During research for the first film, John Lasseter and General Motors designers met to discuss the updated Corvette design, which Lightning McQueen and Chick Hicks were originally intended to be based on. However, changes to the plot resulted in both characters being left as generic stock racers. According to production designer Bob Pauley, Lightning's final design used elements from GT40s and Chargers, among many other models, to reflect his personality and role.
Athletic figures such as boxer Muhammad Ali and football quarterback Joe Namath were looked to during development of McQueen's personality, as well as popular musician Kid Rock, in order to create a cocky-but-likable character. Additionally, Michael Jordan was also looked to by the designers, due to his unique style of playing his sport.
Towards the start of his racing career, McQueen raced under sponsorship of Smell Swell Deodorizer. However, he was dropped from the label in favor of another young racer named Sammy Smelter, whose poor racing fit the image of Smell Swell better, according to the representative who fired McQueen.
Mack, who had overheard McQueen's termination, approached the young hotshot and offered to take him to Boston to meet for a job opportunity with Rust-eze, who had been looking, with little success, for a new spokescar. During their trip, McQueen and Mack became fast friends. Upon their arrival in Boston, Rusty and Dusty Rust-eze offered a sponsorship to McQueen. Though he was initially hesitant due to the sponsor's humiliating demeanor, McQueen agreed as long as Mack could become his transporter.
McQueen's racing abilities eventually garnered the attention of the Piston Cup Racing Series, and he became a rookie in the championship's 2005 season.
In Cars, the film opens at the Motor Speedway of the South, where cocky and self-centered Lightning McQueen is competing in the Dinoco 400 for the title of the Piston Cup champion. After a three-way tie between him, seven-time champion Strip Weathers and consistent runner-up Chick Hicks, McQueen makes a bet with Chick, where the first one to reach the tie-breaker race at the Los Angeles International Speedway wins. Desperate to win, McQueen rushes to Mack, who forces him to make an appearance at his sponsor's tent, which McQueen hates. Soon, the two are on the road, and McQueen urges Mack to drive through the night, without resting. A sleepy Mack is later harassed by a gang of delinquents, who accidentally open McQueen's trailer and unknowingly release him.
Lightning wakes up in the middle of the highway, and quickly tries to catch up with Mack. However, after mistaking a Peterbilt truck for him, McQueen figures his best option is to search for help on the Interstate. McQueen rushes past a sleeping police officer named Sheriff, who chases him through the town. Scared, McQueen accidentally rips up the road with a statue of the town's founder, which ultimately lands him in the town's impound. When he wakes in the morning, he discovers he is in the deserted town of Radiator Springs, where the residents sentence him to community service, and make him fix the road by pulling Bessie, the road-paving machine.
Persistent of making it to Los Angeles before Chick, Lightning first attempts to escape, but runs out of gas and is returned to the town, where he tries to fix the road quickly. The residents feel disrespected due to the rushed bumpy road, and Doc Hudson, the town's lawyer and doctor, challenges him to a road race, which Lightning loses, due to lack of familiarity with dirt tracks.
Though initially hesitant to affiliate himself with the townsfolk, Lightning ends up making friends with the residents, particularly the absent-minded Mater, and the beautiful attorney Sally, whom Lightning quickly gains a crush on. After learning of the history behind both the town and Doc Hudson, who was previously a famous dirt track racer, Lightning finds Doc practicing out at Willy's Butte. Later, McQueen finishes the road, and while the townsfolk originally think he left without saying goodbyes, McQueen surprises the residents by arriving and asking for a new paint job and new tires. That night, while enjoying a "cruise" with the residents, the Press find McQueen and take him away to the tie-breaker race.
At the race, McQueen is surprised to see his Radiator Springs friends have arrived to serve as his racing team, and with the help of his team, especially Guido, who performs the quickest pit stop in Piston Cup history, Lightning finds himself well ahead of Chick and The King. However, sick of constantly coming in second, Chick performs a PIT maneuver on Weathers, causing him to spin out and crash. When McQueen remembers Doc's words about winning, Lightning gives up his victory and instead decides to help Strip to the finish line, much to the happiness of the fans. Though Chick technically won the race, he is ignored and instead fans congratulate McQueen. Lightning decides to permanently establish Radiator Springs as his hometown, and the publicity sparks great interest in the town.
Cars: The Video Game
In Cars: The Video Game, which takes place in 2006, one year after the events of Cars, Lightning McQueen appears as the central character of the game's story mode, as well as the car that the player takes control of throughout the majority of the game. In this game, McQueen finds himself at the beginning of a new Piston Cup season, where Mack asks McQueen to obtain some practice before the first race, and he turns to the Radiator Springs citizens for help. After a few races, Mack and McQueen travel to the first race of the season, where Chick, who Lightning previously spotted observing him practicing, greets him. Upon Lightning's victory, Chick begins to seek additional help to sabotage McQueen's chances.
After more practicing and another Piston Cup race, Lightning meets and challenges a gang of race cars from Queens, New York, who later reveal themselves to be allies of Chick. Still not satisfied, Chick continues to search for help, and meets with the same gang of tuner cars who had messed with McQueen the year earlier. The four cars are hired to rob Mack of McQueen's goods while he is on the Interstate, but McQueen manages to obtain them again by stealing it all back from the cars on the highway, who are then captured and subsequently arrested. They reveal themselves to be under hire of Chick, who Lightning later confronts at the Smasherville International Speedway. There, Lightning declares a three-race "Radiator Springs Grand Prix" event to determine who is the better competitor, an event that is supported by the Piston Cup.
