The Summer of Thunder at Hardee’s

Days of Thunder hit theaters in 1990, and I was all in on it. All in except for actually going to see the movie itself in the theater. Back then, it was rare to convince my folks to go to a theater to catch a movie, so I usually had to live vicariously through whatever promotional tie-in merchandise was available when new movies came out. That task was made more difficult by the fact that a lot of my friends at school were getting to go to the movies on a regular basis to see whatever the hot new thing was, and I just had to stand around and listen to them talk about how awesome it was, and Days of Thunder sure sounded exciting.

Sure I had seen the trailers for it during television commercial breaks, and I have some faint memories of reading about it in a magazine. Maybe something like an issue of Cinescape, or maybe there was a special one-shot magazine released for it or something. I don’t know, but either way, I knew what the movie was even before my friends were describing all the details to me.

But anyway, Hardee’s rolled out these Thunder Racer cars, and I really wanted them. First, they were tied to a hot new movie that I wanted to see. Second, they were 1/64 scale die-cast cars and I was already a lover of both Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars and had quite the growing collection. And third, it was an additional toy I could snag on the weekend. I say additional because I would spend my weekly allowance on a toy while shopping on the weekend, but this gave me an opportunity to get a freebie.

You could get a Thunder Racer car for just $0.99 with any purchase…not just a kid’s meal. But it might as well have been offered with the kid’s meal as far as I was concerned because that was probably what I was ordering then, and there was no way I was leaving Hardee’s without a Thunder Racer car!

But you couldn’t just get them all on one visit, as a different one was available each week as you can see in the earlier photo. This meant that four separate trips had to be made to Hardee’s to get them all. A feat that I was unfortunately unable to pull off. I managed to get the first three…the City Chevrolet, the Superflow car, and the Hardee’s car but missed out on the Mello Yello one for some reason. Luckily for me, they were quickly released by Racing Champions as well and I was able to get the Mello Yello car that way. I never end up with Rowdy Burns’ Exxon car though.

I’m not sure what, if anything, was actually included in the Funmeal Pack meal promotion that was out at the time. I know the box featured Days of Thunder artwork, but I distinctly remember having to purchase the cars separately.

As I continued to get the various ones I had, they began to dominate play time in my room. At the time I had a few other Racing Champions cars as well, so NASCAR races were taking place on a regular basis that summer. Most of those races were won by the green and yellow City Chevrolet, but every now and then, that beautiful orange Hardee’s with Russ Wheeler at the wheel snuck out a win.

But now let’s talk just a bit about the Days of Thunder cups you could also get from Hardee’s. My brother was a big fan of special cups in general, but Hardee’s cups in particular. He has a full set of those Moose cups at one time, and numerous others as well. At this point in time, he had no trouble attaining whatever special merchandise like this he wanted as he had a job and was driving.

While I never personally cared for most cups like these, the Days of Thunder cups were ones I really wanted. I guess I just wanted to show my support for a movie that I hadn’t seen for some reason. Or I just thought they were really cool looking. Or both.

The artwork on the cups is great, and the colors really pop. I like how the Days of Thunder title logo appears on the cup in the same color as the car featured on each one. You can’t see it in the photo above, but on the backs of the cups were stats on the drivers of the cars. That could be perceived as a little lazy though since Cole Trickle drove three of the cars featured, and the stats could all be the same.

I can’t begin to calculate how much money my mom had to spend at Hardee’s on me that summer. But the food had to be bought to purchase the cars. They were $0.99 each. And you had to buy a 32oz drink to get a cup. Well, now that I think about it, I guess you could purchase a 32oz drink and get the cup, and make that the purchase that qualified you to buy a Thunder Racer car. Maybe she didn’t spend all that much after all.

Regardless of how much was spent, it was all worth it in my eyes because I can remember that summer better than most, and I always refer to it as the “summer of thunder”.