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As the racing world goes high tech, Lightning McQueen is out to prove he is still the best race car in the world.
USA TODAY

Every car needs a new paint job now and then, even Lightning McQueen.

Since the first Cars movie in 2006, the hotshot star of Pixar’s animated franchise has had a red exterior, yellow lightning bolt and familiar No. 95 that are as synonymous with the racer as his “Ka-chow!” catchphrase. But in the epilogue of latest film Cars 3, Lightning (voiced by Owen Wilson) is speeding around wearing a new coat of blue.

While it’s akin to Darth Vader sporting bright green armor instead of his usual black, there’s good reason for Lightning’s makeover: After having helped new racer Cruz Ramirez (Cristela Alonzo) win the Florida 500 — she’s the one wearing Lightning’s usual No. 95 on the way to the finish line — he rolls up with “Fabulous Lightning McQueen” emblazoned on his side as a color-coordinated tribute to his Cars mentor Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), aka the “Fabulous Hudson Hornet.” (Cruz also pays homage to Doc, wearing No. 51 as she races Lightning for fun before the credits roll.)

In the final act of Cars 3, Lightning realizes “he’s experiencing what Doc experienced when he became Lightning McQueen’s crew chief and mentor,” says executive producer John Lasseter, who directed the first two Cars films. But Lightning’s bound to change his color scheme back. “He just does it to have fun,” Lasseter says. “For a short time, he’s going to get (Cruz) going, but he’ll continue racing.”

Lightning is deeply affected when he learns that teaching McQueen was the best thing in Doc’s life,…