After defeating Chick in all three races, McQueen then manages to win the championship, and upon his return to Radiator Springs, his trophy is put with Doc's three trophies from his past inside of the clinic.
Lightning also appears as a playable character in the Arcade and Versus modes. He has relatively high statistics in comparison to other characters, and also has the most paint jobs out of all characters.
Cars: Radiator Springs Adventures
Lightning is the main character in Cars: Radiator Springs Adventures. In this game, Lightning must help the residents of Radiator Springs by assisting them with their daily jobs. There are ten additional paint jobs that can be unlocked for McQueen, each one obtained by the player beating their fastest time on each of the default ten minigames.
Mater and the Ghostlight
In Mater and the Ghostlight, McQueen is one of the many who fall victim to Mater's pranks. While talking to Sally at Flo's V8 Café, McQueen inspects a pile of cans in the shape of Mater, but once he gets closer, Mater bursts through the stack, scaring McQueen. Mater teases Lightning, claiming he looks as if he has seen the Ghostlight. Sheriff warns Mater not to joke about the Ghostlight, and everyone listens as Sheriff tells a story about the mysterious creature. When Sheriff finishes, everyone hurries to sleep, leaving Mater alone in the streets.
Mater returns home, paranoid about the Ghostlight. Once he reaches his garage, he discovers a blue light behind him, and Mater starts frantically driving around Radiator Springs. Unbeknownst to Mater, the light is actually just a lamp that McQueen and Guido placed on his tow hook as payback for his pranks.
Once Mater loses his breath, he slows down and realizes the light is merely a lamp. McQueen and the other residents tease him, before hurriedly heading to sleep once more.
Cars: Mater-National Championship
In Cars: Mater-National Championship, the direct sequel to Cars: The Video Game, Lightning is again the player character throughout the majority of the game's story mode. In this game, Lightning meets a variety of new opponents, including Italian Ferrari Giovanni, cocky German champion Otto Von Fassenbottom, Swedish jokester Gudmund, English rally car Emma, and Japanese drift racer Koji, who have arrived in Radiator Springs to compete in the Mater-National series of events, hosted by McQueen and Mater. Lightning also meets British tourist Philip and Russian challenger Yuri, who are simply visiting the town to compete in the various races.
Lightning also appears as a playable character in the game's Arcade and Versus modes, again with high statistics in comparison to the other vehicles, and a large number of paint jobs, eight of which can be obtained by collecting them at various locations in the game's explorable hub in story mode.
Rescue Squad Mater
In Rescue Squad Mater, Lightning and Mater drive past Red while he is watering his flowers, which reminds Mater of his career as a fire truck. As soon as reports of endangered vehicles would come in, Mater would immediately race to the scene, and do whatever he could to save others from fires. Mater tells McQueen that even he was saved by Mater once - after being rescued from a burning building, Lightning was rushed to the hospital for treatment toward his burns, and was operated on by none other than Mater, who also happened to be a doctor.
When Lightning questions the authenticity of this tale, Mater's former nurse, Nurse GTO, drives by the pair and greets Mater, leaving Lightning in disbelief.
Mater the Greater
In Mater the Greater, Mater tells Lightning the story of how he was once a daredevil who performed a variety of dangerous stunts, including jumping over a wide group of rusty cars, jumping through a ring of fire, diving into a small kiddie pool, and hanging on to an airplane as it made lots of sudden movements. Mater's greatest stunt, however, was jumping an enormous crater called Carburetor Canyon, which Lightning also participated in. Lightning drove down a very long ramp while being propelled by a rocket strapped to his trunk, and despite coming close, he didn't make it. Lightning objects and accuses Mater of telling a tale tale, until Lug and Nutty, Mater's assistants, drive by them.
In El Materdor, Lightning and Mater are strolling through the bulldozer pasture, which leads Mater into a story of his days as a matador. Mater would constantly put his life at risk for the entertainment of others, by battling bulldozers. When Lightning questions this, Mater tells Lightning he was there too, and easily attracted the bulldozers due to his red paint scheme. When Lightning objects, he is then chased by a group of bulldozers, who have somehow escaped from their pasture.
In Tokyo Mater, after Sheriff begins pursuit of three hooligans who drift past the Radiator Springs residents at Flo's V8 Café, Mater tells everyone about his career as a drift racer. After towing a car to Tokyo, he is challenged to a drift race by Kabuto, and is subsequently modified to look more modern. During the race, Mater goes off-course and finds himself in a halfpipe, where cranes are lifting heavy objects. Suddenly, Lightning Dragon McQueen appears, and helps Mater navigate through the maze of objects and back onto course. Unlike in most other Cars Toons shorts, no evidence is provided to validate Mater's tale.
Unidentified Flying Mater
In Unidentified Flying Mater, Mater tells McQueen a story of how he met a UFO named Mator. However, Mator was captured by the government and studied, until Mater managed to break in and save him. When the two make their escape, Lightning joins them, but they are soon taken aboard a large UFO that is revealed to be Mator's mother. She drops them off in Radiator Springs, and Mator and his mother return home. As always, Lightning doubts this happened, but after McQueen leaves, Mater manages to fly again, just like how Mator taught him to.
Monster Truck Mater
In Monster Truck Mater, Mater's story this time is about his monster truck career; he was once a famous monster truck wrestler nicknamed "The Tormentor." While Mater fought many tough opponents, the biggest threat he faced was a giant construction vehicle named Dr. Frankenwagon's Monster. When Lightning curiously asks what happened, Mater tells him he was there as well, on a tag-team with Mater. The two managed to defeat the monster by flipping the ring over and on top of him.
