Radiator Springs

This article is an itinerary.

Radiator Springs is a village depicted on the former US Route 66 in the United States of America in 2006 Pixar film "Cars".


Tucumcari Mountain in New Mexico

Radiator Springs is a composite of multiple real places and landmarks on US Route 66.

Its highway map location most closely resembles Peach Springs, Arizona, a once-busy stop along the 2488 miles of highway leading westward from Chicago and Saint Louis through Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to Santa Monica, California.

Peach Springs is the administrative base of the Hualapai native first nation. In Route 66's heyday, it was a starting point for Route 66 travellers to take side trips north to Grand Canyon National Park or Monument Valley - diversions which would add hundreds of miles to a real Route 66 roadtrip but which look somehow compressed in distance in the film.

When Interstate 40 bypassed Route 66 from Oklahoma City to Barstow, California it took a shorter, more direct route from Seligman to Kingman in Arizona by passing further south, missing tiny Peach Springs by twenty-five miles. Most towns along this section (Hackberry, Valentine, Truxton) simply died overnight, but the Hualapai nation kept Peach Springs marginally alive. Nearby Williams (Arizona) was the last community bypassed (in 1984) and Seligman to Kingman was the first section designated as "Historic 66" (in 1987) due to the efforts of Angel Delgadillo of Seligman and his Arizona Route 66 Association.

The cartoon depiction of Radiator Springs and Carburetor County is based on a composite of multiple landmarks in multiple states, from Baxter Springs, Cherokee County, Kansas to Peach Springs, Arizona and a bit beyond. A group of fifteen Pixar designers packed into multiple longhorn stretch Cadillac motorcars and took to the road to visit NASCAR racetracks, Detroit automakers and more than 1200 miles of US Route 66 from the Kansas-Missouri border westward through Arizona.

A list of places visited could be reconstructed from the film's credits and trailers (which list key people they talked to along the way), from route66news.com descriptions and from local newspaper articles about individual towns through which the Pixar crews toured.

As the animated Radiator Springs compresses 1200 miles and five states of Route 66 into a few blocks of road, this Route 66 road trip is presented as itinerary (effectively, a single east-to-west composite patched from multiple trips made as research to create the film) instead of as a single geographic village.


Peet stop!

A journey of a few thousand miles begins with a well-maintained motorcar in top condition. As this trip crosses large expanses of New Mexico, Arizona and California desert, be sure to carry enough fuel, bring extra water and some means of calling for roadside assistance in the event of a break down.

Bring a copy of the main Route 66 itinerary or references such as the "Here it is!" eight-state map set, as this itinerary is specific to people and locations referenced in the film and does not fully cover the entire "Mother Road" of 'The Grapes of Wrath' fame. Grab a full tank of petrol and head onto the open road... and get your kicks on Route 66.

Get in

By car. From Detroit.

It's not what it used to be, but Detroit is still considered the birthplace of the US automotive industry and a film like "Cars" wouldn't be made without a visit to the home of Ford and General Motors. While the public doesn't have the same access to Detroit's automakers as the Pixar crew, the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village in Dearborn is worth a tour; there's also an Automotive Hall of Fame. In Auburn Hills, the Walter P. Chrysler Museum is available for group and meeting rental but otherwise not currently (as of 2013) open to the public.

There's a lot of automotive history in the film, but the story itself starts at the "Motor Speedway of the South", an oversized version of NASCAR's Bristol Motor Speedway in Bristol, Tennessee.

To get there from Detroit, one possible route is Interstate-75 south to Knoxville, then Interstate-40 east to Interstate-81. Bristol is about 110 miles (175km) northeast of Knoxville.


Motor Speedway of the South and I-40

The film starts at the "Motor Speedway of the South" at the beginning of a 43-car NASCAR race:

A few bits (such as the spectator camper vans) are 'borrowed' from Charlotte Motor Speedway, 165 miles further southeast:

At the end of the race, a tiebreaker is announced for Los Angeles, California one week later to break a three-way tie. At stake is the NASCAR Grand National driver's trophy, shown as the "Piston Cup".

The contestants head westward on Interstate-40 to go to California. (From the "Motor Speedway of the South", Bristol, I-81 south ends at I-40. From the Charlotte side trip, head toward town then take I-77 north to rejoin I-40.)

The film depicts I-40 heading westward through a maze of congested overpasses, then through "Truckville" (presumably Knoxville, based on I-40 signage for US25 and other intersecting roads) and across fields and streams westward to California. The 2100 mile piece of I-40 from the end of I-81 to Barstow, California should take about thirty continuous hours at the wheel if one were to drive straight through, non-stop.

Thirty hours without a break would exceed the federal "hours of service" regulation for commercial vehicle drivers... but don't bother explaining that to cartoon NASCAR rookie Lightning McQueen.


At some point, a somnolent Lightning McQueen accidentally gets separated from his weary Mack transport on I-40, then makes a wrong turn across a rail line and onto old US Route 66... but where is he?

If Radiator Springs were a single point located at Peach Springs, Arizona, the rail line is the Santa Fe (the line is still in use, although the train does not stop) and the wrong turn is in Seligman. This point is the eastern gateway to a lengthy section where US 66 runs largely parallel to (but nowhere near) I-40. They don't rejoin until Kingman, 75 miles further westward on I-40 or 87 miles further west via Arizona Route 66.

