- “I'm faster than fast. Quicker than quick. I am Lightning!”
- ―Lighting ready to race.
- Yo, Chuck! You're blocking the camera! Everyone wants to see the bolt!
- —Lightning to Chuck
Lightning McQueen is the main protagonist of the Disney/Pixar 2006 feature film Cars and the deuteragonist in its 2011 sequel. In Cars, McQueen is a rookie racer, tied with Chick Hicks and The King for the points lead in the Piston Cup stock car racing circuit. He is voiced by Owen Wilson in both films.
At first, McQueen is selfish, and arrogant, over-confident that he can win the Piston Cup on his own , without help from any pit crew or a coach. However, he is also something of a perfectionist, and will not cease to get something done right even if it wasn't in his best interest to indulge in it in the first place, as seen when he was tasked by the townscars to fix the road that he himself destroyed when he first arrived at their place. After a few grudging performance in his attempts to fix the road, he finally manages to do so. His sponsors are Rust-eze, a small company selling soothing ointment for rusty old cars, which Lightning hates. However he transforms into a more sympathetic and understanding character during his time in Radiator Springs on Route 66.
- Lightning McQueen has 4 Piston Cups under his belts! He races around the world, but he calls Radiator Springs his home.
Lightning is running in the race to win the Piston Cup, with the incentive that the winner would be a great candidate for Dinoco's new mascot - their old mascot, Strip Weathers, is retiring. However during the race he denies tire changes from his pit crew, requesting only gas. But about 100 yards from his Piston Cup, his back tires blow out. Rather than winning the race, he barely manages a tie with Strip Weathers and Chick Hicks. His pit crew abandon him after he tells Chuck, one of his members to get lost. Strip Weathers admonishes him for his arrogance and lack of teamwork, but Lightning doesn't listen.
Now on his way to the tie-breaker race in Los Angeles, McQueen orders his driver Mack to drive all night, but he inevitably falls asleep. McQueen ends up lost in a little ghost-town called Radiator Springs, and after tearing up their main road, is sentenced to community service to repair the road.
While he's in town he meets a selection of cars, most of them at least 30 years old. Most notably are Doc Hudson and Sally Carrera. He soon comes to realise how arrogant and selfish he's been, and that there's more to racing than just winning. He also makes friends with every car in town, especially Mater, a rusty tow-truck who chooses him as his best friend. At the end of the film, McQueen, Hicks, and The King vie for the Piston Cup in a tiebreaker race in Los Angeles.
McQueen is about to win the race by several car lengths, when 'The King' is wrecked badly by Hicks. Lightning is reminded of Doc Hudson's horrible crash that brought an end to his career, and skids to a stop just in front of the finish line. McQueen heads back down the track to save The King and help him across the finish line to give him a respectable finish for his final race, coming in third place.
Impressed by his showmanship, Dinoco offers the contract to be their mascot to Lightning rather than the now unpopular Chick Hicks, but McQueen turns it down, saying he needs to complete his contract with Rust-Eze, the company who gave him his big break, first. He then sets up headquarters in Radiator Springs, drawing attention back to the little town and making it popluar again and back on the map.
Lightning now serves as the deuteragonist in Mater's very own show.
Each installment of Mater's Tall Tales begins with Mater telling Lightning what he used to be and did in the past. However, Lightning never believes Mater (as he wasn't there), and whenever he asks Mater if the stories really happened, Mater will always say something along the lines "Don't you remember? You was there, too!" Then, Mater continues the stories, including Lightning's sudden participation, confusing him in the results. The episodes end with Mater leaves, often followed by the characters and/or references from Mater's stories, implying that the stories might be real.
In the sequel, 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 unexpectly 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.
Lightning also appears in Cars Land at Disney California, as a "drive-around" character, and regularly stops outside the Cozy Cone Motel's office. An audio-animatronic version of Lightning also appears in the ride Radiator Springs Racers, first with Sally Carrera as they greet the riders while heading into either Luigi's or Ramone's, and again at the end of the ride with Mater. He wears his World Grand Prix paint job in the park and his original Rust-eze paint job on the ride.
- Top speed: 200 mph
- Zero to 60: 3.2 seconds
- Engine: V-8
- Horsepower: 750
Lightning 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. He has a spoiler.
- 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 beloved 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 original 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.
- Lightning, along with other countless versions of him, have been released in the Cars, Cars Toons, and Cars 2 Die-Cast Lines.
- According to a Storytellers Book, Lightning's original sponsor was Smell Swell before Rust-eze.
- 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.
- 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.
- After Lightning's redesign in Cars 2, he has working headlights instead of stickers. However, Sally still calls him "Stickers."
- In Tokyo, an advertisement for a vacuum cleaner named "Lightning McClean" is seen.
- Lightning has several names in other languages:
- His Spanish name is Rayo McQueen. In Spanish, "rayo" means "beam" or "ray."
- His French name is Flash McQueen.
- In Polish, he is called Zygzak McQueen. (z-ih-g-z-ah-k) The word "zygzak" means "zigzag" in Polish.
- His Danish name is Lynet McQueen. The Danish word "lynet" means "the lightning."
- His Dutch name is Bliksem McQueen. The Dutch word "bliksem" means "lightning."
- His Italian name is Saetta McQueen. The Italian word "saetta" means "flash of lightning."
- His Swedish name is Blixten McQueen. The Swedish word "Blixten" means "the flash."
- His Albanian name is Vetëtima McQueen. The Albanian word "Vetëtima" means "lightning."
- His Portuguese name is Faísca McQueen. The Portuguese word "faísca" means "spark."
- His Finnish name is Salama McQueen. The Finnish word "salama" means "lightning bolt."
- Lightning and his girlfriend Sally appear in Radiator Springs Racers as audio-animatronics who greet guests in their ride vehicle. They announce the qualities that a racing champion needs and who can provide the tire changes or paint refreshes while the computer controls the way that the ride vehicle turns into each character's business.
Similarities with other characters