Heavy Metal Mater
In Heavy Metal Mater, Mater tells Lightning a story of how he was once a popular heavy metal artist; after producing the hit Dad Gum, Mater's band, titled Heavy Metal Mater, began to play live shows, with Lightning as the keyboardist. Right after Lightning objects, both of them look up to see a giant Mater balloon floating above them, the same one that Mater claimed would often be flown above the stage while they performed.
In Moon Mater, Lightning plays a role in Mater's tale about how he became an astronaut and helped stranded agent Impala XIII, in which he is seen traveling down to the earth at incredible speeds, and eventually catches ablaze, before landing in the ocean. The rescue of the endangered astronaut makes the headlines, and Lightning, Mater, and Impala XIII are interviewed by newspapers and television shows. Despite McQueen's denial, Roger, Mater's shuttle, arrives and tells him he must go on another mission, and the two blast off into outer space, leaving Lightning in disbelief.
Mater Private Eye
In Mater Private Eye, Lt. McQueen and his assistants arrest Big D, after Mater discovers that he and his henchman have been manufacturing counterfeit tires. As always, Lightning denies any truth in Mater's detective story, Carmen, one of the cars Mater mentioned in his story, arrives and starts a conga dance, which Mater follows.
In Air Mater, Mater informs Lightning of his supposed relationship with popular air performers The Falcon Hawks, and how he filled in for one of the performers when his wing was damaged. However, during the performance, Mater's wings break, and he begins to fall. However, Lightning McQueen Hawk saves him, and subsequently assists him in the big finish, by throwing Mater up into the air, and then catching him and safely landing. As McQueen objects, Mater receives a recruitment call from the Falcon Hawks, and they arrive to pick him up.
Time Travel Mater
In Time Travel Mater, Mater travels back in time and finds himself face-to-face with Stanley, prior to Radiator Springs' foundation. Stanley asks him whether or not he would like to purchase a hubcap and, when Mater's rejects the offer, Stanley decides to leave the oasis. Realizing what will happen if Stanley doesn't found Radiator Springs, Mater returns to the present to get Lightning, and the two go back to the past.
However, things don't go as planned - Lizzie begins to fall in love with Lightning, so the two have to make sure that Stanley and Lizzie meet and get married, in order to save the future from being rewritten. Lizzie and Stanley eventually marry, and Radiator Springs is successfully founded.
In Hiccups, Lightning acquires a case of the hiccups, and the others at Flo's V8 Café attempt to cure him. Guido suggests holding his breath, but Guido faints, and when Lightning starts to breathe in, he realizes the method was not successful. Luigi tries to scare the hiccups away, Sarge tries to order the hiccups away, and Sheriff tells Red to spray water into McQueen's mouth. However, the only method that works is Sally's, who simply kisses him.
In Spinning, when Luigi orders Guido to spin a sign outside of the tire shop, Lightning and the other Radiator Springs residents and passersby notice his talents, and a large crowd forms.
The Radiator Springs 500½
In The Radiator Springs 500½, McQueen dresses as Stanley for the town's annual Stanley Days celebration, but when a group of off-road racers led by Sandy Dunes arrive, he challenges them to a race. However, they soon go the wrong way after being confused by Mater saying that going left is right when he means "correct", not the actual direction. Eventually, they arrive back in Radiator Springs after being freaked out by several corpses in a spooky forest.
The World of Cars Online
In The World of Cars Online, Lightning could often be found outside of his racing headquarters, allowing players to shop inside of the store. He was also a playable character in the Lightning Storm McQueen minigame, in which he, with the help of Luke Pettlework, would fight against the Zurg Train.
In Cars: Race-O-Rama, Lightning is helping out at the Doc Hudson Racing Academy, and is racing against them in a competition at Radiator Springs Speedway. After Lightning sees how the green racers are behaving, he confronts them, only to find out that they are being trained by none other than Chick Hicks. As the story continues on, Lightning meets more of Chick's goons, who he befriends after they turn on Chick and apologize for their rude behavior.
In arcade mode, Lightning is unlocked as a playable character from the start of the game. Additionally, various other versions of Lightning can be unlocked, including his "beach racer" attire and his "off-road racer" attire.
In Cars 2, Lightning returns to Radiator Springs from his latest Piston Cup racing season, and is happily greeted by all of his friends, especially Mater, who takes him on various activities. After a long day of messing around with Mater, Lightning tells him that he would like some quiet time with Sally at the Wheel Well Motel. Feeling left out, Mater poses as a waiter at the motel, but while attempting to prepare their orders, Mater is distracted by the Mel Dorado Show on one of the televisions, which is currently featuring Italian champion Francesco Bernoulli, who begins to trashtalk Lightning. Mater calls into the show to argue, and manages to secure Lightning a spot in the World Grand Prix, a series of three worldwide races, hosted by oil baron Miles Axlerod.
In preparation, Ramone gives Lightning a fancy new paint job and spoiler, and Lightning, Mater, Luigi, Guido, Sarge, and Fillmore set off for Tokyo, which is where the welcome party is being hosted, as well as the first race. After reuniting with old friends and having an unpleasant conversation with Francesco, Lightning is asked to take the stage, but is interrupted when Mater, who has just consumed a high amount of wasabi, bursts onto the stage, and drinks water from the display. Embarrassed, Mater is surprised to find out that he has leaked oil, and quickly hurries to the bathroom to clean up. However, an American agent who is being assaulted places his tracking beacon onto Mater. British agent Holley Shiftwell meets Mater, and he thinks that she is asking him out on a date.
