Michael Rooker visits Build Studio to discuss Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 at Build Studio on May 4, 2017 ; Dale Earnhardt celebrates his seventh Gatorade125 Qualifying in 1996 at Daytona International Speedway
David Taylor/Allsport ; Mike Pont/WireImage

Michael Rooker, Whose "Days of Thunder" Character Was Based on Dale Earnhardt, Will Be Grand Marshal for Fontana Race

On Tuesday, Auto Club Speedway officially announced that actor Michael Rooker will serve as the grand marshal for the Pala Casino 400 on Sunday, February 26, in Fontana, California. Rooker, who played Rowdy Burns in the popular racing film Days of Thunder, will give the "Drivers, start your engines!" command ahead of the NASCAR Cup Series race.

"Michael Rooker is an immensely successful actor, but his turn as Rowdy Burns is one of the most memorable on-screen depictions of motorsports on the big screen," Auto Club Speedway President Dave Allen said in an official statement. "We are proud to welcome him as our grand marshal, and we can't wait to hear him give the command for the historic last race on the 2-mile oval."

In his own statement, Rooker added, "I am grateful for the chance to give the command for this historic event. As someone who was raised in NASCAR country, I've always appreciated fans asking about my portrayal of Rowdy Burns in Days of Thunder."

If you didn't know, Michael Rooker's Rowdy Burns character actually plays an important part in NASCAR lore. It is widely believed that the rivalry between Burns and Tom Cruise's Cole Trickle in Days of Thunder was based on the real-life rivalry between Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Geoff Bodine in the 1980s. Rumor also has it that not only was the Rowdy character based on Earnhardt, but that the seven-time Cup champion may have been actually offered the role. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was 16 at the time of the movie's release, addressed this rumor back in 2017.

"I remember, they brought, now this is all hearsay because nobody was in the room but Dad, the director of the movie, a producer and (Tom) Cruise. But, Tom Cruise comes over to the deer head shop, (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) wasn't built then yet. So, we're excited, we're going to get to meet Tom Cruise. Me and (sister) Kelley are there and we're giddy. He comes in, and he's about a foot shorter than I thought he'd be, and he had pimples all over his face. I remember that," Junior said.

"They go into Dad's office, and they come out 30 minutes later. I guess they were picking Dad's brain. (But) the rumor was, they offered Dad the role of Rowdy Burns. I don't know if that was really true or not, but that was kind the rumor. But my dad turned it down because he didn't want to play the bad guy. Just a rumor, I don't know if it's true or not."

"I was so young. You know you hear the rumor later. I never did get a chance to really figure out whether it was true or not."

Whether the rumor is true or not, Rooker, who also stars in the Guardians of the Galaxy movie series, clearly ended up doing the Rowdy role justice.

Michael Rooker's stint as the grand marshal at the Pala Casino 400 won't be the first time he's been involved in a NASCAR race. A longtime NASCAR fan, Rooker was the Honorary Pace Car Driver for the 2018 Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway.

As it runs out, Rooker's influence on NASCAR extends far beyond direct involvement. Ever heard of Kyle Busch? Well, his famous nickname "Rowdy" actually comes from Rowdy Burns. How's that for the ultimate tribute?

MORE: Nine of NASCAR's Greatest Legends Will Give the "Start Your Engines" Command at the Daytona 500