Lightning McQueen is the main character and protagonist of the Cars series. He appears in almost every main installment of the Cars series, with the only exceptions being media based on the Planes series. He is often portrayed as fun and kind, but still has concern about his career.
During the initial research for the film, John Lasseter met with General Motors designers to discuss the new Corvette design but subsequent changes to the storyline left both Lightning McQueen and rival Chick Hicks as generic.
“He’s the new rookie, he’s sexy, he’s fast, he’s different. So he’s invented. We took the best of our favourite things, from GT40's to Chargers… just sketching them out, we came up with what McQueen looks like.”
—Bob Pauley, one of two Cars production designers
In order to create a cocky but likeable character for McQueen, Pixar looked at sports figures like boxer Muhammad Ali, basketball player Charles Barkley, and football quarterback Joe Namath, as well as popular musician Kid Rock.
“For the other race cars, we looked at how race cars drive. For McQueen, we looked at surfers and snowboarders and Michael Jordan, these truly great athletes and the beauty of how they move. You watch Jordan in his heyday against every other player, he’s playing a different game. We wanted to have that same type of feeling, so that when they’re talking about ‘the rookie sensation,’ you’re seeing that he is really gifted.”
—James Ford Murphy, Cars directing animator.
Lightning McQueen 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 have a stadium full of fans?
In Cars, at first, McQueen is obnoxious and rude to everyone, but one night, on the way to Los Angeles, CA, he is accidentally separated from his transporter, Mack, after a quartet of tuner cars bump Mack's trailer, causing the racecar to fall out. When McQueen wakes up he notices that Mack is gone, and tries to follow him only to lose him in the process, and after a turn of events including almost being hit by a train and running into a grumpy Peterbilt, ends up in Radiator Springs where he accidentally tears up the main road and is arrested by Sheriff, who then tells him, "Boy, you're in a heap of trouble."
The next morning, McQueen is put on trial, where Doc Hudson, the judge, want him out of town at first, but eventually changes his mind and has McQueen be forced to fix the road as punishment. While McQueen is still trying to fix the road, he eventually starts to know more about Radiator Springs and its inhabitants, including befriending a tow truck named Mater and falling in love with a sports car named Sally Carrera, who owns the Cozy Cone Motel. McQueen then eventually realizes that Doc Hudson is actually a former racecar whose career
ended after Doc suffered a severe accident one day and won four Piston Cups prior, and that Radiator Springs was once a popular tourist attraction but eventually lost popularity due to the construction of Interstate 40. Shortly after fixing the road, McQueen decides to stay at Radiator Springs much longer to help everyone out, only for Mack and several camera cars to eventually find him and send him to Los Angeles so that he can participate in the race. During the race, Lightning McQueen immediately performs several moves that Doc (now his crew chief) showed him during a race against him at Willy's Butte.
At the end of the film, he lost the race out of good intentions, and got a new paint job, but still sponsored by Rust-eze, although at the beginning of the film, he wanted a Dinocosponsorship.
Cars: The Video Game
In Cars: The Video Game, Lightning McQueen finds himself at the start of the next Piston Cup season. With the help of the citizens of Radiator Springs, McQueen readies to start his quest for the Piston Cup, taking lessons in powersliding from Doc, boosting from Fillmore, and racing backwards from Mater. With his skills, Lightning once again makes a championship run in the Piston Cup, much to the irritation of Chick Hicks, who hates him. Fearing his title is in jeopardy, Chick enlists the assistance of The Delinquent Road Hazards — DJ, Boost, Wingo, and Snot Rod — the same rowdy cars who detoured McQueen to Radiator Springs, to hijack McQueen's racing gear from Mack on Interstate 40. Lightning is able to retrieve the goods and bring the delinquents to justice before winning the next race, which sends Chick into a frenzy. Lightning challenges Chick to a Grand Prix in Radiator Springs, followed by one more Piston Cup race in LA. Lightning wins these events, taking the Piston Cup in his sophomore season. At the end, Lightning, Mater, and Sally decide to take a celebratory trip across the country. When asked if he brought his trophy, Lightning notes he did not, but left it in a good place, at Doc Hudson's clinic next to the legend's own three Piston Cups. Though Lightning McQueen is still sponsored by Rust-eze, players are able to unlock McQueen with a Dinoco paint job while playing as him in Story Mode, Arcade Mode, and VS. Mode.
Cars: Radiator Springs Adventures
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Mater and the Ghostlight
In Mater and the Ghostlight, Lightning is at Flo's V8 Cafe listening as Sheriff tells his story about a ghost known as the Ghostlight, scaring him a little. He later helps prank Mater by placing a lamp on his tow hook.
Cars: Mater-National Championship
In Cars: Mater-National Championship, Lightning McQueen is the playable character during story mode. In this game, his default paint job is no longer his original Rust-eze paint job, instead it is his new paint job from the end of Cars.