At the first race, Francesco takes the lead early on, but Lightning overcomes him when Francesco struggles in the dirt section of the track. Just as Lightning's victory seems guaranteed, Mater, who is assisting him, receives a voice message from Shiftwell, to which he responds. However. Lightning mistakes his response for advice, and turns to the outside during a turn, letting Francesco pass him, and he wins. Frustrated at Mater's advice, Lightning scolds him, and Mater sadly decides to return home, and heads to the Tokyo airport (unbeknownst to McQueen and his team). However, at the airport, Finn McMissile, who thinks Mater is a spy, leads him away from the line and introduces himself. However, two lemons, who are on the lookout for McMissile, spot him, and the two make an escape on Siddeley, Finn's plane.
Meanwhile, Team McQueen notices a letter from Mater, and they learn of Mater's absence, but decide to go to the next race in Porto Corsa, Italy, anyway. The five cars stay with Luigi's aunt and uncle, and Uncle Topolino gives Lightning advice about his and Mater's argument. At the race, Lightning and Francesco distance themselves ahead of the other competitors, who, unbeknownst to them, are involved a large crash, created by Grem and Acer's electromagentic pulse camera, which blows their engines. Mater, who has infiltrated the Lemons' meeting, watches in horror as they pick their next target, McQueen. Revealing himself, Mater uses his spy tools to escape, but is still kidnapped by the Lemons, and placed in Big Bentley, a large clock tower in London, where the next WGP event is being held.
Lightning, who has decided to stick with Allinol despite its bad reputation, is thanked by Axlerod. As the lemons position the camera to Lightning's engine, he becomes out of range, but the race is soon interrupted by Mater, who blasts onto the track with his rocket launcher. Mater, who realizes he has a bomb attached to him, tries to warn McQueen, but he mistakes Mater's cries of "I'm the bomb" as figuratively, instead of literally. The two of them, McMissile, and Shiftwell end up near Miles Axlerod, who Mater accuses of being the one behind the entire plan. Axlerod is forced to deactivate the bomb with his voice, and he is then arrested.
Back in Radiator Springs, Lightning hosts the Radiator Springs Grand Prix as a make-up event for the interrupted third race, and he happily competes against the other racers. From the whole experience, Lightning learns that while Mater is not the perfect crew chief, he is the perfect friend, and to treat him better.
Cars 2: The Video Game
In Cars 2: The Video Game, Lightning is a playable character, and is one of the ten characters unlocked from the beginning the game. He also has two other skins, Carbon Fiber Lightning, which can be unlocked by earning the "Agent - Third Class" crest, and Radiator Lightning, which can be unlocked by earning the "Runway Pancake" crest. Additionally, Lightning has two more downloadable costumes that can be purchased from the Xbox or PlayStation stores; Dragon Lightning and Daredevil Lightning.
Kinect Rush: A Disney/Pixar Adventure
In Kinect Rush: A Disney/Pixar Adventure, Lightning is an unlockable playable character, that can be unlocked by obtaining all four Buddy Coins that are hidden in the three Cars levels.
He also appears in the first Cars level, Fancy Drivin', where he is looking for a new car for his racing team, which is the player, who must compete in various challenges, including the Tow Mater Fancy Drivin' Challenge, in which the player follows Mater throughout his tricky course. Impressed with the player's performance, Lightning accepts the player on his team, and the level is completed.
In Disney Infinity, Lightning is one of the four playable characters from the Cars franchise, and his figure can be obtained with Holley Shiftwell's in the Cars Play Set Pack. Like the other characters, Lightning possesses all capabilities that a non-car character has while driving inside of a ground vehicle, including accelerating, braking, reversing, drifting, and boosting, though all Cars characters have one more boost segment than ground vehicles do, for a grand total of four. He can also tow other players with a tow hook. If attempting to tow a non-car character, that character will ride on a small wagon behind Lightning.
Lightning's packs and tools consist of various weapons, which are the same ones that are used during battle races, including Machine Guns, Missile Launchers, and more.
In the Cars Play Set, Lightning's toy chests will unlock the Lightning McQueen Paint Job, as well as three random toys pertaining to Cars, including cast members, set pieces, skies, and more, all of which can be used in the Toy Box. Lightning's unique adventure is Lightning's Collector Course, in which Lightning must navigate through a large stunt course, while obtaining a set amount of collectibles, which changes with each difficulty level, in the given time limit.
Planes: Fire & Rescue
In Planes: Fire & Rescue, while he does not make a physical appearance, an image of Lightning can be seen on the sports-related newspaper that Dusty and his friends are looking at. This image is actually the same promotional artwork that was released of Lightning in his Cars 2 attire.
Disney Infinity: 2.0 Edition
In Disney Infinity: 2.0 Edition, Lightning returns alongside all other Disney Infinity characters from the first title, though he has not received any major changes, apart from receiving four skill trees, which feature abilities that can be upgraded to be improved. Additionally, Lightning can now be leveled up to level 20, as opposed to level 15, as in the previous game.
To obtain the Lightning McQueen Paint Job, Fillmore, Flo, Ramone, and The Radiator Cap toys, the player must simply take ownership of Lightning for the first time.
