not there yet. We are racing.”
“You race!” yelled a woman.
The race began its third lap of qualifying, and Heigl was back in her car at the third turn. But behind her was Taylor racing on the rear of the box car at full speed. He was in seventh place, and doing well, something he hadn’t been doing in the early laps. “Anderson,” said the announcer. “You’ve got the pole, baby.”