If one takes everything from Baxter Springs to Peach Springs as "Radiator Springs", the detour occurs earlier: just before Fort Smith, Arkansas exit north onto I-540/US71, which run parallel and then become concurrent through Bentonville. Continuing north on US71, one reaches the former US 66 in Carthage (Missouri) - just east of Joplin.

In the absence of any further signs the film makers ventured east beyond Kansas (there is a "Wagon Wheel Motel" in Cuba (Missouri) but no Wheel Well Motel), it's time to motor west on the highway that's the best... US Route 66.

Route 66 and Radiator Springs

Restored Kan-O-Tex station
Eisler Brothers Country Store

US 66 enters Cherokee County at Galena (Kansas), a former mining town named for a lead ore once extracted here. The town is a shadow of its former self and I-44 (which bypassed US 66 this side of Oklahoma City) doesn't even enter the state. Pity, as that "Tow Mater" character is largely a Kansas boy. According to Oklahoma Route 66 historian Michael Wallis (voice of the "Sheriff") the late Joe Ranft, a Pixar artist, spotted an old mining truck on a former alignment of US 66 at a then-abandoned filling station. (Ranft is the voice of the recycled battery truck somewhere between I-40 and US 66, "Mack? I ain't no Mack, I'm a Peterbilt, for dang sakes! Turn on your lights, you moron!")

US66 turns south at Riverton (K-66 and US 69 alternate) to go through Baxter Springs.

US66 continues southward through Miami (Oklahoma) and Tulsa. Between Tulsa and OKC, Oklahoma Route 66 remains as a free alternate to I-44 (Turner Turnpike, a toll road), passing through the tiny town of Stroud (Oklahoma).

At Oklahoma City, US 66 turns westward toward the Texas Panhandle where, except within the towns, much of the old road is simply paved over by I-40 or used as an I-40 service road. In Clinton (Oklahoma) the filmmakers met former country veterinarian Dr. Walter S. Mason, Jr, a Best Western hotel owner who donated land for a local Route 66 museum. "Doc" died in 2007 after a lengthy battle with Alzheimers; mile 66 of I-40 was named the "Dr. Walter S. Mason, Jr. Memorial Highway" by the state in 2011 in his memory. There is no longer a Best Western in town, but the Route 66 Museum remains open.

Time for one last stop in Erick OK before crossing into Texas.

U-Drop Inn and Tower Station on US Route 66

The only major city in this corner of Texas is Amarillo:

Cadillac Ranch

US 66 continues westward through the tiny city of Adrian (Texas) before crossing into New Mexico at the divided ghost town of Glenrio.

Route 66 then passes through Tucumcari, a population-5000 town which once advertised billboards on hundreds of miles of the Mother Road as “Tucumcari Tonite! 2,000 motel rooms!” While a few of these neon motels have been restored, "Cars" fans will most readily recognise Tucumcari Mountain which stands over the New Mexico desert with a white "T" painted on one side. In the film, the mountain bears the initials "RS" and its summit is shaped as an automotive radiator cap.

Wigwam Motel

The road continues westward through Albuquerque and into Arizona. In Holbrook (Arizona), one quickly spots the inspiration for the 'Cosy Cone Motel'.

The film makers would have stopped in Winslow (Arizona) to inquire about the town's revitalisation efforts and "Standin' on the Corner Park", an art and sculpture streetscape recreating a spot in 1970s Eagles' hit song "Take It Easy." The song mentions "standin' on a corner in Winslow, Arizona," putting the town back on the map. In Seligman, they would have met with the Delgadillo brothers.

West of Seligman, US66 and I-40 diverge with US66 going through Peach Springs and various ghost towns or former ghost towns, including Hackberry.

The roads reconverge at Kingman, then diverge as an early alignment of Route 66 used to go through Oatman. As the former Route 66 bridge between Topock, Arizona and Needles, California is no longer passable, all traffic must leave Arizona on I-40. The film does not include any points on US66 in California.

Arizona side trips

John Ford's Point, Monument Valley

"Ornament Valley" is a reference to Monument Valley, in the far northern portion of the state. A waterfall visible in the background when "Sally" is driving across a bridge is Havasu Falls on the Grand Canyon's Havasupai Indian Reservation.

  Havasu Falls is not directly reachable by road; access is via native land and the last eight miles of the journey must be made on foot or horseback. The closest US 66 point to Havasu Falls is   Peach Springs.

  Monument Valley is reachable by road, but from US 66 is a 170-mile detour north from Flagstaff (US 89 to US 160 to US 163 Scenic).

Oatman, a Route 66 ghost town between Kingman and the California border, is not mentioned directly in the film but the   Oatman wild burros may have been an inspiration for the herd of ill-behaved "moo"ing farm tractors depicted disrupting traffic in Radiator Springs village.

Los Angeles International Speedway

The last portion of the trip to Los Angeles is depicted as a return to the freeway, presumably I-40 from Kingman (or the AZ/CA border) westward.

The NASCAR track for Los Angeles is Auto Club Speedway in Fontana. While US66 continued onward to LA, I-40 ends at Barstow. There is 75 miles of I-15 from Barstow south to Fontana.

Stay safe

Got a flat? Bring it in. Don't tear yourself up out there, kid.

Watch for speed traps; Route 66 goes through every tiny town and odds are there'll be a sheriff at the town line just waiting to chase speeding motorists through the village.

Be sure you have enough fuel. You don't want to be in the middle of the Arizona desert when you find you've run out as someone has siphoned all of your petrol while you were sleeping.

Go next

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Thursday, March 24, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.