Cars: Fast as Lightning
In Cars: Fast as Lightning, Lightning is the final unlockable playable character, though two races must be completed while playing as him in the tutorial of the game. When he is unlocked, Lightning's Pit and the Doc Hudson Statue will be unlocked for use on tracks and in town.
Prior to being unlocked, Lightning will join Mater and Lizzie in giving the player missions to complete. In contrast to Mater's, which revolve primarily around town-related tasks, Lightning's revolve around race-related tasks, such as completing a set amount of tricks in races, or building a certain amount of objects on a character's race track.
Disney Infinity: 3.0 Edition
In Disney Infinity: 3.0 Edition, Lightning makes another appearance as a playable character, and has received no noticeable changes from his previous appearance in Disney Infinity: 2.0 Edition. When the player takes ownership of Lightning for the first time, the Lightning McQueen Paint Job will be unlocked, along with the Fillmore, Flo, Ramone, and The Radiator Cap toys.
By Cars 3, Lightning has been racing in the Piston Cup for over ten years, and fans are beginning to discuss his retirement. Even Sterling, McQueen's boss and owner of the Rust-eze Racing Center, brings up the subject while introducing Lightning to a vast array of merchandise.
As McQueen enters the 2017 season, he finds himself having trouble keeping up with the newer, "next-generation" competitors, as they are much more technologically advanced than McQueen, and capable of bigger and better things. Jackson Storm in particular is a threat to McQueen, as he places first in many of the races, including the Dinoco 400. In one of the races, Lightning tries to overtake Storm, and in doing so he blows out his right rear tire and spins out of control and crashes, leaving him damaged and unable to compete.
After a long recovery in Radiator Springs, McQueen is brought to the Rust-eze Racing Center, where he is told by Rusty and Dusty that they have sold their company to Sterling to give McQueen the best chance to defeat Storm. Sterling introduces McQueen to a young trainer named Cruz Ramirez, who helps McQueen train to defeat Storm in the upcoming Florida 500. Their endeavors include competing in a demolition derby competition at the Thunder Hollow Speedway, and practicing on a beach with Luigi and Guido. Additionally, McQueen looks to his deceased mentor Doc Hudson for inspiration, which leads him to meeting Smokey, Louise Nash, River Scott, and Junior Moon, four Piston Cup legends who raced with Hudson back in his day. Smokey eventually tells Lightning that he taught Doc back in the day, and he shows the letters that Doc sent him over the years, mostly showing Lightning's wins and stories of Doc training Lightning.
As the main character of the Cars series, Lightning appears in nearly every book, comic, and magazine ever written, most of which he has a lead role in.
A model based on Lightning McQueen makes two different appearance in Cars Land; driving through Radiator Springs in Cars 2 attire, and in the Radiator Springs Racers attraction.
In the ride, Lightning and Sally greet the riders, and will direct them towards either Luigi's Casa Della Tires for new tires, or to Ramone's House of Body Art for a new paint job. When the ride is finished, he and Mater congratulate the guests on their performance and state that "you can't win if you don't race!", among other phrases.
Lightning's model is a hand-built racing car, built for racing purposes specifically. He is a mix of a stock car and a more curvaceous Le Mans endurance racer. He has modifications like a red spoiler, and for a short time did not have headlights, only stickers. He has coil-over shocks with tubular A arm front suspension, a solid axle rear end and vented disc brakes at all four wheels. He also has air flaps on his roof to prevent flipping. His engine is a V-8, having a horsepower of 750. His 0-60 speed is 3.2 seconds, and his top speed is 200 mph.
Many fans claim that he either resembles a modified Dodge Viper GTS-R, Ford GT40 or a tuned Mazda MX5. McQueen's appearance bears very little resemblance to modern NASCAR sedans. He instead resembles a C6 Corvette, but using NASCAR technology.
Prior to becoming a Piston Cup star, Lightning was painted entirely red, except for the Smell Swell logo on his hood and the number 95 painted on both doors and his roof. While looking for a new sponsor, the logo was removed. However, after being hired by Rusty and Dusty Rust-eze, Lightning was given an entirely new paint job for his Piston Cup career.
In Cars, Cars: The Video Game, and Cars: Radiator Springs Adventures, Lightning wears his Piston Cup paint scheme and modifications (though his paint job can be changed in the video games, his default paint job is the Piston Cup one). He is painted red, with an orange and yellow lightning bolt design on his doors, along with the number "95" and a variety of sponsor stickers. He has the Rust-eze logo on his hood, as well as on his spoiler.
In Mater and the Ghostlight, Cars: Mater-National Championship, the first ten Cars Toons shorts, and Cars: Race-O-Rama, Lightning is shown in the maroon and white paint job that was shown in the epilogue scene and credits of Cars. Whilst in this paint scheme, Lightning is painted maroon, with a white design on either of his doors, and the number 95 on his doors and roof, surrounded by a white circle.
At the beginning of Cars 2, Lightning is shown in his old Piston Cup design, although the Doc Hudson Piston Cup logo was added to his doors, and he had a different bolt design as well as less sponsor stickers. Later in the film, Lightning received an entirely new design, which brings back his original lightning bolt pattern while changing it to look more like a flame, his spoiler was modified, his bolt and sponsor stickers were removed, his headlight stickers were replaced with actual headlights, and his Rust-eze logo was changed to the Doc Hudson Piston Cup emblem. This design was kept in Cars 2: The Video Game, Kinect Rush: A Disney/Pixar Adventure, Time Travel Mater, and the Disney Infinity games, as well as in his cameo appearance in Planes: Fire & Rescue. However, in other future installments, Lightning's spoiler now has a Radiator Springs logo on it, and his bolt and sponsor stickers are regained, with his World Grand Prix decals removed.