Lightning is still in the making of his Racing Headquarters, and to celebrate, he is holding the International Championship - until Mater announces to the world that it is the "Mater-National" because he forgets the name. As the story moves on, Lightning meets new international racers, including Gudmund, Otto, Koji, Emma, and Giovanni, who become his friends, but also his opponents.
Rescue Squad Mater
In Rescue Squad Mater, Lightning is inside of the burning building that Mater and his team get a call for. Once he is rescued, McQueen is taken to the hospital, where he gets painfully repaired. Not believing Mater's story, Lightning objects, only to watch Nurse GTO drive by.
Mater the Greater
In Mater the Greater, Mater tells the story about how Lightning was a daredevil too, and was the one who tried jump over Carburetor Canyon, only to run out of fuel halfway through the jump, loose his Mater the Greater teeth and fall.
In El Materdor, Lightning is in the arena with Mater fighting bulldozers, and since he is painted red, Lightning creates a distraction while Mater defeats them.
In Tokyo Mater, Mater is racing through a huge halfpipe with oil everywhere when Dragon Lightning McQueen appears from thin air and assists him through it. McQueen teaches Mater how to drift, which helps him on his way up Tokyo Tower.
In Heavy Metal Mater, Lightning played the keyboard in Mater's band, and even helped Mater sing Dad Gum into the microphone.
Monster Truck Mater
In Monster Truck Mater, Lightning is on a tag-team with Mater, fighting against Dr. Frankenwagon's Monster. He fights for Mater while he talks to Mia and Tia, and once Mater is tagged, he flips the arena over.
In Moon Mater, Lightning is seen while Mater is helping Impala XIII back to Earth. He is traveling at incredible speeds, and as a result, McQueen catches on fire as he speeds back to Earth, into a lake.
Mater Private Eye
In Mater Private Eye, Lt. McQueen arrests Big D and his henchman after Mater discovers that he is selling counterfeit tires.
In Air Mater, Lightning McQueen Hawk performs with Falcon Hawks, performing for one of the Falcon Hawks after their wing gets damaged.
Time Travel Mater
In Time Travel Mater, Lizzie falls in love with Lightning, making him and Mater go back in time again to make sure that Lizzie meets Stanley so the town can be built.
In Hiccups, Lightning gets a case of the hiccups, and all of his friends try to help cure them. Sally eventually gives Lightning a kiss, which cures him.
In Spinning, Lightning is part of the crowd watching Guido spinning his sign.
The World of Cars Online
In The World of Cars Online, Lightning appeared 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 acting badly.
In arcade mode, Lightning is unlocked as a playable character from the start of the game.
In Cars 2, Lightning returns, but as a deuteragonist.
This time around, Lightning is racing in the first ever World Grand Prix to determine who's the world's fastest car. But the road to the championship is filled with plenty of potholes, detours, and hilarious surprises.
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.
During a race against several other competitors including an Italian car named Francesco Bernoulli, Lightning unexpectedly loses the race in Tokyo after Mater is unexpectedly mistaken for a spy and therefore abandoning his position as crew chief. McQueen gets mad at Mater and claims that he doesn't need or want his help anymore, causing the tow truck to go on his own adventure as a spy. When he was in Porto Corsa, he learns from Uncle Topolino that he has been too harsh on Mater and should accept him for who he is. In the middle of the race in London, he chases Mater through the streets, trying to apologize, not knowing that he had a bomb in his engine. After the chase, they hear from Professor Z that it's voice activated and can only be deactivated by the one who activated it in the first place. Mater soon realizes that Miles Axlerod is the criminal behind the World Grand Prix, but is worried that nobody will believe him. Then, Lightning tells him what he learned, and Mater goes to the palace and forces Miles to deactivate the bomb. For that, Lightning decides to bring Mater to all his races from now on.
Along the way, Lightning realizes what Mater is: Not the perfect crew chief, and not the world's best spy, but his best friend. He searches for Mater and finally finds him on the race track, scared to take action. But Lightning convinces his friend to continue his unfinished spy work. And in the end Lightning decides to treat Mater better...and to start taking racing advice from him.
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 and Radiator Lightning, which can be unlocked by earning specific badges and crests. There are also several other skins that can be downloaded in the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 versions of the game.