McQueen's design received another update in Cars 3. During the 2017 Piston Cup season, McQueen's appearance is mostly similar to his 2006 rookie paint job, with the exception of the Rust-eze logo on his spoiler, which is much larger in size. Following his crash, however, Lightning receives a different paint scheme. The yellow lightning bolt design on his doors now extends all the way to his rear fender, and a large Rust-eze logo is now present on his rear end.
Personality and traits
Lightning is kind, positive, courageous and brave, and enjoys having fun and spending time with his friends, especially Mater. Prior to his arrival in Radiator Springs, Lightning was cocky and self-centered, only caring about two things: winning and the pride that comes with it. At the time, Lightning had no friends besides Mack and Harv, leaving him with limited social skills. Regardless, he was still a popular name in the racing world, and was constantly being interviewed by the Press and admired by fans, much to his liking. When two fangirls drove up to him, they were taken away by security, after Lightning simply said "I love being me." Though the Radiator Springs residents were not very fond of him at first, they later befriended Lightning, and McQueen learned why it is important to have good friends. Lightning established Radiator Springs as his home base, and the wide publicity sparked interest in the town, which was soon put back on the map.
Lightning's best friend is Mater, whom he met when he awoke in the Impound. While Lightning did not like Mater at first, he began to like him after he took Lightning tractor tipping in the middle of the night. Mater and McQueen do several things together, including going tractor tipping regularly, driving backwards, driving along the Ornament Valley railroad tracks without tire treads, and occasionally racing each other. However, the two have their fair share of fights; most notably when Mater accidentally through Lightning off during the first race of the World Grand Prix, due to Lightning mistaking his banter with Holley Shiftwell for advice. Angry, Lightning scolded Mater, who decided to leave since he felt like he was not wanted. However, at the end of the film, Lightning and Mater make up, and together they expose Miles Axlerod and his plan.
Lightning's primary interest when he is not spending quiet time with his friends is racing. As a famous Piston Cup race car himself, Lightning has a remarkable talent for it, and enjoys practicing and competing in road races whenever he is not out on the Piston Cup track. McQueen has many formidable opponents; the many inhabitants of Radiator Springs, a group of British and Mexican rivals, various allies of Chick Hicks, international superstars, and other Piston Cup racers, notably Chick Hicks and, for a short time, The King. Lightning's obsession with victory and fame came to a close once he remembered the words of his mentor, Doc Hudson: "It's just an empty cup." Lightning gave up his win at the tie-breaker race to help The King finish his last race.
Lightning still enjoys spending quiet time with his friends, especially Sally Carrera, his girlfriend. Some of their favorite activities are taking a drive through the beautiful scenery of Tailfin Pass, and enjoying dates at the Wheel Well Motel and other locations in Carburetor County.
Powers and abilities
As a world-famous race car, Lightning is incredibly gifted, and can perform a variety of stunts to assist him in winning his races. In terms of statistics, Lightning is usually portrayed with having outstanding acceleration, speed, handling, stability, agility, and boost, the latter of which he learned from his friend Fillmore, and in Cars: The Video Game and Cars: Mater-National Championship, he has three boost tanks, which he has earned throughout his time in Radiator Springs.
Lightning can also tilt, which allows him to take turns sharper, as well as squeeze by opponents, which he once did in a Piston Cup race, where he used the wall to squeeze through the space between it and another racer. He can also jump, which allows him to hop over obstacles and other cars. McQueen is a very talented drifter as well; he learned this skill from Doc Hudson, who used to be a famous dirt track racer. Drifting, also called powersliding in some Cars media, allows Lightning to take sharp turns without losing control and driving off of the track.
In all three installments of the Disney Infinity series, Lightning also has a tow hook, which can be used to tow other vehicles, a skill that is utilized for some missions in the Cars Play Set. If Lightning uses this ability on a player or toy that is not a car, such as Jack Sparrow, they will ride in a small wooden wagon that Lightning can pull around.
In Cars 2: The Video Game and the Disney Infinity games, McQueen can also use weapons if he picks up one while racing. When using a Machine Gun or Missile Launcher, the compartments on his sides will open, allowing Lightning to fire them.
In Mater's tall tales from the Cars Toons episodes, Lightning has been shown with a variety of other abilities, including:
Performing stunts, though he did not successfully jump the Carburetor Canyon (Mater the Greater)
Fighting Bulldozers and angering them with his red paint job (El Materdor)
Possessing skills that resemble that of a dragon, and defeats Kabuto's Ninjas with little to no trouble (Tokyo Mater)
Singing and playing the keyboard (Heavy Metal Mater)
Monster Truck wrestling (Monster Truck Mater)
Exploring space (Moon Mater)
Taking care of crime (Mater Private Eye)
Performing stunts in the air (Air Mater)
Friends and love interests
During his rookie season, Lightning had a rather small selection of friends. Though Rusty and Dusty Rust-eze, along with other rusty cars who idolize McQueen, acted kindly to him, he still dismissed them and didn't enjoy making live appearances or interacting with them at all. However, Lightning did have one friend; his transporter and teammate Mack, who had befriended him during Lightning's early racing days, when he was still searching for a new sponsor.
However, when Lightning was forced to stay in Radiator Springs after accidentally ripping up the road, though initially hesitant toward being associated with the town's residents, Lightning later befriended all of the cars. Many of the residents, including Luigi, Guido, Fillmore, Sarge, would later become part of McQueen's racing team, while Flo, Ramone, Lizzie, Red, and Sheriff, help him out on various occasions.
However, Lightning's closest relationships include Mater and Sally, as well as Doc Hudson, prior to his death. Mater is Lightning's best friend, and the two enjoy participating in various activities with each other, including Tractor Tipping, messing around on the Ornament Valley railroad tracks, and sharing stories with each other. Sally, however, is Lightning's romantic interest. Upon meeting her in the courtroom, Lightning began to develop a crush on her, and the two would later begin to date at the end of Cars. Some of their favorite pastimes together including taking drives through Tailfin Pass, as well as enjoying a quiet evening at the Wheel Well Motel.
Foes and rivals
Lightning's arch nemesis is Chick Hicks, a rude and selfish Piston Cup race car that has an intense rivalry with Lightning. Despite Chick's win at the 2005 tie-breaker race at the Los Angeles International Speedway, his victory was overshadowed by McQueen's action of helping Strip Weathers to the finish line, who had previously been damaged by Chick. During the following season, Lightning and Chick's rivalry eventually inspired the Radiator Springs Grand Prix, a three-race event hosted in each of the three Carburetor County areas, with the final Piston Cup race of the season to finish it off.
Another racing rival that Lightning had bad blood with was Francesco Bernoulli, although the two would later overcome their differences and become friends, as evidenced in installments such as Cars 2: The Video Game, Cars: Fast as Lightning, and all three installments of the Disney Infinity series. After trashtalking Lightning on live television, Lightning and Francesco found themselves against each other in the World Grand Prix, in which Francesco managed to beat Lightning in the first race, but McQueen won at the following race, with the third and final event having no defined victor.
Lightning has also met a fair share of additional racing rivals, though he did not have bad chemistry with any of them, with the exception of Chick's allies from Cars: Race-O-Rama, though they would later apologize for their actions and befriend McQueen.
Lightning is a Piston Cup champion race car known all over the world for his quick and skillful style of racing. He has won four Piston Cups over the years, and is currently working on his fifth. After his fourth win, he was accepted into the World Grand Prix, a championship involving 11 racers, each from a different part of the world. After he finished, he presumably went back to the Piston Cup.
Additionally, Mater has told many tall tales that have featured McQueen in different professions than he usually can be seen in. Some of them include:
Mater the Greater
Heavy Metal Mater
Monster truck wrestler
Monster Truck Mater
Mater Private Eye
Air stunt plane
Cars 2: The Video Game
Throughout the series, McQueen has been seen with various different names and appearances, notably in the Cars Toons shorts.
In El Materdor, McQueen is a bulldozer fighter named El McQueen.
In Tokyo Mater, McQueen goes under the name of Lightning Dragon McQueen, a drift car that helps Mater during his race with Kabuto.
In Monster Truck Mater, Lightning's stage name is "Frightening McMean", dubbed by the Referee Pitty after he mishears what McQueen says.
In Mater Private Eye, Lt. McQueen is the detective alias of McQueen.
In Air Mater, once Lightning joins the Falcon Hawks with Mater after one of the members is damaged, Lightning is called Lightning McQueen Hawk as to fit in with the names of the other Falcon Hawks.
He is usually referred to by Sally as "Stickers", because of him originally having headlight stickers rather than real ones. However, there are a couple of times when Sally refers to him by his actual name, as she says McQueen's surname when the press are in Radiator Springs in the first film, and she says McQueen's first name while he is dreaming of racing in the Radiator Springs Grand Prix in the video game, along with mentioning to Mia and Tia about the winner of the Sally's Sunshine Circuit taking a drive with him.
He is occasionally referred to as "buddy" by Mater, who also at one time calls him "Mr. I Can't Turn On Dirt" in the first film, when he thinks about going tractor tipping.
"Lightning is built for speed and has just two things on his mind: winning and the perks that come with it. In his fast-paced life he has little time for anything or anyone, but who needs friends when you've got a stadium full of fans."
"To Lightning McQueen, the world's fastest race car, appearance is everything. Fans expect a celebrity like him to look great all the time: fresh, shiny, spotless! If only his fans could see him now."
"Lightning McQueen's dream is to be sponsored by Dinoco Oil! In his daydreams he looks great with his new Dinoco blue paint job and his very own brand of Lightning McQueen racing tires complete with custom spinners. Hey, and why decide on either gold or silver spinners when you can have both?"
"The town fixed up Lightning McQueen just in time for a cruise down the strip, and Radiator Springs looks pretty cool on him. Then again, everything looks pretty cool under the glow of the neon on Route 66."
"Could anything be more embarrassing than being splashed in the face with mud right in front of the girl of your dreams? I don't think so."
"Could anything be more embarrassing than being splashed in the face with mud right in front of the girl of your dreams? Well, maybe being covered with leaves right after that. Yes, that would be more embarrassing..."
"After winning the Piston Cup and getting The King's coveted Dinoco Sponsorship, McQueen imagines a movie deal will be the next logical step. He sees himself doing action movies, with a hint of comedy, a touch of drama and a truck load of explosions."
"Turning on dirt is not only harder than Lightning McQueen thought, it's also a lot more embarrassing."
"Some lessons have to be learned the hard way. Turn right to go left sounds easy enough, but McQueen's finding out it's a lot more painful than it seems."
"Lightning McQueen never stops for tires, even if it means driving right through them."