Kinect Rush: A Disney/Pixar Adventure
In Kinect Rush: A Disney/Pixar Adventure, he appears in the first Cars level, where he is looking for a new car in his racing team, which is the player. But first, the player has got to try out, so he/she has to pass the Tow Mater Fancy Drivin' Challenge. Mater says that he designed the course specially so that only the best drivers in the whole world can finish it. McQueen says that he's got great confidence, and that if Mater says you're good enough, that's good enough for him, before Mater says that it's what the Tow Mater Fancy Drivin' Challenge says, not himself. The player follows Mater through the course before in the ending cutscene, Mater says to the player that he/she is awesome, before McQueen says that Mater's right and that was some of the best driving he's ever seen, before saying to the player that they're going to be a great addition to his team. Holley Shiftwell then appears saying that was a impressive display. Mater then introduces the player to Holley, explaining that she's his girlfriend. Holley then says that their friend, the player, would make an excellent racer, but an even better spy, and that they have a mission that is perfect for the player's speed and talents, before saying that is if McQueen doesn't mind waiting, before Mater says that McQueen can wait, before he asks McQueen if he will. He then answers, "Well, who am I to interfere with British Intelligence?" He also becomes playable in the levels when the player collects 4 hidden Buddy Coins in each level in the hidden areas and heights.
In Disney Infinity, Lightning is one of the four playable characters from the Cars franchise. As with the other Cars characters, Lightning's abilities are drifting and using turbo, which consists of one extra square than with generic cars such as Mr. Incredible's sports car.
Lightning's special toy box adventure is Lightning's Collector Course.
Planes 2: Fire & Rescue
In Planes 2: Fire & Rescue, a picture of Lightning McQueen can be seen on the sports-related newspaper that Dusty and his friends are reading.
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.
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.
Lightning McQueen also appears in Cars Land with his girlfriend, Sally Carrera. They greet the theme park guests who board the cars on the ride, Radiator Springs Racers in which they act like sportscasters.
He can be seen driving through Radiator Springs in his World Grand Prix paint job. However, in Radiator Springs Racers, he is in his Cars paint job. He and Sally will welcome the theme park guests in the ride car to the race when you arrive in Radiator Springs, and he will either tell you to go into Luigi's Casa Della Tires or Ramone's House of Body Art for either a tire change by Luigi & Guido or a paint refresh by Flo & Ramone. After the race, he and Mater will congratulate the guests for winning. Mater says that "you beat McQueen!" Lightning replies to Mater and says he wasn't racing. Mater tells Lightning McQueen that "you can't win if you don't race!" There are other phrases used.
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.
Fans say 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.
McQueen's two-tone design appears to be an homage to the C1 Corvette, complete with whitewall tires.His model was originally painted red, with green Smell Swell stickers. Later, his doors were re-painted with yellow and orange lightning bolt decals. He had the number 95 painted in red, orange and yellow on his roof and doors, as well as the Rust-eze logo on his hood and spoiler. After being accepted into the World Grand Prix, Lightning minorly changed his paint job - he now has the Hudson Hornet Piston Cup logo on his hood, and a raised red spoiler. He continues to wear this, as seen in Time Travel Mater.
Originally cocky and self-centered, Lightning's personality was changed into a caring and nice person with lots of friends - to which he is very loyal and kind. Though nice and pleasant, Lightning can be a bit selfish and self-centered sometimes. He is also brave, courageous, and daring.
Powers and abilities
McQueen is portrayed as an incredibly gifted race car, with outstanding acceleration, speed and handling. He has also been shown with great agility, being able to dodge and avoid objects and other cars in accidents. According to his official specifications from Cars 2 promotional media, McQueen's top speed is 200mph, reaching from 0 to 60 in 3.2 seconds.
Notably, McQueen is also quite talented at Tractor Tipping and various other games played by the residents of Radiator Springs, such as Doc and the Law's Race and Chase and Fillmore's Fuel Frenzy.
Friends and love interests
Lightning is on friendly terms with all of the Radiator Springs townsfolk and his crew members for the Piston Cup, as well as the other 10 racers that competed in the World Grand Prix.
Lightning has a romantic relationship with Sally Carrera, a blue Porsche that he originally met when he was stranded in Radiator Springs.
Foes and rivals
Lightning's arch nemesis is Chick Hicks, a snotty Piston Cup competitor that doesn't play by the rules. Chick is always trying to ambush McQueen or disqualify him, in hopes of eliminating his competition and finally winning a Piston Cup.
While the two were initially enemies, McQueen and Francesco Bernoulli have since become friends, but still hold a rivalry, as evidenced in the ending of Cars 2 and video games such as Cars 2: The Video Game, Disney Infinity and Disney Infinity: 2.0 Edition.
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 Dragon Lightning 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.
"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."
Top speed: 200 mph
Zero to 60: 3.2 seconds
Lightning McQueen has had two different voice actors, due to Owen Wilson sometimes being unavailable.
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
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
"I'm faster than fast, quicker than quick. I'm lightning!" - 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
"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
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 wasn't finalized at the time of the release of the teaser trailer.
In Toy Story 3, in the Caterpillar Room at Sunnyside Daycare, you 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".