"When you don't have a nose to win by, a tongue is the next best thing."
Cars: The Video Game
Lightning (Monster truck)
Cars: Mater-National Championship
"Number 95 Lightning McQueen is still a hotshot racecar, but his rookie days are past him. Now a permanent resident of Radiator Springs, Lightning has become a bona fide worldwide celebrity as winner of four Piston Cups. After his latest win, Lightning returns home to enjoy life in the slow lane for a while with sweetheart Sally, best friend Mater and the rest of his Radiator Springs family. His off-season is unexpectedly cut short when Mater inadvertently prompts Lightning to enter the World Grand Prix, a high profile, three-part exhibition race that will take him around the globe. With a fresh custom paint job and real, working headlights, Lightning sets off to Japan, Italy and England with Mater in tow for the adventure of a lifetime. But competing against the fastest cars in the world tests more than his racing skills when Lightning realizes his wide-eyed best friend may not be the pit chief nor ambassador he needs to navigate the unfamiliar international terrain."
Lightning McQueen has had two different voice actors, as Owen Wilson is not always available for roles.
Owen Wilson - Cars, Cars: The Video Game, Cars: Radiator Springs Adventures, Mater and the Ghostlight, Cars 2, Kinect Rush: A Disney/Pixar Adventure, The Radiator Springs 500½, To Protect and Serve, Cars: Fast as Lightning, Cars 3
Keith Ferguson - Cars: Mater-National Championship, Rescue Squad Mater, Mater the Greater, El Materdor, Tokyo Mater, The World of Cars Online, Cars: Race-O-Rama, Unidentified Flying Mater, Heavy Metal Mater, Monster Truck Mater, Moon Mater, Mater Private Eye, Air Mater, Cars 2: The Video Game, Time Travel Mater, Disney Infinity, Disney Infinity: 2.0 Edition, Hiccups, Spinning, Disney Infinity: 3.0 Edition
"I'm faster than fast. Quicker than quick. I am lightning!" - Cars
"Oh, Kori. There's a lot more to racing than just winning. I mean, taking the race by a full lap... Where's the entertainment in that?" - Cars
"No, no. I wanted to give the folks a little sizzle." - Cars
"Am I sorry I don't have a crew chief? No, I'm not. 'Cause I'm a one-man show." - Cars
"Yo, Chuck. Chuck, what are you doing? You're blockin' the camera! Everyone wants to see the bolt." - Cars
"Now, back away." - Cars
"Ow! Whoa, team! Where are you going?" - Cars
"Oh, OK, leave. Fine. How will I ever find anyone else who knows how to fill me up with gas? Adios, Chuck!" - Cars
"Oh, whatever." - Cars
"I love being me." - Cars
"Yes, yes, yes! Lightning McQueen here, and I use Rust-eze Medicated Bumper Ointment, new rear end formula. Nothing soothes a rusty bumper like Rust-eeeze. Wow! look at that shine! Use Rust-eze, and you too, can look like me! Ka-chow!" - Cars''" - Cars
"Mater?" - Cars
"Holy Porsche! She's gotta be from my attorney's office." - Cars
"I'm a precision instrument of speed and aerodynamics!" - Cars
"Pch. Crazy grandpa car, what an idiot." - Cars
"No Mater, I gotta finish this road, and I have to get out of here." - Cars
"Whoa, whoa, easy now, Mater. You know who you're talking to? This is Lightning McQueen. I can handle anything." - Cars
"It's good to be home, everybody." - Cars 2
"I know Doc said these things were just old cups... but to have someone else win it just didn't feel right, you know?" - Cars 2
"Thank you so much for having us, Sir Axlerod. I really look forward to racing. This is a great opportunity." - Cars 2
"I'm coming for you, Storm." - Cars 3
"I decide when I'm done." - Cars 3
"This is my last chance, Cruz. Last! If I lose, I'd never get to do this again!" - Cars 3
Names in other languages
Flash of lightning
His racing number, "95" is a reference to the year 1995, when Pixar's first feature-length film, Toy Story was released. Originally, his number was going to be 57, which is the year John Lasseter was born.
Lightning's last name "McQueen" is a reference to Glenn McQueen, a supervising animator at Pixar who passed away in 2002.
In the first official teaser trailer of Cars 2, for unknown reasons, Lightning McQueen has on his Rust-eze customization, which never appeared in the sequel. It may be because the new paint job was not finalized at the time of the release of the teaser trailer.
In Toy Story 3, in the Caterpillar Room at Sunnyside Daycare, the viewer can see one of the kids with a white T-shirt with red sleeves and has in the middle of the shirt the 95 racing number with the lightning bolt of Lightning McQueen. A toy similar to Lightning can also be seen.
In the first film, Lightning's back bumper is yellow. This follows NASCAR's tradition of putting yellow rookie stripes on rookie drivers' cars.
Lightning's design was inspired by stock cars, and a more curvaceous Le Mans endurance racers (Ford GT40).
After Lightning's redesign in Cars 2, he has working headlights instead of stickers. However, Sally still calls him "Stickers".
In the Disney Infinity sequels, several of his quotes are omitted, including the "Whoo-hoo!" quote made when he does an air trick, and the quotes he says when meeting the cast members. Additionally, his quotes are somehow not covered by the subtitles in the third game.
In Cars, Lightning has fourteen different paint variants, ranging from different amounts of dirt and dust to his "Dinoco", "Cruising" and "Radiator Springs" paint jobs.<ref>The Science Behind Pixar: Fun Facts</ref>